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Could an amateur ethos help the pro game?

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John Beattie | 16:57 UK time, Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Our rugby reporter in Scotland, Jim Mason, is making a television film on whether Scottish rugby has embraced professionalism or not.

And that got me thinking. Is it right that top level sport is professional and the participants only rest and play, for which they are paid, at their sport?

One of my favourite quotes comes from football World Cup-winning coach Felipe Scolari who said: "My priority is to ensure that players feel more amateur than professional. Thirty years ago, the effort was the other way. Now there is so much professionalism, we have to revert to urging players to like the game, love it, do it with joy."

So, what do you think? Do you think our sporting stars have the love and the joy, or are you gradually thinking, like me, that some of the joy of sport departs with most kick-offs, throw-ups, tip-offs, and starting guns?

I think we should start a book called "The Joy of Sport" and I volunteer for the action shots on pages three and seven.

John Beattie (2nd right) shows his willingness to get involved at the lineout against Wales at Murrayfield in 1983.

They just don't make shorts like these any more...

In our generation (sometimes loosely termed ancient history) we trained most days of the week and turned up at Murrayfield two days before the game. I think the pay was £11 a day, for those two days, which would buy a small car. Honest.

But we played for fun. Of course, at the time, we were furious that we weren't paid and wondered where all the money the punters had parted with ended up. The answer is that it all went to Scottish clubs because there weren't any professional rugby teams to look after.

How good it was, for instance, that Sam Waley-Cohen, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, isn't a full time jockey. No, he runs a dental business.

Hefin O'Hare, the talented Glasgow rugby midfielder, has just completed his honours degree in building surveying and he says that the act of doing so increased his love of rugby. The great Bill McLaren used to say that rugby "should be the escape from the daily grind rather than the daily grind itself."

Even I would argue that the longer you spend at things like skills practices, organisation, weight training and the rest the more likely it is that you become a better player. I fully realise that training brings success. Modern players are far fitter, stronger, more skilful and better informed about rugby than we ever were.

But, and here's the rub, I think there is a balance to be had. I would like modern sports stars to have more of an amateurish approach.

In Scottish rugby terms that means, to me, more integration between professional players and local businesses both in terms of sponsorship and, indeed, hands on business experience. Our rugby players should be forced to do some work as well as their rugby.

If that means one half day a week volunteering in a charity shop then so be it.

One of the problems professional players have is that they never see what it's like to work eight to six and then escape to enjoy sport.

I want them to find the Joy of Sport. Or am I barking up an amateur alley?

£11, honest, it was a fortune at the time...


  • Comment number 1.

    The fact that they are doing it as career may take some of the joy or escapism away from it.
    One thing is for sure though, I have met my fair share of internationals old and new and what strikes me is the approachability of the new players is miles away from the older generations. I think the formation of two pro clubs in this country has removed these players from the local club rugby player and hence the biggest enjoyment of rugby, the camaraderie.
    New zealand have the right set up with players moving up and through districts to higher levels. The current pro is taken away at an early age and hence becomes isolated from club rugby which is the heart of the sport in our country. Look at the example of jerry collins playing for a second xv in wales and Ali williams at Nottingham. These players know and love the value of club rugby.

    So once again we touch upon the set up of Scottish rugby.

  • Comment number 2.

    Everyone else is managing ok John.

  • Comment number 3.

    Agree wholeheartedly John! I have complained on previous posts about the lack of involvement of our current pros coaching/helping out our youngsters in the schools and clubs. I also agree about them having some other interests - studying or work - outside pro rugby. Spending all their time in the gym or practising for what could be a small number of games a season must be quite claustrophobic! I wonder how much this issue had to play in David Blair's recent decision to quit the game? Very few pros will make a fortune out of the game so the more skills they develop at a young age the better for them!

