Watching rugby, live, the day after the Christmas madness ought to be a relaxing diversion. It isn’t if the match is played at Twickenham.
A party of ten of us gathered there yesterday to see Harlequins, England’s best club this season, play Saracens, the second best. (The positions were reversed on this occasion, Saracens coming out on top 19-11.) The problem wasn’t the rugby – on this day a rather dismal affair – nor the location of the seats, which were excellent.
It was, as usual, getting to the stadium.
Dear old Twickers, stuck in the middle of a residential suburb and penned by perpetually traffic-clogged through-roads, is notoriously inaccessible. The nearest train station is close to a mile away. There are no bus services, and even if there were, they wouldn’t be much use because, on match days, the police close to traffic all the streets leading to and from the stadium.
Yesterday’s match attracted a record attendance of 82,000 – the same as for an England international – the spectators attracted by ticket prices reduced from the usual £40 to £10. The result was typically chaotic.
The police were out in their thousands, too, barricading streets and diverting confused unwary motorists with what always strikes me as evident relish. Network Rail weighed in with a predictable seasonal contribution by announcing severe disruptions to its trains because of a signal failure in nearby Putney.
My daughter, her fiancée and I were driven to Twickenham by my always impressively accommodating wife. At least that was the plan. After sitting in traffic for an hour, the three of us abandoned the car a mile or more from the stadium and walked the rest of the way, a labyrinthine journey in the dark involving the skirting of railway tracks, parks and allotments via muddy footpaths. We arrived twenty minutes after kick-off. I had made the mistake of wearing a pair of seldom-worn shoes, so consequently arrived at my seat with a burst blister on my right heel and a developing one to match on the left foot. I spent the rest of the match dreading the return journey.
One can’t blame the rugby authorities, or the police, for Twickenham’s inconvenient location. It is a fact of history, like that of most English sports venues, which grew out of local communities. And the stadium can hardly be picked up and moved to somewhere more accessible, where it might be served by transportation links designed to convey scores of thousands of people to and from the place in ease and comfort. There is no such place in congested south-east England.
Younger generations don’t mind the walking, or the press of people trying to get into the ground, or the long queues at the grotesquely over-priced refreshment bars and rancid lavatories. There was a time when I didn’t, but not nowadays. In my advancing years, the comfort of armchair viewing, with a whisky and a cigar, beckons as the increasingly more appealing option.
The next pair of tickets I get to an England match will place me in a rare quandary.