Now the intention of this blog is not to create or build on any supposed divide between football and rugby, and particularly between Welsh football and Welsh rugby, it’s actually intending to indulge in a past time that can bring Wales together as a united country; slagging off the Welsh Rugby Union.
I, like I believe the vast majority of sports fans in Wales do, enjoy both football and rugby. I started out playing football and heading down to Ninian Park on Saturday afternoons, before standing on the Arms Park terraces once I was in secondary school, eventually going home and away with Cardiff City, Cardiff Rugby and the Wales national team in both sports.
It seems to me that the idea of some great split or even rivalry between Welsh football and Welsh rugby is created by a vocal minority on both sides, when in truth most are able to just enjoy the sports in slightly different ways. The issue currently though is that it is much more enjoyable going to Wales football games than it is going to Wales rugby games.
Over the last 10 years or so the Football Association of Wales has been at the forefront of developing a fan culture around the Welsh national football team, innovatively building on the socio-political tendencies of supporters to create an experience that is engaging and fan-led.
With the hotbed of Welsh nationalism in football-mad North Wales combined with the large supporter bases of particularly Cardiff and Swansea who proudly fly the Welsh flag around the Championship week-in, week-out, there are fashion and music elements of the culture that feed into widely held political views amongst the national football team’s support.
Wearing replica jerseys to be part of The Red Wall is encouraged, while deals done with the likes of the independent Spirit of ’58 have brought items such as bucket hats into that clothing culture around the supporter base.
On matchdays supporters are encouraged to get into the ground in good time, around 45 minutes ahead of kick-off, through specific travel pages on the Transport for Wales website, with entertainment put on in the concourse of each stand as music plays a key part in building that fan culture.
A pre-match playlist includes the songs that have become synonymous with being a Wales fan over the years, with the Manics, Phonics and Catatonia alongside Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Men of Harlech and Zombie Nation, while Dafydd Iwan and Super Furry Animals are among the acts who have performed live before kick-off.
Around that then the social media engagement from the FAW, largely through their Cymru channels dedicated to the men’s, women’s and age group national teams, take supporters into camp with the squad, offering a level of insight that is close to unrivalled and cementing that relationship between players and fans, with particular focus on the use of the Welsh language.
And finally a major factor is the FAW’s ticket pricing, generally between £25 and £35 per game which is more than competitive for modern day top level professional sport, aided by a circa £15 membership programme that offers access to qualifying campaign and individual match tickets.
Meanwhile the Welsh Rugby Union could not look more out of touch. If the FAW is your cool uncle at the bar buying a round of jäger bombs, the WRU is your grandad in the corner complaining that the music is too loud.
Everything is geared towards bleeding as much money out of supporters of the national rugby team as possible, whether it’s £100 tickets or packing fans into the concourse up to three hours before kick-off in order to increase bar takings, with pre-match entertainment that is tired and stale, with the greatest of respect to the choir and whichever DJ is currently employed at the Principality Stadium.
Around that the social media output from the WRU currently is appalling stuff. There were entire weeks during the Six Nations, undoubtedly the time of highest engagement in the northern hemisphere rugby calendar, where content from The Vale Resort was either minimal, in the form of a few pictures of training, or virtually non-existent.
Welsh language content is then either an after thought or completely disregarded by an organisation who’s emblem is that of the Prince of Wales, and who “boast” of having Prince William as their patron.
The disconnect between Welsh rugby supporters and the national team has never been greater, and all that translates to the flat atmospheres the stadium has seen the last few weeks, culminating in a feeling of indifference as Italy secured their first Six Nations in seven years at the expense of Wayne Pivac’s men.
As things stand even those who could previously afford the £100 tickets are starting to vote with their feet but the WRU, governed by elderly white men with a Head of Commercial who is a solicitor and has zero marketing experience, show no signs of beginning to buck the trend which has destroyed any semblance of positive fan culture at the Principality Stadium.
There is just no comparison when it comes to the build up to Wales international matches in the respective sports, the matchday experience, and above all just the level of respect and understanding that each governing body has for it’s core supporter base. The FAW is simply light years ahead.
It’s a sad state of affairs, and one that has been created solely by the WRU’s amateur governance placing short-term revenue hoarding at the forefront of it’s motivations above medium/long-term strategy, supporter experience and even the success of the national team itself. Meanwhile in the football, the FAW’s short-term revenues, medium/long-term future, supporter experience and on-field success go from strength-to-strength.