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Home / Sporting Events / Cardiff Blues RFC / Football v rugby
Rugby v Football

Football v rugby

 

A parade through the city centre streets following Cardiff Citys promotion to the Premier League
A parade through the city centre streets following Cardiff City’s promotion to the Premier League

 

“We’ve had the rough, now let’s enjoy the smooth”

Scott Johnson is the  author of The Blues  Are Up, about Cardiff  City’s promotion  campaign from a fan’s  perspective, published  by Y Lolfa, £6.95

As a Welsh  football fan, you expect plenty of  rough before you enjoy any smooth,  living in the shadow of rugby. While  a paltry number of supporters turn up for football  internationals, rugby internationals regularly sell  out the Millennium Stadium at eye-watering  prices.

But this season has been different.

With four Welsh club sides winning silverware,  there is cheer among fans of Swansea City,  Cardiff City, Newport County and Wrexham. Are  the scales finally tipping in favour of football?

Carling Cup winners Swansea City are flying  the Welsh flag in the Europa League and are  established in the Premier League. Since entering  administration in 2002, they narrowly avoided  slipping out of the Football League.

They left the  Vetch Field and moved to the Liberty Stadium in  2005, establishing an entertaining and effective  passing game that they have cultivated ever  since. Lauded on and off the field, they have  supporter representation on the board and a  healthy bank balance.

They set the standard for  Cardiff City, who also  came perilously close to financial oblivion.

After  many near-misses, they have returned to the top  flight for the first time in 51 years after clinching  the Championship title last year. Heavily  subsidised by owner Vincent Tan, the Bluebirds  spent in excess of £10m to achieve promotion.

Money doesn’t guarantee success but the  Bluebirds topped the table from November  onwards, spreading goals throughout the side  while remaining resolute in defence.

A  pre-season rebrand which saw them adopt a red  kit to appeal to the Asian market enabled the  lavish spending spree but remains divisive.

Managed by fan-favourite Malky Mackay, the club  have spent close to £30m.

Malky Mackay deserves a long deal at Cardiff City
Malky Mackay

 

Newport County are also back in the Football  League after a 25-year absence.

During that time,  they have been out of business, dragged through  the courts and forced to play in Gloucestershire.  Reformed by 400 supporters and now boasting a  EuroMillions-winning chairman in Les Scadding  they’re set to make an impression in League Two.

Securing promotion in the play-offs, they beat  Wrexham, who are thriving under the ownership  of the Wrexham Supporters Trust.

They won a  legal battle to oust former chairman Alex  Hamilton, who was determined to sell the ground  they have occupied since 1872, as they tumbled  down the leagues.

They have missed out on  promotion in three consecutive seasons, but won  the FA Trophy against Grimsby Town in March.

All four have risen from the depths and their  fans deserve good fortune. The national side has  also risen in the FIFA rankings from 81st to 46th  this year and the world’s most sought-after player  is Welsh.

Gareth Bale, the holder of the PFA  Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and  FWA Footballer of the Year awards, could be  football’s first £100m player, while Aaron Ramsey  and Jonathan Williams are prominent in a  talented crop of young players.

The national side are perennial failures but,  whisper it, Wales are starting to look like  contenders.

The fans are notoriously fickle but they have turned up in their droves on occasion.

Qualification for a major tournament  would be massive for game and country.

I know how obnoxious and distasteful footballers have  become, but I think if you pumped the same money into  rugby, the airs and graces would disappear.

I’ve  given rugby a crack of the whip but I’ve never got  on with it and I know I’m  in the minority. I’ve always been envious of the international day experience, but I think that it is more about the before and after than the game itself.

The continued success of the Welsh national  rugby team, a phenomenal achievement, has also  masked the decline at regional level. The best  players are heading overseas and it seems  inevitable that it will catch up with the national  game. international side.

It’s true that both Cardiff and Swansea are short of Welsh  players, but a top-flight South Wales derby can only further boost Welsh football’s growing profile and may  inspire the next generation to choose a round  ball instead of an oval one.

The times, they are  a-changin’.