    I also agree that the current set up within the SRU needs to change. Selecting players at 15 or 16, to the exclusion of many 'late developers', and then focusing all our efforts on them creates an exclusive group who almost get withdrawn from the school/club rugby scene. There have been a few examples recently of school v region rows at u17/u18 level which is all wrong and puts many young players in a difficult position! Of course we need to develop players - both skills and strength wise - from a young age but surely this can be done whilst the kids enjoy the social side to rugby?

    Lastly rugby should be fun however I am not sure that this is a key message in the development for many of the SRU regional/age grade teams.

  • Comment number 4.

    John i could not agree more with your article. I have seen many good young players taken out of club and school rugby when they are picked up by acadamies. Most are then told they are not good enough and then come back chastened to club rugby where they rediscover there love of the game camerarderie etc.
    Some however are dissolutioned and we do not see the them again this is sad as when they were playing u/14 with there mates they were loving the game and played with a smile on their face.
    Because Rugby is now sadlly about results even at junior level some talented kids get overlooked in favour of those not as skillfull but bigger and stronger. This IMO. is starting to have negative impact on skill levels.

  • Comment number 5.

    This article warms me' ould Hawick heart and, of course, Bill McClaren's comment (my former High-School P.E. and rugby teacher, occasional Golf partner and one of my heroes), gets right to the nub. If you want to see just how distant, selfish, spoiled and elitist professional and even for Gawd's sake COLLEGE sports can get under the full-immersion influence of big corporate $ (most of teams are actually owned by wealthy individuals or corporate conglomerates, with the notable exception of the current Superbowl Champions, the Green-Bay Packers, who are owned by the fans), check out any of the American (as in USA) major and even second-tier sports, Football, Baseball, Basketball (which I dislike intensely and still like to refer to as "netball" just to irritate 'em!), Ice Hockey, Golf, Tennis and so on down the food-chain. This is where I dread to see top-flight national six-nations and global international rugby headed, which was I think, never intended to be played at the highly rewarded level it is today, although I have no idea what these guys make and I'm sure it's not comparable to what football players and pro-golfers can earn. The difference is especially observable in golf. Whereas most U.S. Pro's -with a VERY few exceptions like Lee Trevino, come from wealthy Country-Club and College scholarship backgrounds, totally removed from the grassroots, European and especially British pro's are pretty much regular, highly-talented guys and are much closer to the "riff-raff" like me and my ol' buddies and thereby more approachable. When I was a big Hawick and Scotland Rugby fan from the late 60's and through the 70's (in between spells overseas), I personally knew many of the national side and most of the club heroes like Jim Renwick, Alan Tomes, the successive Deans -unrelated by the way- hookers, Ian (Barney) Barnes et al, as well as many of their international peers, having played against some of them at junior level and socialized with them at the Mansfield Park and other rugby -and even some Borders golf clubs- more or less by default, when I was back home. I observed much the same thing in Argentina, which mixes club and international rugby most successfully. I can't imagine that happening now in the present scheme of things and let's be brutally frank about it, Scotland aren't exactly flourishing in the status-quo of the professional game! And even from this distance, I detect a lack of passion and involvement from the fans, especially at Murrayfield (and who can blame them?) Wonder what the late Bill McClaren would have thought about it all? Rugby is still by far my favorite sport but this is a very valid point which I doubt will be looked at seriously by the prevailing powers as long as the sniff of the almighty profit motive rules. Thanks for raising the subject.

  • Comment number 6.

    No.3- I completely agree with your points. Only a couple of years ago I played district rugby and the main things I remember from it were not the new skills I was taught or playing in the big matches but how I used to dread going to every session due to the lack of enjoyment and extremely high intensity. Surely as a youngster who has been playing rugby for many years I should have enjoyed playing with very good rugby players my age. I can understand to an extent that it needs to be taken seriously as the coaches are trying to spot those that are tough enough both physically and mentally. Also, highly experienced and skillful coaches are investing their time in us but when youngsters have been selected to play at a high level, surely you want to motivate them to work hard and to give them the confidence to do so. Not the case where youngsters are terrifed of making a mistake and therefore do not take the risk of trying something difficult.
    Its good that this subject has finally been raised as I feel that many young talented athletes (not just rugby) are being put off their respective sport due to the high demands and expectation. Im sure when people look back on their sporting days they want to remember it as some of the most enjoyable days they had.

