We can all be Glouces­ter Shed­heads for six weeks

Rugby’s spir­i­tual home and its cel­e­brated fans make the city a per­fect World Cup host venue

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 - Jim White

The il­lu­mi­nated warn­ing sign set up on the perime­ter of Glouces­ter has some per­ti­nent ad­vice.

“Rugby World Cup 2015 Host City. Plan ahead,” it reads.

And any­one in­tend­ing to at­tend one of the four matches sched­uled at the King­sholm sta­dium would do well to pay heed. Es­pe­cially if they have tick­ets on the Shed ter­race that runs the length of the east touch­line.

“If you want a spot on the half­way line, you have to get there 90 min­utes be­fore kick-off, min­i­mum,” says Paul Tate, a re­tired teacher who has been a Shed­head for 40 years and has tick­ets for all four World Cup games. “Don’t worry about keep­ing your­self amused. You’ll get to see the ref­eree warm­ing up. And if he does it close to the Shed you can re­mind him where he’s about to ref­eree.”

This Rugby World Cup threat­ens to be the most cor­po­rate sport­ing event ever staged in this coun­try. Around Twick­en­ham, a tem­po­rary city of hos­pi­tal­ity mar­quees has bloomed. In Le­ices­ter matches are to be played in the more size­able glossy new football sta­dium, rather than the rugby ground in or­der to ac­com­mo­date more hos­pi­tal­ity pack­age guests.

Ev­ery­where, blanding, smooth­ing and ho­mogenis­ing is in op­er­a­tion, turn­ing ev­ery sta­dium into an iden­tikit. Ex­cept in Glouces­ter. This is the place that re­gards it­self as the heart­beat of rugby, the gen­uine, au­then­tic soul of the game, the very an­tipa­thy of cor­po­rate.

It would take more than a World Cup to change Glouces­ter. “It’s go­ing to be fas­ci­nat­ing,” says Mr Tate of the forth­com­ing tour­na­ment. “Though not quite as ex­cit­ing as watch­ing Glouces­ter.”

The beat­ing cen­tre of Glouces­ter is the Shed, the ter­race where 4,000 cherry-and-white clad diehards set the rau­cous tone of ev­ery home game. Stand­ing on its empty steps ear­lier this week, as driv­ing rain pooled on the touch­line be­low, it looked an undis­tin­guished stretch of con­crete. Far more sub­stan­tial was the can­tilever roofed stand op­po­site, with its full ar­ray of mod­ern boxes and comfy seats. But when it is full of pas­sion­ate, witty, knowl­edge­able Shed­heads, this is a very dif­fer­ent place.

“Bru­tal,” is how Mike Tin­dall, the for­mer Glouces­ter and Eng­land cen­tre de­scribes the at­mos­phere that wafts out from be­low the stand’s cor­ru­gated iron roof. “I re­mem­ber when I played for Bath, I’d de­lib­er­ately run the length of the Shed be­fore kick off just to en­joy what they said. Some of the stuff shouted at me was so funny. But harsh.” Tin­dall adds things didn’t much change when he later signed to play for Glouces­ter.

“Won­der­ful fans, ab­so­lutely bril­liant. But they let you know when you make a mis­take. No­body who plays there wants to drop a high kick. Soon as you do, which­ever side, out come the don­key chants – eey­ore, eey­ore.”

The noise is at its peak, so Tin­dall reck­ons, when the scrum is in ac­tion. Bred over the years in the bul­lock­ing tra­di­tion of Mike Bur­ton, Phil Vick­ery and Trevor Wood­man, the ru­mour around Glouces­ter is that for three years on the trot the sup­port­ers’ try of the sea­son was a penalty try. A pushover heave is said to be greeted by a big­ger vo­cal swirl than when the club’s Eng­land winger Jonny May runs in from 80 yards. “Oh yeah,” says Tin­dall. “What they love more than any­thing is watch­ing a good old ruck. Get a rolling maul go­ing and you can’t hear your­self think.” Ac­cord­ing to Stephen Vaughan, the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive of Glouces­ter Rugby, it is the unique at­mos­phere gen­er­ated by the Shed that visi­tors from around the world want to ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing the World Cup. This is

Glouces­ter’s unique sales propo­si­tion. “King­sholm was the first sta­dium to sell out, it’ll be packed to the rafters,” he says. “This is the place that will be rock­ing, what rugby is all about.” Though he ad­mits that some as­pects of the Shed, par­tic­u­larly its de­mo­graphic, have been fondly mythol­o­gised over the years.