 

Justin Tipuric and Sam Warburton of Wales celebrate in the changing rooms after winning the RBS Six Nations
Justin Tipuric and Sam Warburton of Wales celebrate in the changing rooms after winning the RBS Six Nations

“We’re punching above our weight”

Dan Allsobrook is one  of the editors of  gwladrugby.com, a  rugby fans’ website  and blog, and he says  that the love of rugby  in our very veins is  what lifts us up as a  nation

Rugby is regarded as our national  sport by many people in and  outside of Wales, in spite of the fact  that there are more football players  and fans in the country than those who play or  follow rugby. But all over the world, Wales is seen  as being synonymous with rugby union. Why is  this?

These days both sports are professional, with a  strong commercial imperative. They have a  product to sell, and that means getting bums on  seats and selling merchandise. Success on the  pitch brings popularity and revenue for both  games, but this wasn’t always the case.

Until the mid-1990s, rugby was still an amateur  game. There were always stories about car-park  takings finding their way into the boots of star  players on a Saturday afternoon, but the official

line was that rugby union players could not make  money from playing, or even talking or writing  about their sport. This meant that rugby players  had to make their living in a day job, often at the  local pit or steel works, sometimes the local  school or doctor’s surgery. As a consequence,  rugby’s international stars were accessible.

They  rubbed shoulders with their fans in workplaces,  pubs, village streets and chapels. They remained  “one of us”.

How has rugby union managed to maintain its  popularity and status in Wales when there has  always been so much more money in football?  Because Welsh rugby has punched above its  weight. It truly is the mouse that roared.

We’ve always had fewer registered clubs and  players than the other major rugby nations, and  we’re smaller in terms of overall population. In  spite of that, we’ve sustained several long periods  of success and dominance, notably in the ’70s,  when we captured four Triple Crowns and three  Grand Slams.

During the ’70s, more than any  other time before or since, the Welsh rugby team  were woven into the fabric of our society, and  they have remained there to this day. JPR,  Gerald, Barry, Phil, Grav… the list goes on. These  men were and still are folk heroes who stand  taller than politicians, business leaders, singers,  actors and other figures in Welsh life.

JPR Williams clears the danger as Springbok Jan Ellis looks at block the kick ahead in the first Test in South Africa, 1974
JPR Williams clears the danger as Springbok Jan Ellis looks at block the kick ahead in the first Test in South Africa, 1974

 

The ’70s was a time when Welsh football wasn’t  doing too badly either.

For a proud, small nation  like Wales, the feeling that you were the equal, if  not the better of your neighbours, was very  strong.

It was the Bread of Heaven that fed us.

There was nothing better than going in to work,  or school, on a Monday morning, having beaten  England at the weekend. It

turned clouds into  blue skies.

And we were able to do it every year.

In the past decade, Welsh rugby has  experienced another golden era, with three  Grand Slams and a Rugby World Cup semi-final  appearance to our credit. This year’s triumphant  British Lions were Welsh to the core.

We’ve been able to thumb our noses at the  people on the other side of the Severn Bridge  since 2003. With the current crop of players still  in their prime, it looks as if we’ll be able to  continue doing so for years to come.

This is a fantastic feeling for those of us who  remember the dark days of the ’80s and ’90s,  when we were routinely slaughtered by those in  the white shirts with the red roses on them.

In spite of a brief resurgence in the fortunes of  the national football team when Mark Hughes  was manager at the start of this century, the  round ball game has had to wait decades for the  dawn of a new era of success.

Swansea City’s  promotion to the English Premier League in 2011  was the beginning, and it looks like it will  continue now that Cardiff have joined them.

This new success is definitely no flash in the  pan, and it’s backed by serious money and  dedicated fans.

We already know that our recent rugby success  is no one-hit-wonder.

This time rugby is on a  level playing field with football, a professional  game reaping the rewards of success. Many  people are concerned that there isn’t room for  two successful sports in a country as small as  Wales.

They feel that the resurgence of the round  ball will be to the detriment of the oval ball. I’m  not so sure.

To the Welsh, it doesn’t matter what sport it is,  if we’re winning, then that means we’re punching  above our weight, and we love that feeling; it  makes us proud.

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