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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Twickenham: An American Rugby Fan Finds His Mecca

When you are a rugby fan, regardless of your country of Origin, you know enough about the sport to know that William Webb Ellis was kind enough to give birth to this sport in England.

I have been traveling with my wife on vacation in Europe since May 3rd. Our travels have led us to Barcelona, Naples, Rome, Pisa, Florence, Cannes, Marseille, Montpellier, Aix en Provence, Chalon-sur Saone, Paris and now, London. The excuse for this entire trip was my wife wanting to go to England for her 50th Birthday. Well, the trip kind of escalated, and took on a life of it's own.

The trip has been immense fun, but aside from going to a rugby-centric bar in Puisserguier, France and watching the final of the Amlin Challenge Cup between Biarritz and Toulon while in Aix en Provence(Glad that Biarritz won, since USA Eagle winger Ngwenya plays for the Basques), there has been very little rugby-related news that I have been able to relate on this trip.

Well, being in London, I just had to make it to Twickenham. My wife, decided that of 3 days in London, doing an afternoon in Twickenham would be an OK Compromise. We picked up the train at Waterloo station in London, and about 30 minutes later, we got off at the Twickenham railway station.(See photo above) There was no need for asking for directions, as soon as you step out of the train station, and you look towards the right, you can JUST catch the massive upper part of the stadium, the towers over a residential neighborhood-in some ways, Twickenham reminded me of Eden Park, in Auckalnd, New Zealand, as that is another iconic stadium that is right in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

I did the rugby fan equivalent of having desert first: I hit the fan store, and THEN I went and had a tour of the World Rugby Museum that is on the southwest corner of Twickenham.

The Museum at Twickenham has some simply amazing artifacts, dating from the latter part of the 19th century-but the bad side is that because some of those items are so sensitive to light, a good part of the early exhibits are in a type of darkness that I have not even seen at art museums in Florence, Paris or Barcelona. There were fantastic audio visual displays, like BBC commentary on an England-Wales  match from the late 1920's. They recreated an old-school style lockeroom and medical area, as well.

It was just fantastic to finally make it to one of the most iconic rugby grounds in the World. I was glad that I made it. For me it was one of the highlights of the trip.

The other thing I noticed when leaving Twickenham was a glimpse at the future. As the orgy of the oval ball known as the Rugby World Cup, 2015 edition will take place in England,  I could not help but notice an office right across the street from Twickenham:
My only regrets are that I won't be able to catch any rugby this weekend at Twickenham, as I will be in the West Midlands with my friend Jonathan in Birmingham. I will have to watch the Quins-Leicester final and the England-Barbarians match on TV. On the bright side, at least in England, I will at least be able to do that.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Rugby Memories from RWC 2007 in Languedoc

I have not been able to get much computer access during this trip to Europe. We had a great time on our cruise, with 3 stops in Italy, and two in France. When we got back to Barcelona, we rented a car and made it to Montpellier, where we stayed 3 nights with my friend, Bernard Massé.

Back in 2007, my son Ian and I saw two games from Rugby World Cup 2007 in Montpellier. The games were played at the Stade de la Mosson, but Australia practiced at this stadium, which is now the current home for Montpellier's rugby team. It seats about 15,000. Rugby is done here for the year, as Montpellier will play it's next playoff game at a neutral site in Toulouse.

One of my other great memories in 2007, was visiting my friend Jean-Paul in Puisserguier, a little village near Bézieers. Languedoc is right in the heart of rugby country. Montpellier may be on top of the standings in Ligue 1 in soccer/football, but the oval ball is something very near and dear to the heart of the average person in the smaller towns.

One evening, while in Puisserguier, Jean-Paul, my son Ian and I had a few too many glasses of Pastis at a local, rugby-centric bar. Too drunk to drive back to Montpellier, we stayed the night at Jean-Paul's place. one thing  I remember is trading my USA Rugby sweatshirt with the bartender, a fellow prop, who gave me his rugby jersey for the local side.

The other day, my wife and I stopped in Puisserguier to meet Jean-Paul, and we stopped at the same bar/café. The bartender remembered me, and even gave me a glass of Pastis for old time's sake...
Pastis! The National Drink of the South of France.

