Nostalgia Is Not What It Used To Be

Many of us, of a certain age, hark back to what we think we remember to be the halcyon days of rugby, but were they actually as wonderful as we remember ?

The mind is an amazing machine, we convince ourselves that the sun shone every day throughout the summer, that it snowed at Christmas, and Mars bars were much bigger than they are today, also we convince ourselves that our sport was a wonderful free-flowing game, where the spirit of rugby shone through like a beacon of hope, for society to grasp as a template for life.

Now I admit that I was first in the queue when the waxing lyrical genes were handed out, but after sharing a flat white, and a chat,  with my literary hero, Stephen Jones, it got me thinking in more realistic terms about the past.

I will never lose the childhood memory and the thrill of watching David Duckham, his long blonde hair, blowing in the wind as he swerved his way around spread eagled defenders, or Gerald Davies side stepping and weaving past despairing defenders, and I could go on and on, maximising my waxing lyrical gene, with the likes of Serge Blanco, Denis Charvet, Barry John, JPR et al.

But to be perfectly honest the experience of attending international matches as a spectator in those days left an awful lot to be desired.

The matchday experience today is incredible, the comfort is incomparable to the torture  we were subjected to in the sixties and seventies.

I’ve stood at Twickenham in the old South stand, in freezing cold and pouring rain ,two hours before kick off, to get a view of England v Wales that consisted of a quarter of the pitch, the people standing behind you, would deposit warm water, which would splash against the backs of your legs, (If you get my drift), and sadly you were actually glad of the experience because it actually warmed you up for a split second.

One of the other  myths the nostalgic mind produces is that the game was more free-flowing, and that every match was played in the spirit of the Barbarians v All Blacks classic of 1973.

Well I can put you right on that one, England v Wales in 1978, at my trouser soaked Twickenham, consisted of five penalties, and a 9-6 victory for Wales, the highlight of which was 50 yard (metres hadn’t been invented then) kick to touch by Gareth Edwards.

A match between Scotland and Wales at Murrayfield in 1963 included 111 line outs, nearly all of which were created by kicks to touch from Wales scrum half  Clive Rowlands.

The story goes that in Clive’s house, ever since that game, they never say “Can you pass the salt” , it’s always “Can you kick the salt”.

I watched a re run of Llanelli’s epic 1972 win over New Zealand recently, I could not believe my eyes, there was every form of physical assault possible taking place, at regular intervals throughout the match, there were more attacks on view than you would find in an entire episode of Crimewatch !

The playing surfaces of today are a joy to behold, the new hybrid grass systems make the top-level level matches immune from the hippo like swamps, that were familiar to older readers, apart from the permanent divot that is the Stade de France, of course.

In fact I have decided that I’m going to lock away my waxing lyrical nostalgia gene for good, as I think of the magnificent stadia that exist today, my goodness the Principality stadium even has a roof !

In comparison, the Cardiff Arms Park pitch that hosted Wales v England, in 1969, had eight blades of grass on it, and looked more like an NCP car park than a sporting arena.

So let us revel in the brilliance of the game as it is today, sure there are lots of things on and off the field that are far from perfect, but when I lock up my waxing lyrical nostalgia gene, I thrill at visiting The Principality stadium, crammed into the centre of Cardiff  like a Giant beetle clinging to the flats and offices of the city, I delight in days at Twickenham, Murrayfield, Dublin and Paris, not only for the rugby but also in the joy of knowing that I, for the most part, will be returning home with dry trousers.



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