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Rod Liddle

Rugby players are thick middle-class upstarts – at least footballers know their place

24 September 2011

12:00 AM

24 September 2011

12:00 AM

Apparently, England recently beat Georgia in something rather ambitiously called the Rugby World Cup. The word ‘world’ is used here in much the same way as the Americans deploy it in relation to other vanishingly unpopular sports such as baseball or American football, i.e. sports which nobody else in the world plays except for the Americans and their satrapies. Only 27 people in Georgia have even heard of rugby, and only 15 of those are under the age of 127. (They are very long lived in Georgia: the oldest people in the world come from that region of the Caucasus, which has led many scientists to study their diets extremely closely in the hope that some intimation of immortality will reveal itself. At the same time it has led me to study both the Georgian grasp of arithmetic and propensity to tell lies.)

England’s victory over Georgia was expected by the pundits, as the number of people who play the game here actually extends to more than 200 — almost all of them middle-class latent homosexuals with great reserves of energy — and so the pool of talent is much deeper. However, I am told that it was a laboured victory, devoid of panache and sullied by ill-discipline and fecklessness, although a marked improvement on the narrow victory over those fractious European-wannabes, Argentina. The Argies will one day understand that simply taking part with great gusto in organised games of football, polo and rugby does not, by itself, entitle your country to be considered ‘civilised’ and ‘old world’. Death squads and national bankruptcy are also, by the by, terribly de trop. However, we digress.


The England rugby team seems to be emulating, in this ‘World’ Cup, the uselessness and stupidity which afflicts the England football team in World Cups. This is interesting, because some people in England prefer rugby to football on the grounds that footballers are a repellent breed who have nothing of loyalty about them and will always let us down when a big tournament approaches. In other words, they prefer the convocation of educationally sub-normal middle-class homosexuals who throw an oval ball around to the educationally sub-normal working-class heterosexuals who wisely stick to a ball which is round. They believe, these adherents, that national pride is a genuine motivating force in rugby, that it is less undermined by vast amounts of wonga and that therefore its participants are more worthy people. But it is less undermined by vast amounts of wonga because it is a stupid game which almost nobody wants to watch, not because of the inherent decency of those playing it. The current England rugby captain, Mike Tindall, not so long ago signed a three-year contract with a rugby club for £150,000 — roughly what a top footballer might earn in a single week. That is the gap between the two sports and in this discrepancy at least, if in no others, the market is probably right.

England’s rugby players have been emulating their footballing counterparts off the field too, it would seem. The aforementioned Mike Tindall was photographed in New Zealand’s only nightclub drunkenly groping a similarly inebriated blonde hag, repeatedly rubbing his huge head in her dank and terrifying breasts before putting her in ‘an affectionate headlock’ and quite possibly removing, in a sort of come-hither manner, his gum shield. I am told, by people who know these things, that among the small percentage of rugby players who are heterosexual, this course of behaviour constitutes what we might call foreplay. Mr Tindall has been eviscerated, then, on two counts. First, the sanctimonious rhetorician asks, is this sort of behaviour conducive to the ascetic discipline required of an athlete at the top of his game? Is rubbing your head in the breasts of some unknown woman while pissed out of your mind a good preparation for the next game of rugby? Some experts suggest that it is indeed excellent preparation, as rugby is a sport utterly devoid of skill and nuance and reliant solely upon speed and brute force. So, the experts insist, rugby players should be enjoined to behave in this manner on their evening furlough. I would accept this excuse.

However, the second problem is more tricky. Mr Tindall is apparently married to a senior member of our royal family, Zara Phillips, who is said to have been displeased by the behaviour of her commoner husband, although it seems to me not untypical of the family of which she is a part. This is the other important difference between footballers and rugby players, though. Footballers know their place. When they behave badly members of the royal family are never, one way or another, implicated. It is highly unlikely, for example, that the talented England left-back Ashley Cole would pull the Queen in a nightclub, ferret around in her robes in the back of a cab before vomiting over her and sending her packing in another taxi. There are plenty of lower-class women who will happily go along with Ashley’s plans for the late evening and he never feels the need to involve heads of state, despite the enormous amount of money he earns.

There is, then, a humility to be admired among our top professional footballers: they stick to their own kind. But as we know, the English middle class is vaultingly ambitious; give them some wholly meaningless nominal title such as ‘mayor of Toytown’ or ‘captain of the England rugby team’ and they immediately believe they have the right to impregnate royalty. That is the real scandal, not the breast-rubbing stuff and the groping. 


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