Our friendly bartender remembered me from 2007
Jean-Paul even had a present for me: a signed rugby ball by Robert Hierro, the man who coached Toulon to it's last French Title in 1987, and also has written some very good articles and books about the sport of rugby. The Gilbert ball also had the emblem of ABB, the local side. This ball is going to have a place of honor next to one of the 2011 RWC balls I have back in the USA. It was a great walk down memory lane.
With a signed ball by Robert Hierro, former Toulon Coach.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

More Than a Club: FC Barcelona is a Money-Making Machine

My wife and I have been in Barcelona, Spain since Thursday, May second. For those who have not been to this end of Catalonia, you really need to come here. The food is great, the people are friendly and they are just mad about sport. I had a chance to visit the Olympic Stadium and the
Olympic Museum here in Barça.

On Saturday, I also had a chance to visit the Nou Camp-home to FC Barcelona. Barça has an expression about itself: Mas que un club-more than a club. 

There is no question about the passion for Catalans about FC Barcelona. Because of their success-particularly over the past 4-5 years, they also have a world-wide following. 

What blew me away today, was the number of fans waiting at closed gates to be let in for a chance to go have the ulitmate Barça fan experience: a tour of the Nou Camp, including locker rooms, interview rooms a chance to see the playing surface and the press box. All for the rock-bottom price of 22 Euros. I was lucky, I had a coupon, so I only had to pay 20 Euros for the experience. Look, I am a rugby fan first and for most, but I am also a football/soccer fan, as well. I am glad I had a chance to see the Museum and get my picture at the Nou Camp. It's a great facility. I also believe in making money, but with what FC Barcelona was doing, was bordering on the obscene. After you have spent your money on the tour, the tour ended up, not surprisingly, in the FC Barcelona Botiga, or Boutique. Potential shoppers had a mind-numbing amount of Merchandise to buy. All at top dollar-no discounts here. To be honest, for an American soccer fan, it is possible to buy FC Barcelona shirts for less money than what people where charged in the Botiga.

In rugby, I think the closes thing that comes to mind is what happened in New Zealand in the past Rugby World Cup. I know people in New Zealand felt that they were getting bent over in a big way by Adidas for what they were getting charged for All Blacks gear. I was taken aback by RWC t-shirts that were going for 60 bucks. The big difference between what happened in New Zealand, and what I saw on Saturday in Barcelona, is that Adidas and the RWC organizers had a limited time to rake in the cash. In the case of FC Barcelona, it is an almost daily ritual with the faithful lining up to spend their money.

There were also people buying tickets for Saturday's derby match with Espanyol-but there were very few tickets to be had.(a match Lionel Messi and his mates would win 4-0)

At the end of the day, Barça is indeed, more than a club-it is a Catalan money making machine. They have turned making money into an art form.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte

I made it back to Minneapolis just in time to catch a round of 32 match that opposed Metropolis RFC and Charlotte, NC...
The spring weather had been good in the Twin Cities this spring...unfortunately for the visitors from North Carolina, the weather was 41 degrees and wet-far cooler than what they have probably been experiencing this spring. The good thing for us spectators, was that at least the driving rain-which had postponed the Twins-Royals baseball game in Minneapolis that day( I had tickets), at least let up at kickoff for this Division I playoff game. Metropolis actually had to go with some grey-beards for this game. Head coach Nathan Osborne was enlisted to play fly-half, and former A-side captain, Jayme Kohlbeck were called into the starting lineup related to injury. They both would also play key roles in the game for Metropolis-Nate also getting involved in a little dust-up during the game...

Metropolis captain, Wade McInroy, played this game like a man possessed. The 8-man ran rough-shod over Charlotte defenders. Hooker Adam Dilley played a stellar game. Metropolis also had a new weapon in it's arsenal from the last time I had seen them play last year: A South-African born inside center named Louis Joubert opened the scoring for Metropolis from an off-load from McInroy. By my count, both Wade and Joubert scored 3 tries apiece.

Metropolis dominated every aspect of the game. They were quicker, they dominated in the scrums and at the a word, they looked like they wanted this game a bit more. In every sense, this was a complete team victory.

In the end, the 48-0 victory by Metropolis punched  their ticket for the Sweet Sixteen match to be played in Pittsburgh in a couple of weeks. I was glad to make into town in time to catch up with some of my friend with Metropolis and to catch a very convincing win. I will have to catch the rest of the USA Nationals from the internet, as my wife and I leave for Europe on May 2nd, but with the intensity and skill Metropolis showed this past weekend, whoever they play in the round of of 16 had better bring their A-game. On a cold, wet day in Minneapolis, I really liked what I saw.