  • Comment number 7.

    Bizarre article, as usual. Powell, Henson go for it, act even more amateurish than you already are. That won't throw the game into chaos at all.

  • Comment number 8.

    I couldn't agree more, when I was 19 after playing club rugby in and school rugby when i was a youth and currently playing rugby at Uni, I got asked to go down to train with the academy at my local professional team. A dream come true i must add. I have never been so disappointed in all my life. There was no fun to be had, I dreaded going to training there was no team spirit or togetherness and the kids who had been picked to join the academy system at 16 years and been there for a few years were so stuck up it was not funny. I left when I was 21 and playing rugby with a club team enjoying a beer and playing with friends for a good 6 years now and long may it continue. Most of the boys who I was at the academy with with stopped playing after they were not offered a contract at 20 or 21. I feel they have missed out on what rugby is all about..! and personally I blame the coaches who turn out these robots. I thought rugby was about personality and characters!

  • Comment number 9.

    Oh dear, has all that money enfeebled the new generation to the extent that it doesn't keep them exciterd?

    Perhaps we can take encouragement from some of the performances in this year's Six Nations, which seemed to be entirely uncontaminated by professionalism. Happily, some players and teams did seem prepared to go to the trouble of justifying their salaries, individual and collective, if only on occasion. They can't have heard the good news.

    Seriously, though, I guess we look to coaches to do what they have to in order to extract performance from players. If that includes, however perversely, persuading them that they must think of themselves as amateurs, then I guess they must get on with it. Of course, amateur times deserve a little nostalgia, now that the funeral's forgotten and the lilies long withered, but it takes me from left field that it's the new, well-upholstered generation, the top members of whom never even paid for the fuel to drive themselves to practice, which is being urged to exercise the necessary nostalgia.

    There is a catch in asking them to think of themselve as amateurs: I myself retired before the advent of overt professionalism, but when I played everyone was demanding professional standards and attitudes, except maybe during occasional bouts of collective beer-swilling. In the case of modern professionals, will inviting them to think of themselves as amateurs involve having to try to achieve professional standards and attitudes, as the amateurs of yore did, with the odd "night out"?

    I think it's all very simple, really. Tired of all that well-remunerated rugby? Bit jaded, are we? No problem. Trade in the Ferrari for a Volkswagen, get the old C.V. updated, and give it up. Otherwise do as the rest of the world must do, and make sure that you earn the salary you collect. There were no free rides for players in amateur times: there shouldn't be any now.

    Why not try motivating them by inviting them to think of themselves as professionals?

  • Comment number 10.

    And yes, I don't think it's too much to expect them to attend to P.R. duties. Actually, the true professionals do that, and rather well, in my experience.

  • Comment number 11.

    Well John, you don't have to look much farther than the Scottish Rugby Union, and in particular SRU plc, for an amateurish approach to professional sport.

    I agree with John's point about professional players being more involved in the community, be it commercial, educational or just for the fun of it. I mentioned to Edinburgh Rugby that they should engage more with their local businesses, invite them in for lunch or dinner and give them a presentation on Edinburgh Rugby and how Edinburgh Rugby can be good for their business - didn't go as far as to suggest professional player appearances but that should not be excluded.

    It should be, if it is not already, part of a professional player's contract that they will do public (customer) relations and publicity for their club, including everything that John mentions. When was the last time a couple of Edinburgh or Glasgow players went to do a shirt signing at the SRU's exclusive supplier's outlets, let alone help out at a charity shop?

