THE songs will be different, and so will the colours worn by the fans, but this Rugby World Cup is the closest a rugby player will get to experience the famous atmosphere produced at the great soccer stadiums of England. Of course, Twickenham will be the venue for the big clashes of the knock-out phases but for a month of Pool rugby, soccer’s innermost sanctums will be invaded by a very different but just as passionately supported sport.
The Springboks find themselves traversing the length and breadth of England, from sunny (it is hoped) Brighton to the Scotland border city of Newcastle, where it will no doubt be a few degrees colder, with a midlands visit in between at Birmingham before a final Pool match at London’s Olympic Stadium.
BRIGHTON COMMUNITY STADIUM
THE Boks set up camp in the popular holiday town of Eastbourne on Saturday, where they will prepare for their September 19 opener against Japan at one of England’s flashier stadiums, just down the road in Brighton. So many of England’s soccer stadiums date back to the early 20th century, if they are lucky, and slowly but surely they are being modernised, with Brighton having spent an estimated 120 million pounds in giving their team a plush new home, which now can seat 31 000 fans. The turf is new and trim and will produce a fast-paced game.
Aston Villa’s home ground has been around since two years before the start of the Boer War in 1899, reportedly build on the site of a Victorian Amusement Park. There has been not a lot of amusement for Brummies (natives of Birmingham) at the ground in recent decades although the local side have had their day in decades gone by. The ground has seen some fierce battles, no doubt, but in terms of sheer physicality, it is doubtful that Villa Park will ever again see the likes of Samoa thundering into the Boks in a rugby game, and getting the same back in no small measure. The ground has a capacity of 43000 and many will be South African ex-pats taking the train up from London.
ST JAMES’ PARK
EVEN the most ardent rugby (and non-soccer) fan will have heard of one of the most famous sporting venues in the world. Way up in the north of England, Newcastle is the home of Newcastle Brown Ale and a soccer team in black and white that means life and death to the local Geordies. It is one of the oldest football grounds in the country and was built in a town square that a few centuries ago was a place of execution. More than a few football managers have had that “gallows” feeling at the ground. It is one of the bigger stadiums and unfortunately for the Boks, a great deal of the 55000 capacity will be “Jocks” that will have made the short trip across the border to support Scotland in their match on October 3.
THE 54000 masterpiece of modern architecture has been closed since the Olympics so that it can be converted into a venue that can host a variety of team sports under a retractable roof, not unlike the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. The stadium will eventually become the home of famous soccer club West Ham United, who have been slumming it in decrepit East London for well over a hundred years. Construction on the Stadium will halt for the Rugby World Cup, allowing for four games to be played there, one of which will be the Boks’ Pool closer against the USA.
by Mike Greenaway
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