The sun was shining on Saturday 29th April, as the crowds started to build up around Twickenham, TW2.
Pub landlords had preemptively put in their orders for extra “everything,” as they knew from previous experience, the crowds travelling to their leafy suburb to watch this spectacular display of rugby, can drink....and drink.
The Army versus the Navy – two powerhouses locking horns to do battle over the much coveted, Babcock Trophy. Another battle within a war that has become tradition over time, as the famous fixture entered its 100th year.
I first took my two boys to one of these a few years back – they were about 12 and 13. As we walked down the road from Twickenham station towards the ground, what we saw will stay with me for a lifetime...
It was as though a rubbish cart had tipped its load along the way with squaddies everywhere in various versions of fancy dress, whilst in various states of inebriation.
However, there was a great positive feeling from everyone and we witnessed no trouble or bad behaviour...just fun. It was where the afternoon’s entertainment started for us!
Fast forward to today, and the scene is not dissimilar from the one I saw all those years ago.
The atmosphere was buzzing, and the noise consisted of laughter, shouting and chanting of army, navy and rugby songs.
The anticipation of who would hold the trophy aloft alongside the excitement of a filling stadium and a rapidly increasing noise level really set the scene.
As the players ran out, all the pomp and pageantry that one would expect; pyrotechnics, cheering, the band playing the National Anthem, followed by Land of Hope and Glory, was present. As we sang our hearts out and reveled in the electric atmosphere, a huge sense of pride echoed throughout the stadium.
The whistle blew, and they were off…
Now, I’m not about to become a sports pundit and give a detailed account of the entire game, but I can tell you that sadly, The Royal Navy were on the back foot from the start.
They were forced to play a defensive game by a well drilled and focused Army side, however they were far from reaching their full potential.
Too many silly mistakes, dropped balls, forward passes, and a Sin Bin 8 minutes before half time; it wasn’t to be the Royal Navy’s afternoon.
Of course, within a game as charged as this, frustrations and fisticuffs are the norm, however thankfully nothing too serious occurred.
Regardless of the competitiveness of the actual match, the atmosphere remained resolute, as this is a fixture where you attend for every aspect – especially the wide array of costumes!
I spotted a “Where’s Wally?” group, a few Jack Sparrows, various men dressed as women (standard), and of course, the Ronald McDonalds; one of which made a special appearance towards the end of the game.
All in all, it was a fantastic day out (capped off by a pitch-invader dressed as Ronald McDonald), even if I had spectated more captivating games and the eventual winners were the opposition (I have always supported the Navy as have family links with them). What made the event even better was the chosen charity was the Invictus Games, a fantastic cause set up by Prince Harry, who was in attendance.
I love this sport and the whole crowd had a laugh, singing their hearts out at any given opportunity. What better way to spend a Sunny Saturday afternoon?