    One word in support of John's assertion that players should be forced to do some work as well as play - what are the current players going to do when they retire from the game at somewhere between the age of 25 and 35? There are not enough seats for them all to be TV pundits or enough vacant posts for them all to be coaches or administrators.

    Hefin O'Hare has his second career already lined up and David Blair has already made his choice but what about the rest? If you read their Twitter posts they are not doing an awful lot outside of training and playing - except going on golfing holidays during the season.

  • Comment number 12.

    I think I can buy into the sentiment of creating an amateur ethos into the game. Sport should first and foremost be played for the love of the game. Also your bond with teammates and, probably just as importantly, the fans should be about a lot more than securing win bonuses.

    However professionalism is about a lot more than being paid. It is about the dedication and committment required to succeed at the top level. While you, JB, may not have enjoyed the luxuries of the current internationals, I am sure your dedication was every bit as professional as theirs, probably more.

    I don't really see the need for quasi-community service for pro rugby players. Brian Moore commented during the ill-fated Scotland-Wales games after ANOTHER knock on, "What do these guys do all day if they can't catch a simple ball...this is their day job". This is their job. Few people get a chance to do a job they love, these guys do. It is up to them how they embrace that.

    As another poster commented, pro rugby has worked for other countries (don't see it holding back England, Ireland & Wales), so really the question is why has Scotland not adapted to the pro era?

    Age old problems with the Scottish pyche I'm afraid; money equates to elitist, pampered prima-donnas who believe they are better than they are, and have achieved success long before they actually have (or probably ever will!) and this is common throughout many sports.

    You quote Scolari, a world cup winning coach for Brazil, about ensuring his players retain enjoyment of the game. However these are players who have reached the very top of the game, achieved the highest accolades etc. Scolari's fear is after such success maybe the hunger will fade.

    However, how many Scots in our high profile team sports reach anything like the accolades of the Brazilian footballers? We are not talking about people who have won everything and then struggle for motivation. These are sportsmen who, relatively speaking, win next to nothing in their chosen sport but still believe they have 'made it' just because they get a big sponsorship deal?

    Scotland needs to understand professionalism for what it really is, if that requires remembering why you played the game in the first place and instilling the amateur enjoyment then so be it....although I believe the set up has already failed if this is required.

  • Comment number 13.

    You have to accept that top level rugby is now a professional game, however, Scottish Rugby is struggling to compete. Rugby in Italy seems to be better run than Scottish Rugby despite being relative newcomers. The lack of financial clout at the SRU and some mad contract decisions haven't helped. It is also impossible to run a professional sport based on two teams.

    The professional game in Scotland is also missing the flair of the past. It seems our professional players only play the way they have been told to play. If the situation on the pitch changes, or a moment of individual brilliance is needed, the cupboard appears bare. I could noit see John Rutherford, Gregor Townsend or many other players of the amateur/semi professional eras going into a game and just following the set gameplan. That spark is missing in the Scottish game at the moment and there is no indication that it is going to appear soon.

  • Comment number 14.

    The SRU showed their lack of commitment to professionalism by closing the Borders team in Scotland's rugby heartland. Instead they kept pumping money into Glasgow, a city where rugby will never be a hit. You just have to look at the players in the current national squad to see the impact the Borders still has on the professioanl game in Scotland

  • Comment number 15.

    What a refreshing article. I coach the rugby team at my school and I always remind them that the main objective is enjoyment - what point is there in playing any sport if you don't enjoy it!
    I have recently started playing again after a 4 year break and love every second of it playing a good number of divisions lower than ever before! As a much younger man I played for Wasps Vandals and remember some first teamers rushing to training, apologising for being late due to work then giving it their all for 2 hours then joining us for a beer (or maybe 2 in some front rowers cases!) afterwards - great players, but great club men too.
    I would love to see players spending half a day a week on a non-rugby based "occupation" and have seen players from clubs like London Irish doing great community and schools work.

