I recently took great joy in witnessing a local ‘masters’ game of rugby. A fantastic match played in great spirits, made up of ‘old stagers’, including a sprinkling of ex pro’s who all had a clear, continued passion for the sport.
Spectating from the sideline on an ‘old school,’ wet and blustery day, brought back a real sense of nostalgia and reminded me of all the little things that I fell in love with as a 10-year-old and ultimately, why I chose rugby and allowed it to take over my life to this day, 20 years on.
As with all things in sport and life itself, times change, advances are made and we must move forward, however, I think it’s always nice and important to reminisce about our fondest memories.
Witnessing this game was like going back in time, with both sets of teams sporting oversized heavyweight cotton jerseys, made 2 stone heavier in the pouring rain. The number of bandages and strapping on-show was enough to mistake the setting for the accident & emergency department at your local hospital!
All these images got me thinking of some of the biggest changes and trends I have personally witnessed over the last 20 years of my rugby experience.
I have come up with my top 5 fads in rugby. I would love to hear if you or any of your team mates are still advocates of any of these today and if there are any others, perhaps from before my era to add to the list.
The definition of ‘Fad’ is a craze or intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short lived. Some of my top 5 were certainly short-lived (thankfully!)...
1) Huge Shoulder Pads
I’m sure anybody who took to the field in the 90’s will have experienced the 2 square feet of foam enveloping each individual shoulder...and thought it looked cool! I think it was also necessary to have to turn up to a match 3 hours before kick off in an attempt to work out how to put the things on! It maybe would have been easier if they came supplied with an Ikea do it yourself manual!
Gone are the days where we have to resemble NFL players and to be honest, nowadays most rarely wear any padding at all, and if they do, it’s a lot more subtle and well-fitted in the form of a vest.
I can proudly say I was never guilty of committing this crime! I remember lots of players (even during a world cup) choosing to wear gloves as a way to improve grip. Albeit they seemed to have the opposite effect in the rain! Thankfully a short-lived fad that received the red card...and will hopefully never return!
3) Breathe Easy Nasal Strips
I first witnessed these plaster like strips worn across the bridge of your nose in a cross-code challenge game between Wigan Rugby League and Bath in the 1990’s. Most players were sporting them, inspired by Liverpool footballer Robbie Fowler, who started the craze with the intent of opening the nasal passages more thus improving your breathing.
Again it wasn’t to last long so can’t have been that effective.
4) The Evolution of Boots
To wear anything other than my pure black Mizuno boots with the turnover tongue was simply unthinkable when I commenced my rugby journey. In fact, I don’t think anything other than black was even available!
Then suddenly one day a couple of players both amazed and bemused the crowds by entering the stage sporting bright white or even red footwear (Gavin Henson to name but one). I remember thinking, have these guys forgot to take their trainers off?! But of course, this marked the beginning of a new era of revolutionary elaborate boots, available in any colour imaginable.
Strangely, it’s now extremely rare to see a player wearing black boots (although I thought it was a great touch by the All Blacks during the world cup!). We are now even seeing boots designed with built-in socks...whatever next?!
And finally, this one is not so much a fad as I think this trend will be around for some time with today’s modern day society.
Gone are the images of beer-bellied rugby players with ‘warts n all’.... enter the present day well looked after athletic torso’s and bulging biceps covered with a gallery of decorative ink and meaning. The image of the sport and its participants has changed immensely.