Friday, 2 September 2011

Coz its like this ...

Why do I love following the All Blacks so much? Why am I so looking forward to the Rugby World Cup?

Well, I reckon its because I lived in the UK for 7-8 years - away from all the media bloodletting and blame here, and that absence of negativity did make my heart grow fonder. Sure I would have backed them All Blacks unconditionally if I had been in NZ all the time, but having the All Blacks as a globally-known entity, as my outward sign of Kiwiness when abroad is bloody brilliant.

Its an excuse to get together at the pub, even on holiday in ... Slovenia. It makes it acceptable to wear an All Black top to the posh agency, to take those Traveller beers on the tube on your way to some antipodean pub I'd probably never set foot in if you paid me any other day except Test Match Day. Its an opportunity to revel in being a Kiwi and to barrick the English no end. Walkabouts were a no-go most of the time because I couldn't embrace the necessity to surround myself with other ex-pats continuously ... but come the ABs v the Boks in the Republic each northern summer, and it was a goldplated opportunity to watch the boys play on a sunny afternoon surrounded by hundreds of fans on both sides who 'got it'.

Even better were the days, say pre-2000, when no one I knew could afford Sky ... you HAD to cross London to get to a pub at 8am to see a game. Around 1998 we managed to con a Geordie chap named Steve to open up his pub in London Bridge for us at some ungodly hour for games so we could watch and drink from sparrow's fart... bless him, the guy would even get Steinies in for us. One Test we were still there late afternoon when the pub was invaded by Old Bill & dogs, chasing some gold chained, Ben Sherman'd wide-Os ... apparently Millwall were running wild up the Borough High Street.

We were all rotten by this stage and completely oblivious to the whirlwind of enforcement going on around us: When the head copper poked his head back in to ask "Any other football fans in here?" he realised he was addressing 15 or so Kiwis, all in AB jerseys, three sheets to the wind, fuelled on lager. He got laughed back out to the street.

I am fairly we won that Test; I’m positive the Steinlagers remained undrunk.

In 1999 I was in Guatemala, and out of the loop. When the French demoed us in the semi, the last news I had was that we were leading at half-time, and Jonah was 'going off'. Three days later a Pom kindly offered his commiserations at the loss. "What loss, I said?". To this day, I have not seen any coverage of the 1999 Cup - didn’t see it, didn't happen. But those three days of thinking we had waltzed into the final were pretty enjoyable.

Come 2002, I'd just moved to South London and knew of nowhere to watch the opening 3N game between the Wallabies and Boks, so I simply followed some Castle drinking Saffers to a pub called The Aadvark in Surrey Quays. Turned out it was Afrikaans speaking, so I hugged that back wall by the door, sipping a Stella and saying nothing. But at some point an absolute Meast of a lad barked something unintelligible (to me) in my face, so I just shrugged and offered up my love for Schalk Burger. "Hey, this Kiwi's okay!". A classic 'my enemy's enemy is my drinking buddy' episode.

In 2005, we bought semi-shonky tickets to the Grand Slam game in Cardiff and travelled with coach loads of OEers to watch the boys smash the Welsh. About ten minutes before kick-off the semi-shonky tickets became outright fraudulent, and after inciting a near riot at the Glamorgan Cricket club (mounted police appeared), we bolted back towards town and took refuge in a pub called Y Mochyn Du (The Black Pig). The punters there, on hearing our plight, took great care of us and were horrified we missed the match. It was a Welsh speaking pub which we learned only after asking them to turn up the commentary because we couldn't make out the words - it was BBC Wales' feed. They thrashed us in the anthem singing, we thrashed them on the field. So ... hate Cardiff, love the Welsh.

Its this following the All Blacks from abroad, and while I was abroad, that has led me to be far more excited by this World Cup than a lot of my friends. The wife and I are both pumped about next week, we had that taste of World Cup in person in 2007, when we were lucky enough to get to all the pool games last World Cup. Ten days in the South of France, watching the All Blacks play rugby in the Mediterranean sun ... eating and drinking the best the Frenchies could offer. Brilliant. I had never ever drunk so much Rosé before, but it just felt right, dammit.

Of course the wheels came of at the quarter final ... but that's another story.

The atmosphere in the grounds at World Cup generated by away fans, and the simple appreciation of everyone that they are there watching the very best in rugby, regardless of your loyalties, is what generates that positivity at games ... and turns our chosen football code into 'the beautiful game'. When NZ played Romania in Toulouse in 2007, the exhaled wonderment of the local fans ("oh, magnifique", "incrediblĂ©") was joyous to behold. They weren’t even backing their own team - they just came to 'see the rugby'! Its going to bea hard act for us to follow.

We have tripped and tumbled (some say choked) on many a foreign shore in our one score and four years quest for Bill, the Webb Ellis Trophy ... but this year’s battle is on our home turf. These All Blacks need our help. Cheer. Sing. Scream and drink if you must. But above all, have a smile on your face, with a ‘Kia ora’ and an extended hand at the ready.

We are all in this as fans ... but this time, as we welcome our foreign rugby cuzzies to these shores, we are also hosts.

So Kia ora, world! Beer?

Love Slugso


Ferdy said...

Brilliant Slugso. I think I will have to follow up with why I too love the ABs. Every world cup heartbreak, and I think this is it. I won't go back. But then, to quote that late great singer Amy Winehouse, I just find myself going 'back to black'.

I've just been a music festival where I saw one of your favourite bands - the Fall. We thought of you and raised a glass.

slugso said...

Well, as long as you didn't throw the glass when your drink was finished.