  • Comment number 16.

    The academy set up is totally wrong.... You can't pick a 14/15/16 year old boy and say he's going to make it to international level. It should be open to all kids and all kids get the same coaching and the kids play for there local teams with the same caoches as I said in a previous article John. The professional players and teams should be working at promoting the game when not training, by visiting schools, out on the main high streets, etc, etc, etc.

  • Comment number 17.

    John I'm slightly alarmed to find you were being paid £11 a day ("a fortune") during the amateur era. If this is true then surely Scotland would forfeit any match you played in!

    Nice principle for the article - importnat not to confuse 'amateurism' with 'amatuer ethos' as some responses have

  • Comment number 18.

    I think the rugby environement created by profesionalism in the smaler nations is such that it will stifle the games development. Big countrys such as England and france will be ok, as they have plenty of top level clubs and a huge player base that will always produce a mixture of styles and skills if calle upon. The celtic nations have seen a massive concentration of all their talent into a small pool of teams. In the short term this produced great benefits allowing us to compete in europe and has improved our 1st choice national teams. But where is the depth, the coaches options, the diversity??

    Decisions such as Wales' prior insistence on selecting only welsh based players was nothing short of insane, short sighted at best. The best example was the Biggar/Hook dilema at the ospreys contrasting with the Jones/Hook debate at national level. Had this embargo on foreign based players not been in force then Hooky would have been in France or England Years ago. The extra space in the Ospreys squad would 'hopefully' of allowed another young welsh player the chance of development, the WRU gets 1 players club salary payed for by another party and the welsh national team has 2 good and 1 back up outside halves to choose from. Its these sort of insular decisions that make me think there is no future for us.

  • Comment number 19.

    The_Moog @ 17. John is looking back on a previous era with a bit of nostalgia. Some of us are looking forward and not liking what we see. Amateur ethos is all well and good but coupled with a completely amateur set-up and administration of the professional game it is a recipe for disaster.

    Rugby Union is going down like a lead balloon and here we are debating whether we should have an amateur outlook!

    We already have an amateur outlook - just take a quick look at any club committee - but what we need is a professional business approach to take the professional forward in Scotland.

    One thing is clear, our U18 side is playing in a B tournament this week and it will not be long before the full side joins them with the season highlight being a home game against Georgia - probably played at Myreside in front of a couple of stalwarts.

  • Comment number 20.

    i think rugby has clung to certain parts of amateurism. for example, we have teams playing in leagues still, and players can play 35 games plus every year. you can't do that in professional, physically intense rugby, and i write this having just seen yet another article about a player retiring early through injury (ok, tom shanklin was 31 but that is early).

    if rugby were less amateur, it would've got hold of all the major northern hemisphere nations and thrashed out an NFL style european competition years ago, with fewer games being played to bigger, regional audiences.

    as it is, i think we are actually stuck in amateurism with regards to player welfare and the financial viability of teams.

    as for players' attitudes, i think pro rugby was a road we just had to take and once you take it you cant control everything thereafter. before pro rugby we had the sneaky payments and defections to rugby league. and i wonder, being a pro player certainly requires some dedication and commitment-- im not sure its achievable unless you enjoy what you do.

    you will go through days where you would rather be at home in front of the fire than train, but on the whole the passion and enjoyment is there, i suspect. im not sure i could constantly go through the gruelling sessions and weight training year after year unless i loved what i was doing. maybe professionalism sorts the most passionate and dedicated from the less so?

    all that said, after a day of teaching i like nothing better than training on a tuesday & thursday night followed by a pint. and on that note, im off to training now.

  • Comment number 21.

    Amateurs built the ark... professionals built the titanic... go figure...

  • Comment number 22.

    cant have it both ways, you cant demand Scotland to be an internationally competitive side and still want to hark back to the amateur age.

  • Comment number 23.

