The All Blacks are the most exciting, dynamic rugby team in the world, so why are their fans always finding new things to be disappointed about, and why are the crowds who attend their games so staid and boring?
Every sports team loves their fans. There’s a deep connection to them, without the support they get from their fan base teams wouldn’t be the same. All except the All Blacks – well, one of them anyway.
60 test veteran Craig Dowd wrote a column recently stating his dismay at how the New Zealand public are “never satisfied” and always “look for drama” instead of just enjoying this current All Blacks team and the incredible rugby they’re playing. At first I thought he was being a tad melodramatic, given that his opinion was most likely canvassed from the media rather than the actual rugby-going public. A media that makes money off drama and opinions that state lack of satisfaction.
But then I started thinking about my own personal experiences of watching the All Blacks. From the first test I went to at Athletic Park back in 1993, where my main memory is watching blokes urinate off the Millard Stand, to the test I’ll be going to on October 22nd, which set me back a cool $170 for the privilege of sitting in the top row behind the posts.
What’s happened on the field over the last 23 years and 30-odd test matches I’ve been to has without question been some of the greatest rugby I’ve ever seen. But off it, in the stands? Memorable isn’t exactly the best way to describe it.
To be fair, All Black supporters do show up wearing team colours, but that’s got more to do with black being the primary colour of puffer jackets and raincoats in New Zealand. General game conversation is limited to complaining that the team isn’t playing well enough or how long it takes to get a beer. Standing up is frowned upon and usually the only crowd involvement outside of cheering for points is starting Mexican Waves, which in any other setting is a sign that the crowd is bored.
There are some exceptions. If you’re lucky enough, someone might start up and ‘All Blacks’ chant (that’s the chant: “All Blacks”). Someone else may have fashioned a ‘Bring Back Buck’ banner, referencing an event that happened a mere 26 years ago. If Quade Cooper is playing, everyone boos.
Other than that, looking bored and drinking overpriced beer or tiny bottles of Sauvignon Blanc is the dominant mode of expression in the stands at Eden Park, Westpac Stadium and the sparse makeshift stadium in Christchurch. Off the field, you can find such frivolous issues such as not singing the national anthem or the height of socks being brought up.
Dowd’s point is clearly to do with fan opinion in the public arena, however it’s easy to see where it stems from when the games themselves are played in a such a restrictive, judgemental environment. He’d know this personally, given that he played in an All Blacks team with Mark Carter – an Auckland player who who was booed even when wearing the black jersey by the one-eyed Lancaster Park crowd.
Sure, New Zealand isn’t Wales with its mass choir singing. It’s not Argentina with its chanting and throwing toilet paper on the field. It’s not even Scotland, where they cut the lights to create a surreal atmosphere before kickoff. But imagine if going to a game felt like more than everyone just waiting impatiently for the All Blacks to win.
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