In praise of men with funny-shaped balls

Now that we have a couple of weeks off from the mental torture that is the Six Nations 2010, I feel it’s time to reflect on Wales’s status as a nation of rugby lovers and on my personal history with the game.

This particular piece might well have remained a kind of mental earworm, a few disparate thoughts that failed to cohere had I not seen, on 8 out of 10 Cats, seeing as you’re asking – it’s not clever, but even I need some time off at the end of the week from being an intellectual giant as quick with a mot juste as Oscar Wilde – the comedian, John Bishop, virtually cringing on being asked whether he ever watched rugby.

“Eeurgh, no!” he replied, as if he had been asked whether he liked eating dung. “Can’t stand it. Never watch it if I can help it!”

I knew what was coming, but felt that I had to give him the benefit of the doubt. Surely he wasn’t going for that old, long outdated chestnut about it only being for posh people?

“It’s for posh people, that,” he added, or something similar. “No, I’m a football fan.”

Having established his credentials as a Man of the People, Bishop enlisted the support of his fellow-panellists in a virtual orgy of rugby bashing. To listen to that lot carry on, you’d think that the only kind of person you’d rub against at a Six Nations match would be a nob with a double-barrelled surname who was only dropping in to “Twickers” on his way to see little Tristram playing the Wall Game at Eton.

I’d love him to have met some of the blokes I encountered when my Dad used to take me to watch Wales play at the Arms Park!

During a tackle one poor unfortunate Scottish player ended up with one of the Welsh team sitting on his head. “Better hope he hasn’t been drinkin’ Brains!” shouted the wit behind me, who had probably downed more than a few pints of Brains Bitter himself.

Equally delighted to be informed that they were posh bastards would have been Charlie Faulkner, Graham Price and Bobby Windsor, aka the incomparable Pontypool Front Row. Their opponents came up with some imaginative monikers to describe that man mountain of muscle and brute force, but I can make a fair guess that “posh” wasn’t one of them.

No, rugby union has never been a posh or elitist sport in Wales, which was one of its myriad charms. I was fortunate to have seen players like Gareth Edwards, JJ Williams, Phil Bennett, Gerald Davies and JPR in action, thanks to my Dad signing me up for membership with Pembroke RFC, who obligingly coughed up the odd ticket for the Arms Park.

Stuck in a girls’ boarding school, it wasn’t always easy for him to persuade the Powers That Be to allow me out for the Big Match. My Dad, bless his heart, had other ideas: on the only occasion that I saw him rebel against the ridiculously draconian rules that cowed parents as much as pupils, he stormed into the headmistress’s office, banged his fist on her desk and demanded that I be allowed to watch the Wales v Ireland match on Saturday.

“You are denying this girl her heritage!” he railed.

Nice one, Dad!

Needless to say, the head had no choice but to release me for the afternoon.

JPR Williams was my favourite, a choice that probably accounts for my current unmarried status: no other bloke has much of a chance of matching up. When you have seen the man of your dreams leave the field with half his face hanging off then return two minutes later with it stitched (roughly) back on to finish the match, how can the average eejit, who faints when he cuts his finger, measure up?

It might have been true, fifty years ago, that English rugby measured up to the old adage, “a game for hooligans, played by gentlemen” but that went the way of the penny-farthing many years ago. These days even the relatively refined world of English Rugby Union welcomes fans from every class. As a professional sport it can ill-afford to do otherwise.

There are a few sports that remain the preserve of the elite – polo, for instance – but that aside I can’t really imagine that these days any event would turn away a prospective fan on the grounds of class, accent, race, religion or any other factor.

It’s hard to believe that John Bishop really finds rugby so repulsive that he cannot watch it. While rugby will always be my first love, I am perfectly capable of enjoying a good game of footie. His attitude must be leftist posturing.

Anyway, how would he react if Stephen Fry or Joanna Lumley refused to watch soccer on the grounds that it’s a game for proles and oiks?!

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