Guest writer @ahmadnz talks us through his RWC experience supporting Romania.
I’m just a casual follower of NZ sport. I can’t name the current All Black squad. I don’t know who scored the last test try at Carisbrook. And I can’t tell you much about the Otago vs. Lions game aside from the fact I got very wet and Otago won. But I will watch sport as time allows for it, and I will get along to offer my vocal support to teams that have captured my imagination or engaged me in a meaningful way.
That’s how I got involved with the Romanian rugby team when Rugby World Cup organisers encouraged New Zealanders to get behind a second team in the tournament. The story explaining how I became “crazy about Romanian rugby” is covered elsewhere, but here I wanted to share my experiences of being a Romania fan at RWC2011, and how it has opened my eyes about what it really means to be a sports “fan”.
The word “fan” is said to have been derived as a shortened form of “fanatic”, the Latin root “fanatics” meaning “frenzied and divinely inspired”. Given that rugby is a religion in New Zealand (allegedly worshipped by a church of 4 million), this is perhaps a fitting definition for All Black fans.
I’m of the age group that has watched the All Blacks go from “invincible” to very definitely beatable on the day (especially World Cup knock-out game days). My earliest RWC memory is asking dad to shift a TV into our house so that we could get up in the middle of the night to watch the All Blacks lose to Australia in 1991. But outside of Rugby World Cup years the All Blacks were generally a team that could crawl its way back from any deficit and get over the line by the 80th minute.
As I’ve matured, I’ve come to realise that expectation of victory is a pretty depressing state of mind. If the All Blacks won, then it was always meant to be. If the All Blacks lost, then it was the end of the world. Until the sun came up the next day anyway.
I have found following teams with lower expectations to be far more enjoyable. The Wellington Phoenix might lose a lot of games, but it makes it all that much better when they pull off a win, or make unprecedented advances in the A-League finals. And having no expectation of victory over Bahrain on 14.11.09 resulted in a feeling of pure ecstasy when the All Whites got over the line.
It was with similarly low expectations that I went along to Rugby Park Invercargill to watch Romania taken on the might of Scotland in Game 2 of Rugby World Cup 2011. After making a slow start and conceding regular points to Scotland, Romania managed to claw its way back and take a surprise lead in the 68th minute when Daniel Carpo emerged from the back of the Romanian scrum to touch down. This sent the already vocal Romanian contingent on the Rugby Park terrace into frenzied celebrations, but it was what followed that changed the way I looked at fan support at live sports games.
What took me by surprise was good-spirited the Romanian fans remained even as Scotland ran in two late heart-breaking tries to snatch away the chance of a famous victory. You wouldn’t have known though – the vocal Romanians continued to sing, dance, chant – not only to keep themselves warm on the terrace but in a show of solidarity with the team. I’m not used to seeing this sort of behaviour from fans. If it had been an Otago game I’d expect to see a steady stream of supporters in the crowd making for the exit “to avoid the traffic”. In the face of impending defeat, I’m convinced that the continued vocal support of the Romanian fans would have helped to continue to buoy their team in the dying moments of the match.
I’m not advocating acceptance of mediocrity and celebrating defeat. I was simply impressed by the *unconditional* support provided to the Oaks from their supporters. The same kind of unconditional support provided Steinlager to the All Blacks, and by Pumas fans to their team as they conceded to England.
Speaking of Argentinian fans, they have been my favourite fans of RWC 2011. They are colourful, proud, vocal, and have added so much to the tournament. They have not wasted any opportunity to interact with fans of other countries, taking photos with them, and dancing and singing with them. As a nation I would suggest that we have a lot we can learn from our foreign fans, and it would be wonderful to see New Zealand get behind their teams with similar fervour and good sportsmanship.
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