    Personally to play any sport you need to enjoy it. Stop enjoyment stop playing. The Pros train very hard and commit to a physical sport and do see need to embrace schools, children and pursue future career opportunities. To play at highest level in any sport nowadays you have to commit 24/7 to being professional and sadly enjoyment wanes and players turn off. Pro rugby highly intensive and physical so downtime could be better utilised as scientific testing will dictate programme to peak. To compete at top you need full commitment but in my opinion you lose the love quickly - sadly amateur ethos would show huge flaws - The SRU not addressing our Pro team issues and we need autonomy in our pro teams to drive opportunity and each team to work on its merits. We are pro in name but lack business professionalism from Murrayfield - the pro teams lack support staff to help grow teams - I play another sport at reasonably high level 3 or 4 days practice and daily fitness work gets close but does not win at the very top unless hot underdogs play to potential v funded programme players so whilst amateurs can run them hard they will not WIN often. I prefer and enjoy what I have and can only applaud full time funded pros who do the daily drag - soul destroying.

  • Comment number 24.

    23 Jim, yes you do need to be full time pro to compete with other full time pros. As far as autonomy is concerned I bet the SRU would like someone to come and take over a pro team but i don't think they are queueing up at the moment

    22 BBZ, i am not harking back to the old days, I just think that full time professional rugby means less enjoyment

    Nick Cameron - I am with you

    Philip - I don't want an amateur approach, I am saying that we need to learn to love the game, players do, and also sometimes create situations which mean that playing is seen as a diversion

    The Moog - perhaps I am confusing Lions tours, which had an allocation of £11 a day, or was it a week? Maybe later on there was an expenses element. You have me doubting my memory.

  • Comment number 25.

    With the way the SRU are strangling the Pro Teams it won't be long before you get your wish. Half of the players will probably end up working 40 hours.

  • Comment number 26.

    At last somebody has had the guts to make a comment on "Professionalism". The problem for professional sportsmen, of whatever sport, is that they are not paid to ENJOY themselves, they are paid to win. An individual has to be talented to be given a chance in professional sport but his, personal, enjoyment factor doesn't come into the equation. Players will be told to play a certain way and follow predetermined courses of action. Whether they agree with that is outside their remit. They might, by happy accident, get enjoyment from what they do but that is just a bonus. I know the argument will be made that an unhappy team will eventually be unsuccessful but it is the owners and coaches who call the shots. How many times do you see, nowadays, completely free, eccentric individuals being allowed free rein. There is no place for them in the modern team sport ethos.
    A previous Teri contributor commented on being to socialise with the stars of his day. I remember being able to walk down Hawick High Street any day with the possibility of seeing half a dozen current or ex internationals and pass the time of day with them.
    I wonder how some professionals pass their time. Training is probably over by lunchtime leaving a lot of time for a young guy to fill. Unless he has a strong will and motivation to occupy himself in a useful fashion it must be too easy to head for the bar or night club.
    I have never been able to get my head round the fact that some young sportsmen earn more in a week than others can save in a lifetime of work. However, that's a moral argument which would be futile to continue. I just think there is a place for the true amateur in sport but,unhappily, there seems to be few who are prepared to play sport simply for fun anymore. Likewise organisations who would support them.

  • Comment number 27.

    No 26, Brian Gormley:

    Brilliantly put. The passing of amateurism has in many ways been a great loss. Two other things which have been lost:

    1. In amateur times the gulf between institutionally strong nations and clubs and weaker ones was not so great. What has happened to club rugby has been a partricular sadness.

    2. In amateur times the prospect of a tour or test match was really exciting, and the games were once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I've not seen the atmosphere recaptured despite all the commercial gimmickry.

    You made a remark which I found particularly piquant and which I thought explained a great deal about the apparant "dumbing-down" of play at the highest level: "Players will be told to play a certain way and follow predetermined courses of action. Whether they agree with that is outside their remit." That hits the nail squarely on the head, and must have done so for every reader. In fact, I imagine that JB himself had something like that in mind when he broached the notion of an amateur ethos.

