The nature of the
rugby fan has been studied much less than the competing species, the football
I searched diligently, but couldn’t find any studies or even essays that
had anything interesting to say about rugby fans, which is probably a
compliment to them. While there are regular riots caused by football hooligans,
not a single crisis involving rugby hooliganism springs to mind.
Rioting and assaults
Rugby fans are by no
means gentle souls, but it may be that their aggression and territorialism are
more thoroughly satisfied by the aggression of the game itself than in the case
of football/soccer, and therefore less likely to be acted out outside the
For some years, as
rioting and assaults continued, football authorities despaired about the
problem of football hooliganism as they tried every remedy they could think of.
Then, suddenly, the crisis seemed to be over, and the number of incidents dropped dramatically.
This a good illustration
of a puzzle often encountered in medicine: when you grow alarmed at someone’s condition, and throw everything you
can think of at the problem all at once, then, if they improve, you don’t know
which part of the bundle worked and what did not – and you don’t know exactly how to proceed next time.
Recently I reported on
a new study of rugby supporters on their way in and out of the Cardiff Stadium,
which found that those who won or drew the match felt more aggressive than
those who lost – and the more aggressive they were, the more they planned on
Read: Causes of alcohol-related aggression
We already know that
people are more likely to drink more, and to be more aggressive, if they tend to
ignore future consequences and demand immediate satisfaction. Maybe they
identify with their teams to the point of feeling invincible, and besides the
urge to drink want to add a personal victory over anyone else who might be
handy when their team wins. This might explain why being on the winning side
causes them to be more aggressive than when losing.
Spoilt and vulgar
Football stars are
hugely over-paid and often spoilt and vulgar. Rugby players tend to be nicer
and not so overburdened with excessive cash and bling. Football has become
infested with prima donnas diving and faking injuries. Rugby has genuine
injuries and players who don’t dramatize them. Football fans seem more tribal
in the way they support and identify with their teams. Rugby fans are rather more dignified and less
Read: Pro footballers are prone to depression
There’s an old saying,
with a lot of truth in it: “Football is a gentleman's game played by hooligans,
and rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen."
Why rugby fans drink
Crippled by school rugby
Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.