I am, from time to time, a sports buff. Depends who is playing, what sport and if it’s on in one pub or the other. In most cases, I can take it or leave it. If it’s a team I have followed since I was knee-high-to-a-grasshopper, I don’t watch because I get drawn in and become a nervous wreck and a complete twat (French for idiot).
I am loyal to my teams, following them on the internet. Most of those teams come from Toronto, Canada. Hockey (ice), Football (not soccer) and baseball are my sports of choice. I watch football (soccer) over here in England, but usually when we visit my best friend’s parents. Her dad is an Arsenal fan, but we watch other teams play as well.
I can handle watching some golf. I played a lot in the 1990s but I think I had about a million handicap when I stopped. I’ve given up watching most of the Olympics. Too much going on and I’m never sure which country I ought to be loyal to. Tennis is OK. I love watching Roger Federer play. I’m not a great basketball fan even though I want the Toronto team to win.
A jack-of-all-sports and master of none. That’s me. Rugby, you ask? I’ve watched it. I can’t say I follow it or get excited about it. It ranks up there with the most violent sport on the planet. Next to Lacrosse I think. Just my opinion. I used to avoid those sports growing up. Not one for breaking bones and losing teeth.
But, here I was on a very cool and damp April Saturday on my way to see a rugby match. Rugby League to be precise. Not Rugby Union. For those of you who don’t know the difference, never fear. Neither do I. Well, I didn’t until Thom, a good mate of mine and with whom I attended the match, explained it all to me. I still don’t get it, except the part where there are fewer scrums in League and they aren’t as volatile. Thom once played for Haringey, where this match was taking place.
Thom had once lived and played in Haringey….years ago….and this was his first visit back to the old stomping grounds. Much had changed. Where once was a bastion of white Anglo-Saxon multitudes, now every cultural group under the sun walked the streets. Street signs were in Greek and Turkish, Arabic and Farsi, Hindi, Tamil, Urdu and Chinese. Colourful, the smells of a thousand ethnic dishes and an array of garments from various countries and religions were being worn.
Thom and I felt positively out-of-place at first until we noticed everyone just going about the daily business as if we weren’t there or were just another part of the scenery. Even a street fight broke out between two, maybe three, rival gangs of females. Pushing, shoving, punching, hair pulling and lots of colourful terminology. The boys from each group stood around either encouraging one cluster of females or the other or laughing at their antics. No one else seemed to pay any attention to the fracas. Just another Saturday afternoon in Haringey.
We headed toward the stadium where the game was to be played. The environment around us changed considerably. The streets here, just past Wood Green, seemed quieter. Eventually, we reached the New River Stadium. Not wanting to hang around Haringey too long, we were very early for the match.
The New River Stadium is part of a sports complex that includes everything from track and field to boxing and all kinds of other sport related programs in a rambling concoction of buildings and outdoor pitches. One part of the sprawl is a sheltered stand on one side of a field and an open, tiered seat section opposite. No seating at both ends, except when they set up for special sports events like the one I attended with Thom.
Special. Define special. Well, I would think it was somehow different from the normal event. Lots of pyrotechnics and free stuff and pizzaz. You know what I mean. After all, this was a foreign team visiting British shores trying to impress Brits. This team was from Canada, my old stomping grounds. Even better, it was from Toronto, my old hometown. The Toronto Wolfpack.
It was the only reason I went out of my way to watch a sport I don’t even like in a part of London I would not choose to visit. Plus the promise of all this pizzaz. Talk of Canadian music and food and who knows what else Canadian. My mind boggled. They were playing a team from Halifax….not the one in Nova Scotia, Canada, but at least it was a familiar name. Not like Over Wallop or Middle Wallop in Hampshire, England.
Nope. It all went south from the moment we arrived. The seats were hard. It drizzled rain and the air-cooled as the hours went by. The spectator/supporters clubhouse was small and crowded with people from Halifax who spoke a barely discernible english. The Canadiana was a Canadian airline advertising low price fares to Canada. There was a VIP tent at one of the ends, but I guess we didn’t rate. Some large, unsmiling English woman turned us away.
No Tim Horton’s coffee and donuts, no beaver tails, no poutine, not even Canadian beer. We had to sit through the end of a football (soccer) match between 2 teams with no talent and players that could barely run. One chap was so rotund, he just stood in the middle of the pitch until the ball came to him. At least he knew which goal to kick it toward.
When the rugby match was ready to go, the Halifax supporters (who outnumbered the Toronto contingent by a margin of 100-1 it seemed) who took their rugby very seriously, were chanting away….HallyHallyHallyFax….drowning out the poor singer of the National Anthems who tried her best to be heard through a pathetically small speaker where the VIP tent stood. To make matters worse, she sang in an operatic voice that every so often came through as the sound of a high-speed train going by.
When it came time for ‘God save The Queen’, some drunk right behind me decided to start without her and we were long finished by the time the opera singer ended. Everyone laughed and then….disaster. The flags were marched from the VIP tent to the grandstand by members of the Canadian and British Armed Forces, except that they must march differently over here, because nothing was in time and it ended in a state of chaos before us. More raucous laughter. Oh those wild rugby fans. Take no prisoners.
The game began and it was clear that Halifax was heavily outmatched. Brits swear a lot when frustrated. No exception here. A nice family next to Thom and I were, I learned, from Ottawa in Canada. The two young daughters were treated to the best of the English language. Most of the vitriol was toward the referee who, apparently, wouldn’t know an offside from a particularly vulnerable male appendage.
There was a female body part used as well, but that shall never be repeated on these pages. Those poor Ottawatonians. At the half, the score was 32-4 for Toronto and became 36-4 right after the half. By the way, at the half we were treated to kids playing flag rugby. One zealous kid thought he was playing against Halifax and hogged the ball.
Some wiseacre from the crowd ran out on the track leading to the field and rearranged the scoreboard to read Toronto 36, Halifax 85. No security anywhere that day to be seen….except at the VIP tent. Our bags were never checked, but everyone again had a good laugh. The game ended, Toronto 42, Halifax 10. We left before Halifax scored its last try (score) and long after the family from Ottawa had gone.
The game was televised on Sky Sports. I can only imagine what viewers must have thought. My best friend’s dad watched from home. I asked him later what he thought. “Of what?” he asked. “Of the game” I answered. “What game?” was the comeback. Indeed.