After a cracking day out at the rugby on Sunday, the differences between fan experiences at football and rugby events stood out so much that not only are there questions as to which is the better experience, but why. England v Wales at Twickenham, a huge game and stadium, so pretty similar in experience, expectations and crowd numbers to say a Cup Final at Wembley.
At Wembley and the surrounding streets there are by-laws about drinking in public, at Twickenham there are outdoor Guinness bars that are vast. Before and after the game people spilling out of bars and pubs over the pavement, nobody seemed to mind or question if it was acceptable. No police anywhere to be seen at Twickenham, at Wembley the riot vans and uniforms are clear and visible for everyone to see. At the station to catch a train to Wembley people have alcohol confiscated and there is in theory no drinking on the train, to catch the train to Twickenham the shops have stocked up on extra beer to sell for the train journey.
As I was carrying the half time food of cheese and biscuits (long story as to why) I went through the "bag check" entry, no tiny metal caged turnstile to get in. Again, drink on sale everywhere and almost no queues to get served.
You can take your beers to your seat and watch the game, get drinks at half time and so on. At many football games there is no beer on sale at all, and it is a criminal offence to drink in sight of the pitch. Fans all sitting together, no real segregation with tickets, and nobody seemed to worry that much, in fact all the "banter" and humour is far better when you are laughing and joking with people around you, not shouting over lines of police and stewards.
I saw a couple of people get escorted out, for what transgression I don't know, but like the players with the ref, there was no aggravation about it, what seemed to be just a clear acceptance that a line had been crossed and it was time to go. Unlike at football where recently fans were arrested for singing songs, thankfully the charges were subsequently dropped for those.
And so it continues. Tens of thousands of people attending a sporting event, and at one part of London it is seen as a social event for all to enjoy, with road closures and outside bars, almost encouraging al fresco drinking, pubs open doors and paths. In the other part of London the assumption is that the people attending it will be violent and abusive and can't be trusted to do anything that may make the day enjoyable for them.
Many people have written and spoken at length on this topic before, and I know it is nothing new, throw cricket and horse racing into the picture, and maybe a boat race, and the picture of how the police and state view the different fan bases is quite clear for all to see.
Football fans and groups over the country are working to try and change the experience for fans for the better, but until the expectation that a football fan will be a criminal by default is lifted, I fear little will change.
On that note as well I just want to say Rest In Peace to Darren Alexander who died suddenly last week. Few people devote as much time and money to not only their matchday experience at football but to the experience for all fans of all clubs as Darren did. He never just accepted "that is the way it is" and fought for what he believed was right constantly. He will be sorely missed by many, even those who never met, or maybe even never heard of him will have better experiences because of him