Should I feel this guilty when watching rugby? | Matt Mohan-Hickson

ALARM clocks sounding at ungodly hours, trudging sleepily to the car, curls of breath spiralling into the ice cold morning air, scrum caps and trying to kick the mud off my boots.

Monday, 8th November 2021, 5:31 pm
Manu Tuilagi of England breaks the tackle of Kurt Morath of Tonga during the Quilter Autumn Nations Series match between England and Tonga at Twickenham Stadium on November 06, 2021 in London, England. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

This was the scene on most Sunday mornings for the vast majority of my childhood.

Trekking to the likes of Bishop’s Auckland, Jarrow and other such places that will sound like a random jumble of letters tumbling out onto the page to anyone not from the north east.

I started playing rugby the week after Jonny Wilkinson kicked that famous drop goal. One which I almost missed because I was going on a primary school trip to watch Middlesbrough play Liverpool in the Premier League.

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My family is rugby mad, or at least my dad, mum and brother are. I fall more on the casual viewer side, tuning in for the autumn internationals and Six Nations – watching matches if I am back at my parent’s house.

I wanted to be rugby mad. To run out on the pitch on those winter mornings, battling the cold and the mud, and to feel it ‘click’. But I hated the contact side of the game – getting tackled by much larger boys, since I didn’t really start growing until I was 14 or 15, or having to do the tackling myself.

I was a master at what my coaches called the ‘ballerina tackle’ – flinging my arms out in a half-hearted attempt, to look like I was doing something but without actually having to ‘smash’ someone.

It made me feel uneasy, in a way I couldn’t articulate at the time. But mostly I was scared. I was so small and everyone else seemed so tall, that the thought of being thrown to the ground just terrified me.

Ironically I ended up hanging up my boots just before my pubescent growth spurt kicked in.

But the contact side of rugby has long remained something that has left me feeling uneasy. I find myself wincing when there is a huge tackle in the Six Nations.

And I think the increasing evidence of the link between rugby (both union and league) and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and dementia, is only adding to my unease.

I felt guilty putting on the England game at the weekend, the nagging doubt in my mind that these men are quite literally putting their lives at risk for my entertainment.

And I ended up spending half the match looking at my phone because it was so one-sided.

Am I going to peak too soon?

Help! I thought as a joke I would listen to a Christmas song early last week, since it was the start of November.

But I haven’t been able to stop. The weirdest part is that I am not listening to any of the big classics.

No Mariah, no Buble, no Fairytale of New York.

Instead I have had weirdly depressing and dark songs like If we make it through December on loop. The Phoebe Bridgers cover of that country classic is truly worth a listen.

However, I am worried that I have gone and started listening to festive songs too soon and I will be all burned out by December 1.

At least I haven’t started watching the trashy Christmas movies on Netflix yet. So every cloud has a silver lining.

That weird feeling of joy at someone else losing their job

One of the weirdest parts about being a sports fan is that moment when you experience relief or joy at a manager being sacked.

It is quite literally someone losing their job. Having experienced that myself, I can safely say it is a truly dreadful feeling.

But yet when it comes to football (as an example) we chant for it to happen.

At 5pm on a Saturday, social media is bound to be flooded with #out hashtags for at least one manager or another.

Fans drawing up wish lists for who will take over when the inevitable axe falls at an underperforming team.

I have been doing it myself in recent weeks. I have tweeted #WarnockOut.

But now it has happened, I feel more than a bit guilty. But at least the payoffs are likely to be very healthy.