    You're right about the earnings of professional sportsmen. Back in amateur times, it seemed churlish not to help players at the highest levels, who were putting a lot into the sport, to cover their expenses, but the pendulum has swung very far to the opposite side, and the current situation is out of kilter too. Perhaps the argument is not an entirely moral one: the future of the game might well depend on arriving more quickly at a point of equilibrium.

    I hope that your input will be widely read.

  • Comment number 28.

    I would like to see young Scottish rugby players encouraged to go to university, hopefully on placement or scholarship at Edinburgh or Glasgow, depending on whichever team they sign with.

    Most of the Scotland team that went to the 1995 world cup had professional qualifications, but it would be interesting to see if players can still do that and make it into the Scotland set up.

    Euan Murray is a qualified vet, Cusiter is a lawyer, apart from that I'm not aware of a great deal of Scotland players with professional qualifications.

    I remember a much younger Wilkinson bemoaning that so much of his life was taken up by rugby [I'm sure a World Cup winner's medal has cheered him up a bit].

    Fostering an amateur ethos will mean healthy happier players and those players will always play better and for each other. It's what makes Lions tours successful.

    I was just reading Behind the Thistle and was touched by Wainwright and Scott Hastings saying that the France game in 1996[?] was the last of the great amateur parties, it seems genuinely sad that rugby is not the culture it was. The Lions and the Barbarians are the last bastion of this in the professional era.

    I would bring back the big blowout for paired teams at the end of the Six Nations. Rugby when it gets down to it, isn't about the game, its about making friends.

    There is a clip on YouTube featuring a big fight between two rugby squads. When the helpless referee blows the whistle to end the game, the teams immediately line up, start shaking hands and laughing.

    Eye gougings, visually impaired referees, divas, defence coaches, collapsing scrums, I am not the fan I was as a kid watching 15 hard-working real men take on the world in South Africa 1995 ...

    Bring back the amateur days.

  • Comment number 29.

    I think things are not as bad as Mr Beattie fears. Not in all sports, anyway. There's an interview with Martin Johnson from 22nd March on the BBC site where he talks about the enjoyment and excitement of being around a young and enthusiastic bunch of players.

    Or look at the way the Ashes squad gelled as exemplified by the "Sprinkler" dance. The fun's still there, the enjoyment. Not the same perhaps, as in the amateur days, but the top coaches and teams are beginning to realise the value of fun and the value of rounded human beings - if that understanding ever truly went away: Someone like Geech had the Lions players in SA going into the townships and it made a real impact both ways. Sir Clive - not known as a laugh a minute man - recognised the value of jesters like Dawson and Healey to the England 2003 squad.

    I'm a Tigers fan, but generally see more of Quins these days (geography) and know that both make real efforts to be involved in the local community and encourage their players to think about life after their playing days. And rugby players are still generally remarkably unfussy. You see them in the club bar after a game and they are generally approachable and value their supporters. I know, we can all think of idiots, but by and large they are good people (front rows excepted ;) ).

    I'm wondering as well - how far is this blog a rumination on Scottish Rugby, and how far a rumination on Rugby or Sport in general? It is a lot easier to have fun in a side that is winning, in any sport, at any level. There is the fact that all coaches have their strengths and weaknesses, and while Andy Robinson is a very fine coach indeed, fun is one area I would say he is perhaps a bit weak in? I've never met the guy, but "jovial" is not the first word that occurs when one sees him on tv...

    As to fun and making friends among supporters - still happens, don't worry. Thoroughly enjoyed my game as the only Tigers' supporter in the section of the Stoop where I was sitting when we beat Quins a couple of weeks ago. The fans were passionate, knowledgeable, and as fair minded as you could expect as the Tigers' pack got hold of them and crushed them like bugs. Mwahahahahaha.

