January 24 2005
It doesn't affect the kicker, they say, but crowd noise during kicks raises the hackles of many a die-hard rugby supporter. In this article, smoothhound ponders the recent rise in the level of noise whilst the kicker is plying his art at EP - part of the modern game or simply loutishness?
The vexed question of booing the kickers has raised its ugly head once more. Many on the message board have condemned the practice, vilifying its proponents, and questioning the club’s attitude to respecting its opponents. Very few offer solutions of any description to remedy the situation.
From my own observation at EP its seems that those who make a noise during opposition kicks are those who are new to spectating at rugby games. Probably most of them have never been to Twickenham, where the way the crowd fall silent during a kick is very impressive. The newer spectators at EP have perhaps been drawn in by the hype surrounding England’s win at the World Cup, by the hype surrounding star players, particularly Jason Robinson, and by the successful and exciting playing style of Sale. I would venture to suggest that the newer spectators have also found it an agreeable way to fill a Friday night every other fortnight.
I would think too, that the traditional rugby followers are now in the minority in the crowd at EP. Traditional values in rugby can be labelled old-fashioned, particularly as the example of sporting values available to most these days is what takes place at football stadiums, which is sometimes unedifying to say the least. Respect for your opponent, the measured application of force (i.e. not to injure the opposition), respect for the referee’s decision (which is final, despite the truculence shown by captains such as Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio), the acknowledgement to the opposition (being applauded from the pitch), the entertainment of the opposition, and the social intercourse of fans, players, officials and referees are all traditional values which those who have been involved in rugby union for a long time greatly cherish.
And yet they are being eroded. And that is dangerous. For it is these traditional values which have allowed professional rugby to develop into the spectator sport it now is. 10,000 supporters can stroll up to EP on a Friday evening, have their passions aroused by their teams, shout their lungs out if so inclined, sit among the opposition fans (even though I would quite like to have found an alternative source of wind energy for the Bath fan who sat behind me blowing one of those horns into my ear), be bitterly disappointed by a defeat in the last minute, and yet still disappear into a bar to drain a glass with opposition supporters, chew the fat over the game, and eventually home to bed. And no trouble, no disturbance. You have to look quite hard for the two policemen usually assigned to the game, with perhaps another two on traffic duty. There is no fear of opposition fans turning up en masse looking to strike fear into the hearts of home supporters or local residents. And everyone, I would suggest, likes that quite a lot, especially parents who bring their kids with them, a sizeable proportion of Sale’s support.
The consensus on the message board seems to be to retain the respect for the kicker, but very little is put forward by way of educating our fellow fans to the traditions of the game. So here are some suggestions. We have had in the past a guide to the rules of the game running week after week in the programme. Why can we not have a guide to the courtesies of the game contained within the programme? That it is a tradition within English Rugby Union that opposition kickers are left to complete their kick in silence. That referees’ decisions are final, and should, must be, divorced from the penalty kick that often follows as a courtesy to the opposition kicker. And that opposite actions are outside the traditions of the game, and perhaps detrimental to the friendly, bantering atmosphere normally seen between rugby supporters. And why, as has been suggested previously, do we not have an announcer who is prepared to pounce on the booing as soon as it occurs? The club seems reluctant to take these measures (perhaps they’ll feel too much like a government attempting to regulate people’s behaviour!).
Let us examine why. I think part of that is that there are those in the club who do not come from a traditional English rugby culture, and do not therefore, see it as a priority to establish that tradition at EP. PSA (obviously a Frenchman) has suffered from the whistlers no doubt during his long service to French rugby, and probably cares little about the issue. There is even a suggestion that he would actively encourage noise during the oppositions’ kicks. Nils de Vos and Swanny (excellent both in many respects) do not come from a rugby union background, and this tradition may not mean much to them. Nils seems to advocate the more noise the merrier. And finally, our announcer does not seem to have the rugby background to interject at the advantageous moment. No disrespect to any of these guys – we are talking about different experiences here, and the way they shape different outlooks. But I believe the club should re-examine its policy. I don’t think that they would wish booing to degenerate into poor crowd behaviour in general.
And if the club won’t act? Then perhaps this is an area where the Supporters’ Club could be involved. If the consensus within the SC was that this particular tradition should be established within the Sale fan base, then there are several actions they could take to forward that policy, even with the Sharks organisation lukewarm to it. The SC has its own page within the programme. I do not know how far the content of that page is influenced by its editor, but there is an obvious place to write about the traditions of the game. If not, then perhaps when the SC organise their next leaflet hand-out, a part of the leaflet is given over to that subject. And finally, if the announcer will not, or is not authorised to, act, then perhaps strategically-positioned members of the SC can hold a placard up should booing start, saying, in effect, “Silence!”, (à la golf?!!). For if one group or the other fail to act, then in my opinion it will degenerate.
There is a school of thought that says that making a noise while an opposition kicker is of no great matter. That professional rugby players should not be put off by any noise. That kickers retreat into their own world and are not greatly aware of the sound. That the French whistle all the time during an opponents’ kick, and it doesn’t disturb them, as I think anyone who has been to a French ground will tell you. I think it is probably right that it should not affect the kicker. But it does not respect the kicker. And when all is said and done, what the French do with their rugby tradition is for the French to decide. The English rugby tradition is based on respect for your opponent, and silence during kicks.
It become a little galling when other clubs’ supporters make the effort to visit the message board to point out the error of our ways. As if the individuals making up the message board’s membership, acting alone, can wave a magic wand. Complaints too that booing occurred during their kicks, while shushing was heard during ours. I am afraid the “shushers” do their team an injustice. If there is a hubbub of noise while an opponent kicks, then he is probably capable of blotting it out of his mind. However if our kicker is putting boot to ball in a “shushed” silence, then an enraged opposition supporter is far more likely to let fly during the silence, with more likelihood of putting the kicker off. And now we hear too there is an official complaint from Bath officials. Regrettably you cannot order spectators to hold their yap. Being human, it will most probably send them in the other direction.
All the above pre-supposes that the loss of respect for the opposition kicker is the straw that will eventually break the camel’s back. There is no evidence that it will be. But sufficient parallels can be drawn with football which should make us wary of anything that can take us down the road the round-ball game has travelled. For the price football has had to pay for their poor behaviour has been very high, and it has already partly spilled over into our game. Segregated fans, seats only, no alcohol in the stadium, policemen (in some instances) by the score. I don’t want to see my game go that way. So I would prefer to preserve the traditional values, the values that made the game what it is today. And I would like to see the club, the supporters club, and all those supporters who value what we have, make a determined effort to preserve those values, too.