Planes, trains and automobiles are not the only things that roar as I discovered on a recent photography field trip to the Honourable Artillery Company stadium in London for the pre-season friendly between Saracens and London Scottish. As a thrifty feline adapted to conserving energy, I don’t normally approve of unnecessary physical exertion although I am accustomed to guttural grunting having lived with John for the last 6 years! There was quite a cacophony of snorts and bellows coming from the pitch during this physically demanding match but I can’t say I was surprised given the extraordinary stamina and strength these lads displayed.
As a cat I’m genetically programmed to nap for 18 hours a day and chase various objects to practice my hunting skills and maintain my muscle tone, as well as gawp at anything that moves and seek out nourishment in preparation for my next nap. Therefore I am naturally fascinated by the human condition of competition – the innate impulse in 99% of human beings to excel at a task and try to beat others at the performance of that task. These lads were a great example of a contest between rivals using strength, speed and strategy to move a ball around in an opponent’s territory. I understand the need to protect your territory and I guard mine furiously with daily patrols around the garden, a strict regime of scenting and guard duty at every window in the house. Any potential invaders, usually consisting of neighbours, dogs walking by and impudent pigeons that delight in cooing and flicking their tails at me just after dinner, are given my most fierce stare. A skill the rugby players have also mastered judging by the scary scowls and shoulder shoves they gave each other throughout the match. The strange thing was, as soon as the game was over, they all started cheering and the twisted expressions of pain changed quickly to happy smiles like jovial buffalo. In case you were wondering, Saracens proved their might with a 73 to 7 victory.
This game between the Saracens and the Harlequins at Wembley Stadium was what humans call a ‘grudge match’ following a previous defeat of the Harlequins at the hands of the Saracens. With record attendance for a club rugby match (in the region of 84,068 people) and enough testosterone-fuelled bulging biceps to give Arnold Schwarzenegger a run for his money, it was an occasion that John attended without me. The baying crowds and mischievous language would have been too much for a respectable chap like me, plus John doesn’t like taking me to crowded places in case I get lost or squashed.
John was so animated about the experience when he got home that I felt as though I had been there and you would have thought it was the biggest event in the history of competitive sports. I suppose for me as a laid-back feline whose interest in physical exertion is reserved for chasing mice and running between John’s feet to beat him to the kitchen, such fierce opposition around who can catch a ball and chuck it on the floor is confusing. But I guess its serious stuff when you’ve trained for years and been involved in contests so the rivalry between each team simmered close to the surface.
As the players warmed up, the crowd was treated to some music by a young pop-star called Pixie Lott who by all accounts had a very nice voice but had neglected to put on a pair of shoes. Pixie’s chilly feet were soon forgotten once the match got underway and the spirited players started charging, grunting and head-butting their way towards victory. There were several stops throughout the game for mopping up blood from various injuries including the occasional stray fist and the unfortunate referee was accidently floored by a Saracen player after being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In case you’re wondering, the score was 42 to 14 to the Saracens and the poor old Harlequins went home with their tales between their legs (metaphorically speaking).