  • Comment number 30.

    Nice article and a lot to be said for the amateur ethos for both players and spectators. Unfortunately both games I love, rugby and cricket have both sold themselves to professionalism and the money. This results in overkill... more and more games...injured, worn out players and atreadmill where it is impossibe to see players at their best or the generation of a mystique. Can't see a way back though can anyone?

  • Comment number 31.

    Number 30, wringtonmike:

    Not me, for sure. Perhaps however there is a future (however improbable) in which there are more professional players earning less astronomical, better-capped salaries over more limited seasons, so that there is some room - and need - to take jobs to fill the remaining months and fund retirement at the age of sixty rather than thirty, populating more clubs and playing a more human rota of tests and first-class games - but such an arrangement would call for an incredible feat of negotiation and super-human measures to overcome the greed which, like toothpaste, isn't easy to get back into the tube once it has escaped. Hard to see it coming about. Guess we'll have to resign ourselves to watching performances from a shrinking community of over-paid, under-motivated professionals until fans stop paying to watch them, and crisis looms, or hope that new bllod arrives in sufficient supply to restore circulation. Meanwhile, the least we can do is demand performance commensurate with earnings: it's what is universally expected, with the possible exception of the Spice Girls...

  • Comment number 32.

    Hello John,
    I watch your programme the other week about young people and scottish sport in general.
    I am a coach of a mini rugby team, we are a small club but we have had 3 very sucessful years together. Several of the boys I work with are very talented and have the basic skills required for the key national themes. My frustration is that we have parents who feel the need to send their sons to private school to give them the best chance of making it in rugby. This concerns me as researching the SRU pathway and player acadamy routes their does appear to be a bias towards the private school boys.
    If we are going to get serious about the development of our younger players then we must ensure that any player who meets the minimum standards set by the national key themes at least gets a fair shot. I could talk about this subject all day long but I do feel it falls on deaf ears at the SRU.

  • Comment number 33.

    Hi John - thanks for another stimulating blog - I love the picture too and remember how you played with passion and grimace - or was it the shorts that gave the facial expression? I've now lived in Dunedin for 6 years and see the NZ rugby scene first hand - It's got it's isssues sure, and winning is top priority, however there is a close association between clubs and international players as well as with frachises like the Highlanders (who are having a good season at last). The all blacks are heroes here but also accessible and work hard at meeting people at grass roots level. The population here is similar to Scotland but it's a huge country geographically by comparison - So if the AB's can do it in NZ Scottish pro's should be able to copy their example, and keep in touch with who they play for.

  • Comment number 34.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 35.

    The Lions and the Barbarians are the last bastion of this in the professional era.

    Your having a laugh there. The Lions tour is particularly lucrative for those involved and the day that the players, coaches and hangers on are not handsomely remunerated for their time is the day The Lions are no longer.

  • Comment number 36.

    Fogot to add that like #33 I also live in New Zealand in the Hawkes Bay region. Many of the known and not so well known players can regularly be seen helping in the community.
    The SRU have for as long as I can remember failed to take the game and players to the length and breadth of the country. Having said that I do remember enjoying your company John many years ago at the Lerwicks Sevens... but I very much doubt that that was the doing of the SRU.

  • Comment number 37.

    Hi John . Something completely unconnected but I think you maybe interested. Remember Lalit Bhanot, the DG of the Delhi Commonwealth Games Organising Committee the gentlemen who remarked that Indian standards of Hygiene were at variance with western standard. I am sure you know that he along with a number of other worthies is in jail. And for the first few days he was made to clean the toilets so that he understands the basics of hygiene. I thought you may want to know.

  • Comment number 38.

    thanks for this great post!

  • Comment number 39.

    I love BBC! Please create a show or topic on how to Make Nose Smaller thanks a lot.

  • Comment number 40.

    Really intresting post thanks for sharing it . I like it .


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