The East Terrace
Cup half empty
James Stafford
September 15, 2011
Scotland fans in New Zealand show the way © Getty Images
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Tournaments/Tours: Rugby World Cup
Teams: England | Ireland | Scotland | Wales

Just one week into the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, home based fans from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland have been criticised for their lacklustre performances before, during and after their respective nation's matches.

Whilst the performance of those fans who travelled to New Zealand has been exemplary, those who have remained on home soil are being accused of letting their countries down. Figures reveal that in comparison to previous southern hemisphere tournaments (particularly 2003 in Australia) fewer UK fans are socialising in the pub or with each other during matches and instead are choosing to watch games on their own in comfort.

Social commentators cannot agree if the trend is part of the global economic downturn but it is estimated that less than 8% of English fans and 12% of Welsh fans were inebriated by the conclusion of their nation's respective opening games last week. The usual figure is normally closer to 40% after World Cup matches and, even allowing for the recession, the figure is abnormally low.

"We are particularly disappointed by the Irish performance," said IRB Fan Liaison Officer Joanne Woods. "Whilst we appreciate Ireland's opening game was a Sunday morning against a so called second tier nation, we really thought there would be more oomph to proceedings. We expected at least 48% of the Irish to have consumed unhealthy levels of alcohol prior to the final whistle in their match against the USA.

"With such a dire performance we actually expected a sharp spike in drinking levels during the second half, but it was not to be. The media may be focusing on the poor Irish performance off the field, but the real shock is the lack of drinking back in the Emerald Isle. They need to step their game up this weekend against Australia."

Analysts believe a combination of factors are to blame for the unusually low levels of UK and Irish debauchery rather than a single root cause. The rise in media partners broadcasting games online, as well as the availability of live updates on media and social networks sites such as Twitter, have produced a far more fragmented social experience for watching rugby games. Traditional drinking fans are concerned that rugby fans under the age of twenty, who have no experience of drinking early in the morning during a southern hemisphere tournament, will never ever 'fully experience a real World Cup'.

"The rise of Wi-Fi internet connection has had a huge impact on the social culture of the World Cup," said head of England's Supporters' Club Richard Gallagher. "Younger fans in particular think nothing of following games online. In 2003 when England won the World Cup in Australia, me and my friends in England would always make an effort to get together on the mornings of a match, whatever the time of day. We'd have a big fry up and start drinking as soon as the match kicked off. However early the match was in the morning it made no difference at all to us. It was rugby and when you watched rugby you drank. A lot.

"I tried to get the old gang together last week for the Argentina match and couldn't quite believe what I was hearing. Three of the crew said they were not only staying at home to watch the game, but were going to watch it on the laptop in bed! What's the world coming to? Is this the spirit of England? Sitting in bed with a cup of tea watching the match? I'm ashamed of many of our so called fans. Our nation is broken. But England be what she will, with all her faults she is my country still."

The nadir of the tournament so far for home nation fans was the Scotland v Georgia match which took place (in Britain) at 8.30am on a Wednesday morning. Whilst official figures do not exist, anecdotal evidence suggest that not only did very few Scottish supporters take the morning off from work to drink and watch the match, many were simply content to follow it at work via live commentary updates on the internet or Twitter rather than going to the pub or a friend's house to drink until they were 'legless'.

"Twitter for god's sake!" said Andrew McWilliams a member of the Scottish Rugby Fans' Club. "Twitter? That's simply not rugby. I've heard some people saying that a combination of time zone difference and the impact of the global recession are causing all this, but I think it is nonsense. Rugby fans are going soft and want their home comforts far too much. They need to man up and get to the local rugby club and drink. Drink for your country, damn it! I blame professionalism."

The frustration of McWilliams was echoed in Wales where a similar decline in social drinking has been noted.

"I really think that the biggest worry for Wales this Sunday isn't the dangerous Samoan tackling or the chance of a third World Cup failure against them," said Geriant Williams of the Welsh Supporters' Club. "But it's the young fans back home in Wales not being able to cope with the 4.30 am kick off. When I was in my twenties such a kick off time would have meant me going out at 9pm the night before to get a good spot in front of the telly in my rugby club.

"I probably would have drunk straight through until I could go for Sunday lunch at the local pub. No chance these days with the young whippersnappers, they can't handle it. I even turned white with horror yesterday when I heard one youngster saying he was going to record the match on his DVD recorder or hard drive or Sky Plus, or whatever you call it, and watch it later on in the morning when he wakes up. May the rugby gods forgive him for his sins for I never will."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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