Are Friday night rugby games a good idea?

We have all heard the phrase ‘football is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen’. According to that script, rugby is angelic and football satanic. The former is the master, the latter the apprentice when it comes to moral discipline.

But that script might need revising as Wales’ opening Six Nations encounter against England was somewhat tainted by the violent behaviour of some supporters in Cardiff city centre throughout the afternoon and into the evening.

With the match not beginning until 8.05pm and pubs open as early as midday, there was more than enough time for excessive alcohol consumption – and many fans seized this opportunity. Reports of fans brawling in toilets, bottles being thrown inside the stadium, and intoxicated supporters behaving moronically in general were aplenty the next day.

The substantial amount of litter that remained on the city centre’s streets, and the bloodied faces of some fans, served as poignant reminders of the pejorative scenes. While rugby’s reputation is still just about intact, the damage was sufficient to raise doubts over the scheduling of matches on Friday nights.

Something about Friday nights just makes a game’s atmosphere extra special. Perhaps the bright and beaming floodlights are the ‘secret ingredient’. Perhaps it is the cold temperatures. Add to that the fact that most people have finished work and are excited by the prospect of an enthralling weekend of rugby, and you have the recipe for a thrilling Friday night of action.

Encouragingly, South Wales Police have revealed that there was no increase in the number of incidents reported than at any other international fixture in the past. Natty Corbett, a History student at Cardiff and an avid rugby supporter, believes that the Friday night matches should continue: “I’d say the vast majority of supporters from both sides are just having a good time. It’s a very small minority that bring bad press on the others. If properly managed, the games and the rivalry are great”.

On the other hand, it is worth remembering that there were presumably a number of incidents that did not get reported to the police, meaning that the level of violence retains a level of obscurity. Furthermore, the usually earlier kick off on Saturdays and Sundays certainly reduces the time available for supporters to spend in pubs and, therefore, the violence associated with alcohol, making it almost certain that the levels of fan intoxication are much higher for Friday night games.

Wales is currently the only one of the Six Nations that can host games on Friday nights. England, Ireland, Scotland, Italy and France have all cited administrative and safety reasons that make Friday night matches unrealistic and inconvenient. Indeed, the WRU might now want to follow suit and argue safety reasons as justification for no Friday night matches.

The temptation to do so is clear when you consider the police patrols they had to employ, the queues that built up on the M4 between Magor and High Cross in Newport, and the disruption that was caused to public transport.

It subsequently seems more logical to schedule games for the weekend and to exclude Friday nights – a view held by Gair Rhydd Cardiff Blues columnist Michael Cantillon. Cantillon was in the city centre, close to the Millennium Stadium during and after the Six Nations opener. Although he did not observe any disorder, Cantillon was ready to criticise the reported incidents, commenting that “the behaviour is a disgrace and unacceptable, especially within rugby, a sport renowned for its enjoyable atmosphere.”

Unlike Corbett, Cantillon does not believe the Friday night matches are tenable. He asks “is it worth putting innocent supporters in danger due to a small percentage of idiots who can’t behave on a Friday night?”

Nevertheless, while the timing of the match tends to be different on a Saturday and Sunday, police patrols are still going to be needed, queues are still highly probable, and public transport is still likely to be affected regardless of what day the match takes place on. Additionally, alcohol can still be purchased in and around the stadium both before and after kick off.

Ultimately, nobody wants a repeat of the chaos. The health and sealth and safety of fans should always be prioritised, especially when there are considerable numbers of children attending the matches. Whether this constitutes a complete eradication of Friday night matches is questionable.

A more conservative approach, in which increased safety measures and police patrols are implemented, might be more reasonable. After all, a ban on all Friday night games would be extremely unfair on those well-behaved supporters who just want to enjoy the match and the phenomenal atmosphere Friday nights can provide.

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