I’d never been to Twickenham before. The largest stadium in the World devoted solely to Rugby Union. Not even to see Lady Gaga or Rihanna. So when Bryn, via Steve, offered up a ticket for England v Australia in the Autumn Internationals, I jumped at the chance. Another iconic sporting venue ticked off the list. (I have lists of lists, just in case you are wondering. Alphabetically and chronologically organised.)
The game and indeed the stadium did not disappoint. Bryn and I had a sweeping view from the Upper East tier that enabled a perspective on the shape of the match, the gaps and overlaps and territorial advances that you can’t get off the telly. Identifying the individual protagonists was a little more tricky, however. As was interpreting the many refereeing decisions. The big screen helped out here a few times, but there were some random infringements that even the video boys struggled to nail.
|Up with the Gods|
This was mostly good, open action though. The Wallabies clearly had the advantage in the back division, regularly creating spare men on both wings and slicing the defence open with electric running through the centre. They delivered three tries this way. England had the forward power though and this proved decisive. Their two tries were scored by Ben Morgan at number 8, both from marauding forward play. The boot of George Ford secured enough penalties for a 26-17 victory that, we reasoned, flattered the hosts a fraction. I was very happy with my debut at the home of rugby.
For a while, I thought I wasn’t going to make the game at all. Rewind four hours. My train came to a juddering halt at Kings Langley and the conductor announced that there had been a ‘serious passenger incident at Watford’. We all knew what this meant. A jumper. Sickening feeling. And that contradictory emotion of selfishness that this would cause massive travel disruption. After about twenty minutes, I rang Bryn to update him.
A young man across the aisle from me turned and said ‘Nice one mate, that should be a great game – if you get there!’ He then asked me a few technical questions about England’s selection for the game which I bluffed and blagged a bit, but I think he could tell I didn’t have much of a deep insight.
This urge to fill every empty space with words often does me no favours. On Friday, I left the house to watch a race at the bookies. My mind was full of potential profits and I’m sure I was displaying plenty of excitable traits. I saw an acquaintance coming up the road and offered a hearty 'Alright?' a fraction urgently. 'Hi’ he responded, ‘Good thanks'.
There was still some yards between us and I felt I had to fill the geographic gap with more conversation. I spied the bags he was holding. 'Ah, dry cleaning!' I blurted. 'Excellent!'
He laughed nervously. In a stride I was past him and I had an urge to turn round and say, 'Sorry! Weird. Don't know why I said that!’ But I didn't. The damage was done.
We are going to a Christmas party in December. He'll be there. I'll walk in with Mrs A and he'll see me from the other side of the room. He'll lean over to those next to him and stage whisper, 'Don't look now but that dry cleaning fetishist I was talking about has just arrived...' I am doomed.
The conductor announced that 'The fatality is not a good one. We could be here for one hour, it could be two hours.' A London-bound chap opposite looked over and said, ‘When is there a good fatality?’ We got chatting about the nature of these horrible incidents which, sadly, are not uncommon on this line. He looked up Twitter and there was a tweet form a passenger on the platform saying 'Horrendous incident at Watford. People looking for parts.’ Too much information.
The train did eventually get moving again and I met Bryn a bit later than planned at Clapham Junction. I feared another rail incident as he directed me to an eight-car unit that did not appear to be stopping at Twickenham. We were on platform 11 whilst the Burberry-clad crowd was on platform 5. Bryn told me not to fear, that this was the mysterious ‘loop line’ and that we would be there in plenty of time, with a seat to boot. He was right on all counts. A little local knowledge goes a long way.
I was also impressed with the enterprise shown by the good people of south west London. Every other front garden in these suburban streets played host to a fast food stall, some run by the residents, others hired from them by outside caterers. Burgers, noodles, curries, hog roasts, pulled pork baguettes, tacos, donuts, smoothies. Endless possibilities. I was happy with my meat and tatie pie on the way in and the return journey jumbo hot dog, but perturbed that Bryn negotiated a double burger for the price of a single on the way home. I’m losing my touch.
You don’t get the same chi chi food village on the way to Wembley. Neither to you get the same atmosphere. Rugby Union is more inclusive, less hostile and all about good natured banter. I suppose a flip side is that the songs are much poorer. ‘Swing low’ and ‘heeeeaaavve’ was about the limit of the repertoire.
After the game (and some photobombed selfies), we stayed for a drink in one of the many ground level bars. This is something else civilized and racing in particular could learn a lot from not slamming the shutters down before the last and thereby creating an almighty crush both at the exits and the transport hubs. Cheltenham are you listening?
There was even a decent covers band pumping out Lenny Kravitz and Ocean Colour Scene whilst we queued behind a group of pissed up ex-public school boys engaged in some humorous jinx. This involved a pillock in a union flag trench coat wrestling his mates to the ground and causing a little collateral mayhem in the process. Including increasing our beer-waiting time. Merely high spirits, course.
On the way back to the station a chap was digging deep into a rubbish skip, retrieving sundry ‘Twickenham’ embossed polycarbonate pint pots for which he would get a quid each back at the bar. He looked to have about £17 in his mits already. I kept mine as a souvenir.
We rounded off the evening with a few in The Falcon at Clapham Junction, where we hooked up with Pete and his mate Des. Des had been on the lash in Brighton watching his beloved Fulham turn over the hosts 1-2. He staggered into the boozer looking for his tenth pint of the day, which he held at a precarious angle for about half an hour without either spilling or drinking a drop. There is unexpected talent everywhere you look.
Next stop on the stadium tour is Catterick Bridge racecourse on Wednesday. My expectations are only a shade lower.