Last night I was lucky enough to go to my first rugby match. It also just happened to be a World Cup rugby match. The friends that took us are my official favourite people of the month!
Then the game kicked off. In the first 30 seconds, a Fijian player murdered the corner flag nearest us, obviously finding it offensive! Credit to both teams, they gave it their all. Fiji took an early lead, but Uruguay admirably kept up the pace, constantly fighting back. An impressive feat considering the size differences between them and the Fiji team. Those boys are huge! Number 11 is forever christened Juggernaut in my mind now (his real name is Nadolo but I'm sure he won't mind), the guy is a tank. At one point, one Fijian player had 4 Uruguayan players clinging to him in the hopes of wrestling him to the floor, and still he powered on. There were some brilliant tries, incredibly flamboyant plays and downright chancing, it was a great game. 7 tries for Fiji and the game was won.
I've been attending football matches since I was 11. I've seen some of the biggest teams in the world, and visited nearly all the top stadiums in England. I love live sport, the atmosphere, the skill, the bringing together of thousands of people with a common purpose. I can honestly say that last night was one of the best experiences at a sports event I've had.
The atmosphere was electric, from boarding the bus in the centre of Milton Keynes, to arriving and entering the MK Dons Stadium. One of the pleasures of watching 2 teams you don't have a vested interest in is that you can kick back and just enjoy. Members of the crowd were waving both national flags, wearing the shirts, donning the scarves, not because they were Fijian or Uruguayan, but because they wanted to show appreciation for the teams preparing to put on a show for us to enjoy.
Our seats were ridiculously close to the pitch, our view was fantastic! Even watching the teams warm up was enjoyable. Everyone stood respectfully as the national anthems were sung, and then the Fiji team kicked off the show in style, performing the Cibi, a war dance adopted by the team in answer the All Blacks Haka. It was amazing watching these guys roaring at their opponents and got everyone into the spirit of the occasion.
There's a lot said about the English, particularly regarding sport. We get a lot of good natured abuse (some not so much), and we take it in good humour. We occasionally like doling it out too! Last night, I was so proud of my nation. When it comes to this kind of event, we really show up. I doubt there were a huge number of true fans of either Fiji or Uruguay in the stadium last night, but both teams had a wealth of support. Every player got cheered on, every play was applauded. Each point scored was celebrated like we had won the final. Say what you will, but our hospitality, our spirit and our willingness to support others is immense. The Olympics 3 years ago was a huge demonstration of Britain's capacity to put on a glorious show, to welcome the world into our home and throw them a party. Last night was a lovely reminder of that. I hope they felt at home. the fact that last night's crowd, at 30,048, was the largest ever hosted by MK's stadium says a lot.
We're not in it for ourselves anymore, something England fans will shake their heads in disappointment at for years to come, and no doubt something our Welsh companions will enjoy reminding us of too (and the Scottish and Irish for that matter...). But I'm so pleased I got to be a small part of it, and that the English are throwing themselves into supporting other teams in the tournament, happily waving the flags of other nations and enjoying the spectacle of the World Cup.
In the meantime, I'm going to sit here and hope that we host it again in my lifetime, so that I can catch a few more games. Until then I'll settle for the 6 Nations, and hopefully rectifying that bloody score against Wales...