Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Saracens' demise ?

I stopped playing rugby at university where I was put off by the whole rugby club scene that was synonymous with just about everything that I found repulsive during my time in the belly of the elitist beast.

But I do love the game, so a few years on I (briefly) started playing again. I also became a regular supporter at my local North London club, Saracens. That was at the end of the amateur era when Sarries were regular giant-killers beating the likes of the then dominant Bath and Leicester. We were always the poor relations in National League One (pre Guinness Premiership of course), playing on a municipal park that had to be cleared of dog shit before a match.

Amateur status may have been the refuge of the Colonel Blimps of the game, but it did give it all a rather wonderful homely nature. In the club house the half time food was prepared by the players’ partners, and after a game you could find yourself in the bar next to an international player you’d seen on the telly the week before. There were teams going doing to the level of 4ths and 5ths, along with juniors and vets, all of whom could claim to be part of the same club family as the occasional capped superstar.

That all went with the professional era. Along came a ground share with the local football club – Enfield Town. For a few glorious seasons the games were played in front of packed crowds – there was an influx of international big name players and the feeling that the club had entered the top flight. But the whole inclusive family thing was gone – insidiously the club experience switched from participation to spectacle.

A few years later there was the move to Watford FC. Initially there was some long overdue silverware won, but ground sharing with a Premiership football club meant that there was huge over-capacity and invariably soul-less empty stands at most games. The initial success of the early professional era waned and Sarries have since become long-term mid-table underachievers in the Premiership. At the same time, my own support also waned - once a regular at every home game I now maybe make one or two games a season.

Then came the news last week: The coach has departed and 15 players will go at the end of the season. Saracens will be bailed out by South African Investors Limited who want to turn the club into a rugby home for exile South Africans. Now there’s rumours of moving the ground to South London – Fulham’s Craven Cottage - and even of changing the shirt colours to green and gold.

It’s not a unique story - it’s happened before at many clubs, in all sports, and I suppose it is inevitable when sport becomes a business - but it still fucking depressing.


Leftwing Criminologist said...

the history of rugby has really begun to grip me recently. coming from west yorkshire i'm of course a rugby league fan - but it's interesting how both games have changed over the last ten or so years.

journeyman said...

If you're interested in rugby's history - and particularly some of the more dubious political connections you might like to have a look at: