The IRFU think of you as no more than a dumb mutt

Playing ‘The Fields of Athenry’ with the ball still in play is a new low in the search of atmosphere

Were they really jangling out the strains of ‘The Fields’ as Paddy Jackson (above)  got ready to kick a penalty to the corner? Yes. Yes they were.

Were they really jangling out the strains of ‘The Fields’ as Paddy Jackson (above) got ready to kick a penalty to the corner? Yes. Yes they were.


Going to the match on Sunday? The IRFU think you’re an idiot. Inasmuch as they think of you at all, to them you are no more complicated an entity than a dog. A dumb mutt. Okay, a dumb mutt with pockets. Okay, okay, a dumb mutt with pockets and puppies – preferably with pockets of their own – trailing in behind you.

How else to explain the matchday experience at the Aviva now? What other inference is it possible to take? The manic screech of the tannoy jockey. The gormless wheeze of piped-in drums. The TMO heartbeat laugh-track. And worst of the worst, The Fields Of Athenry wafting from the speakers as play goes on down on the pitch below.

Dog-whistle stuff, an instruction manual on what to feel and when to feel it and how to express said feeling in an acceptable way. Nothing to do with rugby, nothing to do with enjoyment. Just do as you’re told. Clap. Cheer. Chant. Wait. Wonder. Sing. Sit. Heel. Good boy.

And not just the IRFU, either. The FAI think you’re an idiot too. At the Ireland v Sweden match back in September, there was a glorious few minutes around half an hour before kick-off during which there was no music blaring from the PA system. Instead, the stadium started to hum with the Swedish fans Oh-Oh-Ohhhhing the tune to Seven Nation Army and the Irish fans responding with their version of Just Can’t Get Enough.

It was wondrous
It was old school, it was wondrous. It was two sets of fans taking it upon themselves to make noise as a collective. It was, if you can imagine this, atmospheric. At least it was until some busybody in the control box flicked a switch and imposed the Wolfe Tones on proceedings. Irony of ironies, the tune was Let The People Sing.

Yet for all the FAI’s ills and spills down the years, at least they can say they don’t play music over the action. Say what you like about them, at least they don’t have We’re On The One Road booming out while Aiden McGeady trots over to take a corner.

When it happened during the Samoa match, you had to do a double take just to make sure it was what you thought it was. Were they really jangling out the strains of The Fields as Paddy Jackson got ready to kick a penalty to the corner? Yes. Yes they were.

And were they really letting it continue as Rory Best threw in to the lineout and as Devin Toner tapped it down? Yes. Yes they were. Talk about crass. Talk about wrong-headed.

Even the American sports from which all this razzmatazz is copied stop short of actually playing music while the game is ongoing. They fill in every available blank right enough but apart from the odd bit of organ build-up as a basketball team crosses half-court, even they treat the actual action as being relatively sacrosanct. When you’re outdoing American sports’ gaudy trespass, it’s possibly time to have a little think about the point of it all.

Actually, come to that, what is the point of it all? Why is it anyone’s business other than your own what you do, say, sing, shout or chant at a rugby match?

Who died and made the IRFU the arbiter of how you should feel? And frankly, isn’t the whole idea of trying to mould the emotions of a crowd of 50,000 people ever-so-slightly creepy?

Sourced a drumbeat
Think of the preparation that went it into it. Someone actually sat down and sourced a drumbeat to play during a lull in the action. Not an actual drummer, mind. Not even some lad with a bodhrán. Just an internet-trawled sound file to double-click in the event that a few scrums collapse and people start talking amongst themselves.

You’d like to think that whoever clicked on The Fields Of Athenry during the Samoa game felt like a prize twit doing so. This, after all, is the most unlikely crowd anthem. It grew organically and seemingly out of nowhere until it replaced the Alive-Alive-Oh of Molly Malone. It’s a song that became the go-to across a number of sports and fanbases precisely because nobody forced it on them. And now this.

Atmosphere in a stadium has nothing to do with music, it has nothing to do with ersatz drums and it surely has nothing to do with the lump-a-dump of a faux heartbeat while everyone waits on the TMO to decide if Peter O’Mahony was tiptackled by the Aussies. Mostly, it’s to do with what you’re watching – how your team is doing and whether you care about the outcome. Always has been, always will be.

Of course, if the IRFU really wanted to help the atmosphere along they’d close the bars 15 minutes before kick-off and get people into their seats. But they’d probably think any such suggestion was idiotic.

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