The disengagement with the match day experience of old can be seen all across the Millennium Stadium. The age old issue of alcohol sales in the ground are a constant bug bear. The greatest dilemma faced by a fan now is not when to dash out to the toilets, but how much of the first half they should miss in order to secure themselves a four pack of beer, in advance of the second half. Twenty five minutes into any game, there is a sudden flurry of bobbing heads, as seated fans duck and weave around moving fans, on route to bar, or, as is inevitable in the second half, on route to relief. But alcohol is perhaps the lesser of the distractions to interfere with crowd quality in this decade.
The view from the top tier of the stadium towards the pitch, has now become akin to a natural history programme. In the swirling throng of seated thousands, is a bobbing of light. Hundreds of glow worm like blurs appear scattered through those congregated. Of course these are no giant insects, but the ever present mobile / smartphone. With alcohol at least there is the possibility that reduced inhibitions will only serve to encourage raucous singing. With a smartphone, there is only the possibility of distraction. There are those making abortive attempts at phone calls, near impossible even with a disconnected crowd, sixty thousand are rarely quite, even when doing next to nothing. There are those busily texting, and there are those impressively checking details on the game that they are watching – that strikes as one of the most baffling decisions of all. There are those eagerly attempting to take ridiculously long range photographs, making a seemingly conscious decision to view the game through the tiny box screen of their phone, rather than with their own eyes. All of which conspires to create a situation in which the actual game becomes a secondary priority. The most pressing objective of match day would now appear to be to let people know via social and digital media, that they were at the game, rather than take time to actually experience it.
The singing, rosetted rugby fan of old would find the modern international experience in Cardiff somewhat obscure. People are paying more and more to enter an international sports arena, where they are watching less and less of the actual game on the field in front of them. Now for a heritage blog, this might seem a little of a tangent, yet the match day experience, the Welsh rugby fan ideal, is one which travels, it is an extension of the intangible culture heritage that the Welsh rugby experience is, or at least used to be. Sadly, the singing, the camaraderie and the connection between fan and game, appears to be almost lost. The experience has changed, the Welsh rugby fan has changed, neither, unfortunately, for the better.
So if you happen to be at Wales v France in a few weeks, maybe take the time to put down the phone, hold off on the beer, and maybe, just maybe, watch the game, and sing a song from the programme. You might find the whole experience something quite special. Or, you might just be going there to send a tweet, and pay £60 to walk around concrete corridors with a beer while thirty people chase a ball somewhere nearby you, out of sight. The choice, for a Welsh rugby fan, strikes me as being quite simple, but maybe, even in my early thirties, I am more of a relic of the ‘70s than a fan of the 21st century.