Tuesday 21 May 2019

Sinead Kissane: No free pass for 'fans' to belittle players or coaches

Appalling treatment of Jones and Lyons must not be tolerated even if England coach is well able to stir pot

Leah Lyons (left) celebrates with Mairead Coyne after scoring a try in last year’s
Six Nations game against France. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Leah Lyons (left) celebrates with Mairead Coyne after scoring a try in last year’s Six Nations game against France. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

Eddie Jones stole a quick glance at the big screen in Murrayfield last Saturday evening to confirm what he already knew. It was minutes after Scotland's Six Nations win over England but the atmosphere quickly turned from cheers to jeers as a chorus-line of boos sounded when Jones appeared on the big screen for an interview.

The England head coach looked momentarily rattled as he saw himself become a dartboard for discontent. Some might argue that booing was what Jones deserved, that the wizard of Oz with the big mouth had thrown enough players into the firing line in the past to finally feel some humiliation himself.


A few days later, Jones revealed he was verbally and physically abused as he travelled by train on his own from Edinburgh to Manchester to see United play at Old Trafford last Sunday and from Manchester to London later that evening.

Video footage showed Jones being jostled by a group of Scottish men at a train station. He posed for photos before the Scots turned on him with one of them calling Jones a "baldy c**t".

This behaviour was quickly condemned by Scotland Rugby: "Scotland Rugby is appalled by the verbal abuse suffered by Eddie Jones. The disgusting behaviour of those involved does not represent the values of our sport or its fans. The dignity Eddie and the England team showed on Saturday is in stark contrast to this ugly incident."

Former Scotland player Scott Hastings tweeted: "These despicable idiots are a disgrace. We need to find them, name & shame them & fine them for public disorder & harassment."

It was horrible to see a 58-year-old be put in a vulnerable position and suffer that sort of abusive behaviour which drew the condemnation it deserved. I am not equating that incident with booing, of course not, but the sight of Jones being booed on the pitch at Murrayfield also made for uncomfortable viewing.

I understand why some fans would want to be heard if they saw cheating or unsporting behaviour on the pitch.

Jones stirs a pot better than a Michelin star chef but that doesn't mean he merits belittlement by being booed at.

The morning after Ireland's win over Wales in the Women's Six Nations, Leah Lyons revealed she was the subject of derogatory verbals by an Irish person during their game in Donnybrook.

"Poor choice of wording from a man in the crowd (Irish) yesterday… 'Heifer' in relating to myself… your seated 3 rows away from my family who heard you and surrounded by young children girls and boys who are all shapes and sizes," Lyons tweeted.

"Rugby is a game for all. No one is perfect I realise I'm an example of that, but have a bit of respect. Good to hear that someone in the crowd gave you a flake of a flag and told you to be quiet!"

Bravo to Lyons for calling out that awful behaviour. As previously raised in relation to other sports, what is it about attending a sports event and being at a sports ground which misleads some into believing they're allowed act in a manner they may not normally engage in?

Some seem to conveniently confuse being at a game as having a free pass to descend into verbal incontinence or have a right to belittle someone or sign up to a mob mentality whereby just because others are doing it then that makes it ok to follow suit.

Jones said he believed some pre-game comments about him and England lit the fuse for the behaviour of others. In the lead-up to last weekend's game, former Scotland captain Gavin Hastings said Scotland would like nothing more than "to rub Eddie Jones's face in the dirt".

Scotland prop Simon Berghan, who grew up in New Zealand but is eligible to play for Scotland through his grandfather, stated: "I sort of knew that everyone hates England, basically, because we did, but when I came over here it was made more obvious to me".

The England head coach reckoned this kind of talk crossed the line. "If you talk about hate and you talk about rubbing people's nose in the dirt, and all those sorts of things, it incites certain behaviours," Jones said on Wednesday. "Are they the sorts of behaviours that we want to see?"

Now, it's easy to call out Jones as being a hypocrite for raising this issue. He crossed the line himself two years ago when he involved Johnny Sexton's parents in his pre-match comments about the Ireland out-half's health.

It means everything can get chucked into the same bin whenever he publicly questions a player like when he spoke about Wales out-half Rhys Patchell and his "bottle" before their game with England last month.


But does Jones have a point about pre-match talk inciting certain behaviours? I don't remember Warren Gatland's comment about the Welsh dislike playing the Irish the most causing any divisions among fans. Familiarity and rivalry are what make the Six Nations special.

Jones probably shouldn't underestimate fans' intelligence by thinking that when they read Hastings' comments about rubbing his face in the dirt that he was in any way actually suggesting Scotland fans do just that if they saw him on the train journey home.

As much as Jones was right to raise this question, fans are ultimately responsible for their own behaviour. What crossed the line was what Jones was subjected to. And the kind of verbals thrown Lyons' way with her family close by at the Ireland game last weekend.

As Lyons finished by saying in her tweet: "Ain't got nothing good to say, say nothing at all".

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