“There is an un­der­ly­ing work­ing class el­e­ment to Glouces­ter, al­ways has been,” he says. “But not any­where near the im­age. Sup­port­ers like to play up to that. There’s bar­ris­ters, doc­tors, busi­ness peo­ple who pre­fer to watch from the Shed. I‘ve in­vited very wealthy lo­cals up to a box to watch a game and they say, no they love it in the Shed.”

And it is the Shed that is at the fore­front of the city’s em­brace of the World Cup. Walk­ing around Glouces­ter this week is to be greeted by a town rel­ish­ing its chance to host the com­pe­ti­tion. There is bunt­ing ev­ery­where, flags of the com­pet­ing na­tions flut­ter from shop fronts, the lit­ter bins have been dec­o­rated in rugby scenes. On many a street cor­ner is a piece of art based on a rugby ball char­ac­ter called Scrumty. On many a lamp post is the sign: Glouces­ter 2015, Our Big Year.

“The World Cup’s been fan­tas­tic for us,” says John Hud­son, who runs a fam­ily sports shop in the city. “We al­ways sell loads of Glouces­ter and Eng­land shirts, but this has been on another level. We’ve even sold a ton of Scot­land shirts.” This week, the Tonga squad – led by the two Glouces­ter play­ers Sione Kala­ma­foni and David Halai­fonua – are com­ing on a visit to the shop ahead of to­day’s fix­ture at King­sholm against Ge­or­gia. While there they could buy all sorts of mem­o­ra­bilia, in­clud­ing a Ro­ma­nia na­tional shirt.

“We haven’t ac­tu­ally sold any of them yet,” says Mr Hud­son. “But it’s early days.” The ex­pec­ta­tion is that the tour­na­ment will gen­er­ate sig­nif­i­cant rev­enue for the city. The coun­cil es­ti­mate that across a Premier­ship sea­son, Glouces­ter Rugby is re­spon­si­ble for more than £20mil­lion spent in lo­cal busi­nesses, pro­vid­ing 371 jobs (92 full time, 279 part time). But the four World Cup games in Glouces­ter are ex­pected to gen­er­ate £48mil­lion, sus­tain­ing 905 jobs. And nowhere is the busi­ness of rugby more ap­par­ent than in the White Hart pub op­po­site the en­trance to the Shed.

Styling it­self “the most rugby crazed pub in the most rugby crazed city”, this is a bar ded­i­cated to the game. Or at least to toast­ing it in ale. The walls are cov­ered in mem­o­ra­bilia and pic­tures, four gi­ant tele­vi­sion screens of­fer rugby and rugby alone. For the World Cup, the owner Gary Teague, brother of the for­mer Glouces­ter and Eng­land stal­wart Mike, has erected a huge mar­quee in the gar­den, ready to take drink­ing ca­pac­ity be­yond 800. On the day the Tele­graph vis­its, the mar­quee is empty save for a cou­ple of ducks and a chicken shel­ter­ing from the down­pour. But when the World Cup kicks off it will be rammed, ta­bles have been booked by visi­tors com­ing from as far as Texas, Tokyo and Ed­in­burgh, all seek­ing to ab­sorb some of the Glouces­ter at­mos­phere.

Mind, it will have to go some to match the busi­ness when Glouces­ter played Mun­ster in the Heineken Cup at King­sholm. That night an in­vad­ing army of thirsty Ir­ish fans drank the place dry.

“5 April, 2008, a date etched on my heart,” smiles Teague at the mem­ory. “What a night that was. All our busi­ness comes from the rugby. Truth is, if it wasn’t for the Shed, this place would have turned into a block of flats years ago.”

To­day, how­ever, there will be nowhere else like it, nowhere bet­ter to be.

This, af­ter all, is Glouces­ter.

Big fan: Mike Tin­dall loved the ‘bru­tal’ Shed at­mos­phere as a player

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.