As a proud Scot who grew up on a diet of haggis, broth and real football at East Fife(?), imagine my horror when, aged 13, my folks dragged me down amongst the Scouse Sassenachs on, still unfinished, missionary work only to find that my new school only played rugby. Horror!!!
As a strapping young lad with an enormous left hoof, I was immediately drafted in as full back for my school team, a position I remained in for 4 years without anyone ever explaining the rules. When the school permitted football, I was gone. It was only in 2003, some 32 years later, that I got interested again watching England (and willing them to win – bizarre,) actually winning the Rugby World Cup. I then followed the sport casually until 4 years ago when my eldest lad dragged me along to the altar of Edgeley Park to watch Sale Sharks. I was immediately blown away and since then I, and all 3 of my boys, have become huge fans.
We love sitting there, listening to the huge impacts on the pitch (God, we’ll miss Andy Powell), admiring the dazzling skills and intense commitment of the players AND, most of all, sitting beside the opposition supporters enjoying good, friendly banter with none of the expletive overload of Premiership football or fear of having our heads kicked in.
Anyway, on to my soap box. I may be delusional – my boys think I am – but I have developed a strong impression over the last few years of a degree of bias against Northern Union clubs from the RFU. I might dare to suggest a reluctance amongst the bigger Southern clubs, and perhaps some referees, to travel to a wet, cold and windy Manchester (and that’s on the better days) on Friday evenings for our home games. I might also possibly consider some of the critical comments passed by other club board members about the ‘facilities’ at our former home at Edgeley Park which, for me, had a kind of curious, time-warped aura around it. Well, we have a shiny new state of the art stadium now, and I still don’t see people commenting openly about the swamp with open, scaffolding like, terraced seating that passes for The Wreck, sorry, Rec at Bath Rugby.
If I was being truly cynical, I think there may also be a hint of refereeing bias against Sale judging by the number of ‘debateable’ penalties regularly given against us.
Having lost Leeds and Newcastle in successive seasons to the Championship, it would be a disaster to lose all Northern representation from the Premiership – although I suspect that the blazer and tie brigade at RFU H.Q. would register a sly grin. To compete effectively money is needed and that requires strong support. In the North West, Sale face stiff financial competition from a well established Rugby League heartland and the proximity of so many Premiership football clubs, BUT, it’s like Woolworths – USE IT, OR LOSE IT.
I would appeal to all casual or lapsed supporters, those who are curious but haven’t yet come to a live match, and those who have had enough of the overpaid excesses of Premiership football. If you enjoy intensely physical yet skilful competition, set in a family friendly environment, come and support your local team and stick it to the stuffed shirts at Twickenham