Saturday, 2 February 2013

Gentlemen and Thugs

Why does the Welsh working class so love the game of those who gave it its martyrs at Tonypandy? Rugby is quite the least likely game for such implacable foes of the ruling class of yesteryear. Other than cricket, and even that is only arguably the case. In these parts, cricket is very much the summer game of the old mining communities, and the old pit villages often have remarkable grounds to reflect that fact.

For that matter, why do the Boers, of all people, love rugby, of all sports? Mind you, the supposed Tories in the present Cabinet managed to love the Boers and their anti-British revenge republic, which would have been just as improbable if they had really been Tories at all. Rugby was, and to an extent it still is, a way of expressing a Basque or Catalan identity in south-western France, distinct from the football-loving French.

In Argentina and Chile, although it is a small minority pursuit in those countries, it is nevertheless a way of expressing longstanding ties to Britain, and especially to Wales in the Argentine case; there were far more British subjects living in Argentina than on the Falkland Islands at the time of the Falklands War, for example, and Welsh is still spoken in part of Patagonia.

In Portugal, it is a way of expressing very longstanding ties to England specifically, like the use of the GMT and BST that Spain is also considering adopting, like the popularity of Cadbury's chocolate, and like the making available of the Azores during the Falklands War. In Italy, it goes back to Welshmen who went over there to work in the mines. Due to where they settled, it has become a way of identifying oneself as Venetian or Lombard within and against the name of a nineteenth-century state which bears what is really only the name of a certain peninsula.

In Ireland, rugby's popularity, at least during international tournaments, indicates to the extent to which "Castle" Anglo-Irishness is integral to, and in many ways definitive of, Irish identity as a whole, which exists plainly and simply within that of this Archipelago and of the ties that bind it, for good or ill, to the world that the Irish, no less than anyone else, went out to conquer and to colonise.

On that note, in Australia and New Zealand, the link is obvious. A subject, so to speak, which becomes pricklier in relation to Fiji. The game's followers there, the indigenous and long-Christian Melanesians (notably, most of whom are Methodists, which recalls Wales, and the playing of Rugby Union as a working-class game in the North East, unlike in Yorkshire and historic Lancashire), are now a minority, while the descendants of Indian indentured labourers have come to predominate in what has become a republic. But the President is nevertheless elected by the Great Council of Chiefs, which continues to acknowledge the Queen as Paramount Chief. And the people who look to Her Majesty as their Paramount Chief not only join the British Army in remarkable numbers, but they also play rugby.

However, in Wales, in South Africa, in the Scottish Borders - isn't it just a bit English, and posh English at that, for them? What is the story there, as there must surely be one? But then, look at the cricket-playing, like the Episcopalianism, in the Scottish North East, in no sense an Anglicised area, but rather one where the SNP has long done well electorally.

Come to that, look at the popularity, real or otherwise, of football among the English middle classes since 1990, even though England has not won an international football tournament since 1966 (at home), when football was pretty much a working-class peculiarity, although they had only ever been taught it in the first place by public school curates who had wanted to give their young male parishioners something to do in their spare time.

An absolute prohibition on the use of foul language on the field of play has long worked perfectly well in rugby. And I mean both codes, so this is not about class or what have you. Why should it not also work in football?

There is a book in here somewhere. So much so that someone must surely have written it by now. Ian Jack, perhaps. Or David McKie. Someone like that, anyway. Does anyone know?

1 comment:

  1. I had always thought that ruby union was the national sport of Wales, a sport for the upper-class public school types in most of England, whilst in Northumbria and the Scottish Borders it was the favoured sport of sheep farmers-- a minority sport but certainly not an overtly elitist one. I may be wrong though.