Supporting the local team

A website called Wisiwig allows users to watch the coverage of sporting fixtures that might otherwise not be readily available. Its status is never clear, Google carries it and major bookmaking chains place advertising on it. The tacit commercial endorsement presumably means that if it is not fully legitimate, then it is not actually illegal. Access to matches generally requires the closing of pages advertising gambling and pornography, and the avoidance of downloading spyware or Trojanware via tabs that declare users need the updates that are available through just one click.

Having negotiated the web hazards, last night I watched Aviron Bayonnais play RC Toulon in a French Top 14 rugby match.

It is some fourteen years since I started following the fortunes of the Bayonne club and I was not optimistic about their prospects last night. They are currently thirteenth in the Top 14, only Agen, who have lost every match this season, are below them. Last week Bayonne lost 73-3 to ASM Clermont Auvergne. There was a danger of another heavy defeat last night. It was a very different match, one where they never gave up, even when reduced to fourteen players for much of the match after a series of yellow cards. 8-3 down they recovered to 10-8, then were 11-10 down and fought back to 13-11, then, 14-13 down, they made a third comeback to win 16-14. A Bayonne triumph over Toulon is a rare commodity.

But why follow a team in the French Basque country? For the simple reason that for a decade they were the local team during summer holidays on the south-west coast. Going along to the Stade Jean Dauger was always a special moment of the holiday, the crowds were large and very vocal, and the atmosphere was always memorable. The team always struggles to hold its place in the Top 14 and has suffered frequent relegations to Pro 2, but it seems to have little effect on its supporters who are indefatigable in their commitment to the club.

In times when sport is dominated by teams with massive budgets, when some sporting teams are no more than franchises, the power of local loyalty seems to have been forgotten.

If success were the criterion of support for a club, then sporting teams in Somerset would be hard-pressed to survive. Yeovil Town play football in the National League, Somerset County Cricket Club have won a sprinkling of limited over titles, but have never once been county champions. Yet anyone who has been at matches at Yeovil or Taunton will know the enthusiasm of the supporters.

Franchise sport will never match the emotional power of a local team.

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