An Interesting Point of View From a Controversial Footballer

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Controversial footballer Joey Barton has written this piece on his experience of a game of rugby union in the Top 14 between Toulon and Bordeaux;

Rugby – A thugs game played by gentlemen vs. Football a gentlemen’s game played by thugs

I drove 40 minutes down the scenic highway yesterday toward Toulon. I was kindly provided with tickets for the Toulon vs. Bordeaux rugby game. I have huge admiration for rugby players. I remember watching Jonny Wilkinson kicking at the indoor facility in Newcastle, time after time, right in between the uprights. Practicing. A true legend of modern sport.

I am a big rugby fan. It has been more rugby league that I have watched in the past, and it is much quicker and easier to get your head around. Last night was the first rugby union game I have experienced in France and what a spectacle it was. The experience was unforgettable, witnessing top athletes like Sheridan, Michelak, Giteau, Botha, then there was my favourite on the night Patrick Gunther, he is a proper number 6. Somewhere I would love to play. There or 12 anyway…

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This got me thinking, rugby is seen as a true gentlemen’s sport. The perception is you compete, hurt each other, and then scurry across to the bar to share a drink. In football, the perception is that you are often ushered in whilst still hurling abuse at your opponents, you may even follow that up in true sore loser fashion, with a complaint about the referee, the fact you had the more possession, the ball did not bounce for you on the day etc etc. My thoughts are simply that these are very different sports, played by differently socialised people, I use the term socialised as in school, parental upbringing, economic circumstance and so.

Yes, there is much more money in football, we live in a society dictated by supply and demand. This is why Sky pays so much money for football compared to what they pay for rugby, which of course filters in, with anomalous owners adding further to these purse strings.

Football is more widely played, it is fundamentally an easier game to play, and I am from a working class estate. As a kid I could throw a set of jumpers down, grab a ball and anyone could join in, there could be as many people on each side as were playing out, there could be throw ins, free kicks, corners the lot.

Now, I did not play rugby union as a kid. Mainly down to the fact I went to a football playing school. It is a fiercely technical sport. Look at the lineouts and scrums. The fact that the tight head prop is often the highest paid player, shows how technical the position is. Good luck officiating a game of rugby on a council estate with these highly technical set pieces. Therefore you have a different demographic growing up playing rugby than you do football.

There are always anomalies but look at Liverpool my hometown, the comprehensive schools play football and the grammar schools play rugby. Simple. Straight away you have a class system that is glaringly obvious. In rugby you are taught to respect the referee, to call him ‘Sir’, deducted 10 yards instantly if you disrespect him. In football, you see players talking back to the ref, crowding him out and even managers scorning him after the game. Football needs to learn from rugby here. What do you think?

I am not saying rugby is all innocent and pure. Bloodgate says otherwise. Where gamesmanship, well plain and simple cheating occurred in order for one team to gain an advantage. It does seem to occur much less in rugby than football, that’s for sure. I didn’t witness a Bordeaux player last night dive and over exaggerate a collision!

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This of course occurs in football, particularly with the continental influence on the game, people go down more easily nowadays to earn an unfair advantage. Fact.

In football, fan culture is different. It is a religion. The atmosphere at Toulon was awesome, but it was a different type of atmosphere to a football game. There were Mexican waves, there were balloons thrown down, newspaper littered into the air each time a try was scored, a feel good atmosphere. The Toulon fans even applauded the opposing fly half when he completed one of his many difficult conversions.

Football is more life and/or death! A decision does not go your way, the referee is scorned, the player makes a mistake in football and can be booed, sometimes by their own fans. This would not happen in rugby. I would have loved to have played rugby, I love the idea of leaving it all on the pitch, testing each other as hard as physically possible, engaging in battle for 80 minutes before sharing a beer (well in my case a coffee) in the dressing room, comparing war wounds and reflecting amicably, and respectfully with your opponent on the battle you have just shared. Do you agree?

Football is undoubtedly more open, less stop-start. There were times when players in the team were standing about on the wing for 5 minutes at a time while set piece after set piece occurred. Remember, we are talking rugby union here, even the rucks and mauls can slow the game down with the tactics behind these to test the opposition in a different area of their defense.

Unfortunately I think my love for rugby has come too late for me to play, but I will be back as a fan, maybe with my son next time, although I am unsure what my other half will think of me honing my son for rugby union.

The people of Toulon were so accommodating and friendly. The language barrier can be an issue but that will become easier when my French improves. It is a picturesque place with a beautiful harbor; it has a warm, friendly feel and great weather, which always helps. Cannot say I blame Jonny Wilkinson for making the trip across. It was unfortunate that I only got to witness Jonny for 20 minutes due to an injury he sustained, I wish him a speedy recovery and to Toulon, another successful season.

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