The home of rugby

The boys had dreamt of watching a major international rugby match for a long time, both having played rugby since they were seven. Last year I even thought of taking them to see the World Cup, as it was held in Britain, but unfortunately when I considered it it was too late to get tickets, as they were outrageously expensive; we had to abandon the idea and content ourselves with getting Sports TV for the duration of the World Cup and watch the games. Most of which I watched with them as over the years I’ve really become keen on rugby.

A few weeks ago they were talking about the coming Six Nations Championship. They had already mentioned several times how much they would love to watch one of these games, and preferably in Twickenham, considered to be “the home of rugby”. I thought then – why not? It’s been some time since the three of us have travelled together and this should certainly be an unforgettable occasion. When I suggested it for the Carnival break – a long weekend- Afonso was doubtful as he would miss playing with his team but Pedro was enthusiastic and soon I was checking ticket prices on the Internet. By then they were already very expensive, but I remembered a good friend who lives in London who is involved with rugby, and he saved us, finding us tickets at face value. I was so grateful to him, as he made it all possible.

After that it all went smoothly, I found some reasonably priced Easyjet plane tickets and booked my favourite hotel in London, the Amba Charing Cross.

And so last Sunday we found our way to Twickenham, getting a 10.30 train from Waterloo station. The match only began at 3, but we wanted to buy some rugby boots for Afonso at the store and especially to visit the rugby museum.

On the train you could see several people wearing the English team’s scarves and all of them in a merry mood. It was contagious. As we stepped out of the train it was easy to find our way to the stadium: just follow the crowd!

We found it all very organized as most things in Britain. Many people but all orderly – I suppose rugby fans are that different from football ones. On the way the boys bought some beanie hats; they were really excited about joining in in the spirit and we were supporting England in this game against Italy.

At the Rugby Store they went crazy! I told them I now could sympathize with men who sit patiently in the shops while their wives try on all sorts of items – and in the end they just have to pay! Still, the boys are quite modest in their clothes spending so I was happy to give them a treat and not only Afonso finally found his rugby boots – he has a somewhat difficult shoe size – but he and his brother also bought some polo shirts, England rugby scarves and rugby gear such as mouthgards and socks!

Then to the museum. We were fascinated to learn about how rugby evolved from a football game played by the students of Rugby School in the 1800s; how it was actually called “football rugby”; how the first players wore a velvet cap on their heads during the matches ( I kept wondering how it did not fall?!); we saw photos of ancient players and films of ancient matches, and we marvelled at how thin-framed rugby players of old looked when compared with today’s giants; we learned about how the first rugby balls were made of pig bladder, until this was substituted by the much more practical rubber material; that rugby remained an amateur game until 1995; finally, we saw a special and very touching exhibition about the participation of British rugby players in the First World War, where many lost their lives. There was a quote from a colonel of the British army who said rugby “footballers” were the finest soldiers of all and there was this particular moving story of famous rugby player Ronald Poulton-Palmer who was reputed to have said, on his dying moment (after being shot by a sniper): ” I shall never play at Twickenham again”. This may seem amazing but clearly depicts the passion rugby players feel for this game.

Then we took our seats. The stadium was filling slowly. Even as we walked outside among the many food stalls there were many people but all was orderly, with a happy atmosphere. I am not a football fan, so I cannot vouch for the environment before a football match but the boys were saying it felt completely different. We took some photos for posterity and I declare I have never see my boys happier and with wider smiles on their faces!

And then it began. The opening, the flags, getting up for the National Anthems – even when they are not ours, it’s still an intense moment, as they are all impressive; God Save the Queen most of all of course and so familiar that we know the lyrics by heart.

Then the match itself, the Italians giving a surprisingly good account of themselves during the first part, in which the English were quite disappointing – to the extent that they were losing at break time.

Amazing, we thought – considering that the main feeling about this game was that it would be a carnage, given the recent performance of the British team who had not lost one of the previous 12 or 13 games! On the contrary, the Italians scored more, and the English majority audience – ourselves included – was becoming worried about the final result. I must say, although supporting the English team, I was following the Italian team with some admiration, as they were playing a good, unexpected game – and I always like to see the “weakest” teams giving a good account of themselves.

But after the break the English team “woke up” and showed some more energy, being less defensive and attacking more and scoring repeatedly. Still, it was only by the end of the match that the stadium (with the exception of the few Italian supporters) breathed in relief as the difference of points between the two teams grew with advantage of the English.

In the end the boys declared it had been a great game – one that had promised no surprises and had been quite surprising after all.

Back to the train station we followed the crowd and again found everything well organized. In an amazingly short period of time – considering the 82.000 people who were leaving the stadium – we were seated on the train and Afonso, usually so undemonstrative and scarce with his words, thanked me for having giving them the opportunity to live this day at Twickenham. I smiled and told him I had loved it too. Over the years I have watched most of their games and I have come to enjoy it. But most of all, I had a wonderful time making one of my boys’ dreams come true.

It was so good that we actually decided to make this a habit, to go and see another Six Nations match together, as we love the Welsh, Scottish and Irish teams, so in a few months I’ll be looking for plane fares for us to go to Cardiff, Edinburgh or Dublin.

As we walked from the tube station to our hotel I smiled to myself: mother, sons and rugby – as far as I’m concerned, an irresistible combination.