Georgia on My Mind
There must have been a time, once, when following international rugby in Wales was done for pleasure.
I don’t know about you, but trying to scrape a living in an economic hellscape during the dank gloom of November is about enough for me, without my scant leisure time being overwhelmed by national failure on a hitherto unimaginable scale.
I’ve been here for the cricket score losses to southern hemisphere sides, the Samoan embarrassments, Fiji at the World Cup, and even Italy last year. All of that seemed explicable in terms of the games themselves.
Selection issues could be debated, another coach could be sacrificed, and we’d regain respectability in a game that we loved regardless of fortune.
This feels different.
Some months ago, there was a lot of talk about separating the governance of the elite game from the that of the grassroots clubs. The inference was that the parochial amateurism of the clubs was stifling the professional game, upon which they depend for their funding.
My remit in these articles is to watch international games at clubs and pubs to give a flavour of how supporters are feeling about them. Well, I can report that they are feeling nothing.
Today, I was at Llanidloes RFC in Powys. I’ve been here before and it’s reliably packed for international games.
In an area not renowned for its rugby, international day has always drawn people who are motivated by cultural attachment as much as they are by the game itself.
Watching the team is an opportunity to express love for Wales and it’s been embraced here by locals and incomers alike.
I watched the game with the club treasurer, Peadar: a rugby fanatic who hails from Northern Ireland but wears red if he isn’t in green.
Glancing around the sparsely attended clubhouse, Peadar explained the impact that today’s meagre bar takings would have on Llanidloes RFC.
Energy bills are about to increase, and the club has ambitious plans for its youth section, so Peadar has a job on allocating funds to keep everything running as it should.
I can almost hear you.
‘It’s only Georgia, of course there were less people in…’
I want to believe that too, but the picture I’m seeing during this is of a nation disinterested in how Wales perform.
From Tylorstown to Llanidloes, I see clubs that are successfully acting as hubs of their local communities and providing social cohesion during a time of upheaval and uncertainty.
Increasingly, though, they are doing this without any reference to the professional game which seems to be operating in a realm of remote dysfunction.
With the regional game routinely played in empty stadia and away games requiring a flight, often to Africa, it’s not unreasonable to question what service the professional game in Wales is actually offering to its customers.
A corporate, professional offering at regional level was supposed to be the price of a national side that would inspire the grassroots game. From my perspective, it seems that the organisation of community clubs puts the professional game to shame.
Whilst the clubs can attract youngsters through their doors in droves and offer services to their communities that are genuinely transformational, the professional game seems to chunter along in a netherworld of meaningless excuses for commercial and sporting failure.
It was painful to contrast the passion and joy of the Georgian setup with the hollow media speak of the Welsh management after the game.
I should be telling you how the punters in Llanidloes were shocked and dismayed by today’s performance.
As a writer and a fan, I want to relate the passionate debates I heard about where Wales went wrong. I can’t do that because none of it happened.
Everyone was keen to talk about their club because their club means the world to them.
What was transpiring on the big screen seemed to be from another universe.
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Yes local clubs do marvellous, selfless work with your players and yes some professional players are mediocre and overpaid but isn’t that the case in every sport? Hollow management speak is also everywhere from government to business. Risk-averse, coached to avoid (or cause, haha) the media frenzy. What is the alternative? Wales were in the wilderness between 1980 and 2005 with the exception of a few flourishes and there have been many lows since 2005 too. As the game became professional Wales haemorrhaged players to Rugby League and struggled to compete. The future was far bleaker then than now. I… Read more »