If you are a sports fan, you get it. The ecstasy and the agony. The winning and the losing. We all know, in Vince Lombardi’s words, it isn’t a matter of life and death – ‘it is more important than that’. Our team. Our tribe. Our heroes, whether they win, lose, or draw. Our extended dysfunctional family, where hard words can be spoken, but all is okay in the end.
Chad Gibbs, in his excellent book God and Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the Southeastern Conference begins with a superb example of the place sport can occupy in people’s lives. He asks you to imagine that an alien (or a Canadian) visits Earth for the weekend. On Saturday, game day for College Football, they observe us waking early and preparing for the day.
We choose the lucky shirt, and don the colours of our team, in almost every piece of clothing. We read the latest match day news, and listen to the latest commentary via radio and tv. We meet up with other like-minded individuals and talk some more about the players, the teams, and the expectations for the games. Then there is the game itself – whether your local team pulls in a few dozen spectators, or a hundred thousand – the chants, the songs, the helping of the match officials with observations from the stands.
Gibbs then paints a different picture for the Sunday run to church and he poses which is more important. I will pin my colours to the mast right now and say that Sunday’s get a bit more attention in my household, but the image of how important our sports teams are to us is very well made.
I am a rugby fan. Both code – League and Union. I’ve coached both. I prefer League. My team is Wigan Warriors. I don’t live in Wigan, nor have I ever lived in Wigan. It turns our that part of my wife’s family were originally from Wigan, but that is just a coincidence as I supported the team before I met my wife.
I started following Wigan in 1989, after being particularly disenchanted with the ‘kick and clap’ of Rugby Union. My earliest rugby memories were of sitting in my Grandfather’s house watching his home nation of Wales taking on the challenge of the Five Nations tournament. I also remember the stoney silence accompanying a rare break towards a try for England, in the late 70s or early 80s, as my father forgot himself and cheered on England.
Despite the national fervour for the land of my Grandfather, the spectacle of aerial ping-pong, as each team kicked the ball backwards and forwards, I became entranced by the other code of Rugby League. I was amazed as players ran and tried to score tries, only kicking on the last tackle, as the rules gave each team the opportunity to do as much as they could within six tackles, then the other team got the same opportunity.
Tackles were fierce and didn’t result in a pile on upon the floor, and scrums served the purpose of getting the ball back into play. It was a breath of fresh air and I began following the team which won that particular match, for no other reason that they score tries and won. To be fair they scored a lot of tries, putting at least ten tries past Bradford Northern.
So Wigan became my team. The successes, the losses, the rivalries, the ecstasy and the agony of titles and near relegation to the lower division. Wigan is also now the team of my sons, and so it will be passed on, because that is what you do with your sports team.
Wales, in Union, are still the source of national pride – I may have had the Grandfather gaining me admittance, but now both my boys (and wife) are Welsh by birth. Red for International game days, and the Cherry and White of Wigan for weekly game days.
What I plan to write is, as the title points out, A Season with Wigan Warriors. It won’t detail blow-by-blow accounts of each game, it won’t be a comprehensive run down of all the off-field details of the club, but it what it will be is the 2018 Super League season from this fan’s perspective. A mixture of action and musings, celebrations at Derby wins, and anything else which comes to mind as the weeks go by.
This blog series will not be ‘live’, giving minute by minute action and reaction, and some of it may make you wonder if I’ve even seen the game from last week. But again, that is what being a fan is all about, isn’t it? Sometimes you are there at the games, sometimes you watch them on tv, and sometimes you have to read about them in the sports pages.
Let the season commence . . . okay, it already has done – I did warn you sometimes there might be a delay in things . . .!