Saturday, February 13, 2010

How not to get kids into sport

Here in Blighty we are in the midst of the good old four nations rugby tournament, where England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland compete for bragging rights in the game named after an English public school and whose origins are attributed to one of its pupils.

Oh OK, I admit it then, it's actually FIVE nations, since we late those Johnny-come-lately French in, despite the fact they tend to be rather good and beat us with typical French panache.

What's that you say? Are you kidding? Now we've let Italy in too?!

So, as I was saying, we are in the midst of the SIX nations rugby union tournament. And as Hayley and I get sucked into this level of the game (despite never once dragging our arses a mile down the road to support our local club), I thought it might be nice to get shirts for me and Oliver if not the whole family.

Obviously I didn't expect this to be a case of handing over a twenty pound note and leaving with a smile and some loose change, but a brief consultation with Google and some retail websites left me loose jawed and bewildered.

The price of the official England first team replica shirt is £88. Yes, eighty eight pounds. (That's currently about 138 US Dollars.) And I also found it sold for more than that!

There is another, presumably less authentic, though still official replica shirt for a mere £50 (about $79). Kids shirts aren't much cheaper and don't seem to go down to sizes that might fit my son.

Now, compare this to the giant money-grabbing machine that is Manchester United Football Club and you'll find that their shirts retail consistently below £40 but can be found much cheaper. They also do kids sizes.

I did go into town today to try to find these sacred cloths of Albion at a price that wouldn't have made Dick Turpin blush, but to no avail. I did find one shop selling stained rejects at £40 but decided that turning up at Twickers looking like I'd spilled curry down my front wouldn't make the right impression.

So why am I reflecting on all this?

Class struggle brother, that's why.

You see in this country football (soccer to the linguistically challenged) has always been the sport of the working classes, while rugby has been for the elite. In fact there is even a second code (rugby league) which working class towns in the north of England took to their hearts and which eventually became big business while rugby union struggled to break the shackles of amateurism.

And a struggle it was, not least because some in the game saw the introduction of money as "dirty" while others just didn't want the wrong sorts involved in their old boys club.

But eventually rugby union did become professional and now it is becoming as familiar a fixture in the Sky Sports schedules as rugby league.

So why is it that I can buy a Manchester United shirt to indoctrinate encourage my son to take an interest in football without breaking the bank, but need to take out a second mortgage to buy an England rugby union shirt for myself and can't even find one for my boy?!

The RFU need a kick up the arse. If they want to get boys like mine into rugby, boys from homes where there aren't two Mercedes on the drive with this year's plates and where rugby will have to be accessible to get a look-in alongside football, then they are going to have to try a bit harder with their marketing and their pricing.

But seeing £88 replica shirts makes me wonder whether they care.


Jessi said...

Fascinating! Okay, stupid American girl didn't understand a good deal of it, but I had no idea that there was a class difference between football and rugby. I just thought that football was more accessible and fun. I mean, I have no clue about the rules of rugby, except that there's a lot of hitting. (Kinda like American football, but with less padding and more psychosis. It seems) Anyway. I really enjoyed reading this. thanks for sharing.

Steve said...

Jessi, The class divide between the sports is less visible today and much of that is owed to the sport turning professional IMO. But that's not to say the divide's no longer there, especially in a society such as the UK where extremes of privilege and wealth can still be passed from generation to generation.

"Kinda like American football, but with less padding and more psychosis." LOL.I love that.

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