61,326 Welsh fans flocked to the Millennium Stadium to watch Wales take on the Fijians on Saturday in an absolute dog of a game. I was one of them. I work as a teacher in a Cardiff school and we took a group of 30 pupils along to what I hoped would be a confident and composed performance and a resounding victory. I hoped for this because all 30 of the pupils that attended had never been to a Wales game before.
Just take a moment to consider that. 30 boys and girls aged between 11 and 16, who live in the centre of Cardiff, had NEVER been to a Wales rugby match. Many have been to watch the Welsh football team but not the rugby. The reason? Ticket availability and cost. And Roger and his cronies at the WRU wonder why the grass roots game in Wales is suffering.
To Roger, rugby is just another product to sell to the consumer. His ruthless and brutal attempt to grind the regional game into submission speaks volumes about how he feels about the game. I recently bought a Welsh international football season ticket for all 5 European Championship home games for £75. An absolute bargain. £15 a game to watch Gareth Bale and company. A fair price designed to attract support and reward the loyalty of fans following barren years.
Sunday’s superb draw with Belgium means there is a genuine chance of progression from our group. It also means that a return to the Millennium for next summer’s crucial return fixture against the Belgians becomes a real possibility. If this happens expect to see the stadium overflowing with youthful, wide eyed optimism and excitement.
I wonder what the percentage of fans that were under 18 was for the Australia game? I’d hazard a guess it was low and what a tragedy that is. I myself tried to purchase tickets for the Australia game on the day that they were released on general sale back in August. I rang within 15 minutes of the tickets being released and was looking to purchase four of the £30 tickets.
I was told that there were only single £30 tickets available. I could however get the £60 tickets together. Surprise surprise. And yet 20,000 unsold seats remained at 2.30pm on November 8th. Three months after release.
Roger’s argument is that to invest in the pro game and the grass roots he needs to utilise the cash cow that a successful Welsh team has become. This means charging extortionate prices for international tickets and assuming that the Welsh public are stupid enough to keep forking out.
We are at breaking point. A 55,000 crowd for the Australia game, the game that was our most realistic chance for victory, was hailed as a resounding success by the WRU.
It has been suggested that the attendance would have been under 50,000 had some 5,000 or so free tickets not been desperately distributed in the week leading up to the game. 61,000 for Fiji is a fantastic figure and was achieved because of a fair pricing structure.
The lower tier was awash with school trips and I for one was heartened to see it. Horns and Mexican Waves may be deemed a scourge (the horns are particularly dreadful) by the seasoned rugby supporter but they are no worse than the the pink cowboy hats or corporate tourists that plague the Millennium for more fashionable home games.
Is it fair that the only game that a youngster can hope to see is the annual fourth autumn international against a second tier side where the stars are wrapped in cotton wool for the ‘proper’ games? You’ve only paid £20, how can you possibly believe you deserve to watch the first team going at full tilt?
What other chance do youngsters have to watch Wales play? The rugby is no longer a family day out or a father son afternoon. It is too expensive. It is a playground for corporate trips or an activity to occupy a couple of hours during drunken benders.
The price alienates the working classes. In a predominantly working class country we are weakening the bonds with the very people we are relying on to make Wales successful in the future. As an 8 year old my father took me to watch the Welsh football team play Germany at the old Arms Park. We won 1-0 and Ian Rush scored and celebrated right in front of me. At roughly the same time our very own Ieuan Evans was scoring binloads of tries and was sparkling every time I went down the road to Stradey to watch him play.
My heroes were accessible and I was hooked on sport. I couldn’t get enough of it. If international rugby becomes the preserve of the wealthy then we are on the dark road to elitism. Elitism will breed, is already breeding, resentment. The public will become disengaged with the game. The 20,000 empty seats for a home international with Australia were a stark, deafening reminder that the Welsh supporter has been taken for granted.
The news that Roger has been further isolated is another notable victory but next should be the admission that charging £80 for a ticket is insulting and a fair pricing policy must be put into place.
The Welsh public deserve far better from their Union. The game belongs to the public not the corporate partners, the drunken tourists and certainly not Roger Lewis.
A token gesture against Fiji with a half baked, one dimensional, disinterested looking Welsh team is not good enough. Roger will be hoping for a miracle against the All Blacks because the rot has already set in.
The Welsh rugby public are voting with their feet. Reform begins with revolution. The appointment of Gareth Davies as WRU Chairman means that revolution is under way. The removal of Roger is hopefully just ahead.