Fast approaching the Six Nations season, many rugby union fans will make the procession towards the home of England Rugby: Twickenham. In 2019, the mecca has changed with the times, but is that now ‘exclusive, not inclusive?’
Changes are made, the Twickenham of old is much changed for many traditional rugby football fans. Some for the better and others that can just cause disruption and inconvenience to many.
For a hugely popular venue like Twickenham Stadium, those changes can be asthetic, structural, internal promotion and hospitality, or in the organization. It is the latter that needs to be addressed here.
The world famous Twickenham Rugby Ground
For many years, visitors to Twickenham – the Home of English Rugby – have enjoyed what can only be described as a unique experience. One where supporters enjoy access to the many bars and food outlets and hospitality on offer.
Some of the most memorable experiences for me personally, is that very first visit where you get a glimpse at just what makes this ground so special.
From general admission customers to corporate clients, supporters and ex-players mingle within the refines of the Car Parks and marquee tents. Entertaining guests and longtime visitors, and all with an unspoken rule……Respect and Decency.
It is one of the many aspects of this great game that people and supporters can mingle and have the utmost respect for others. All this was totally accessible and in all my days of attending these games (and there have been many) I have never witnessed the disruption and inconvenience that fans now find; with the newly implemented changes to ticket entry to the once all-welcoming Twickenham ground.
Over time the main West Car Park, know for RFU members and Range Rover tailgate picnics, have been pushed out to make way for a fanfare of more bars, beer tents and eateries. The popular tailgate picnics and friendly banter they encouraged, are gradually becoming a thing of the past.
It’s the little changes over time that are gradually eroding the classic twickenham experience.
It is feared that Twickenham is fast becoming such a commercial enterprise, that it has lost sight of their main rugby supporters and centred itself on a more corporate market. The two can work together and have done for many years. As a rugby supporter, I have visited Twickenham for over 20 years and there have seen many changes, but what must remain is the camaraderie, excitement, pre-Test apprehension and the emotions of the day.
This ground has grown so much bigger over the years, with the now fantastic South Stand providing a tremendous viewpoint and protection from the elements, when queuing outside. Admittedly, the RFU have done an amazing job – and made huge investment – in developing the ground into what it is today and even just this year opened a new large Hospitality Suite within the East Stand.
Not long until the start of the Guinness Six Nations, you can experience the thrill of international rugby from the comfort of Twickenham Stadium’s new East Stand, find out about our @SixNationsRugby packages – https://t.co/Qr0HyFT9Yg pic.twitter.com/Dka2uajKhe
— Twickenham Stadium (@Twickenhamstad) January 28, 2019
With all this comes demand and thus, tickets become harder to purchase. So there is a price to pay for being so popular – but does that mean it has become an exclusive experience?. So why now has the RFU made changes that have greatly affected the general paying supporters ability to purchase general admission tickets? Fans who now have to endure horrendous queues and be herded like cattle into the ground.
Fan access and pre-match enjoyment being ‘Tested’
The main reason for this change has been the extension of main gate entry and bag search to the perimeter of West car parks etc. This started at the Rugby World Cup in 2015 but, has now come into full force over the Autumn Internationals and is set to continue – causing disruption and inconvenience to many.
I have witnessed this myself not only at the Big Game11 with 82,000 supporters attending the Harlequins v Wasps traditional fixture, but also at recent All Blacks game too. In that recent experience, I took my son along to enjoy the ambience and atmosphere that the game creates. While we didn’t have tickets. That often does not matter as fans can watch the game on one of the large screens, and then meet up with friends after the game within the Tailgate Picnic area. Wrong!
Upon arrival, we found massive queues and noticed that the tickets gates had been moved. Speaking to an attendant, I enquired ‘is this just a bag search, or do you need a ticket also?’. No sorry sir, you are now not allowed entry into the ground concourse without a ticket – the long standing policy had been changed. In the past, you where always scanned in a bag search at these gates, but only needed to produce your match ticket at main gate within the concourse.
In observation, this combination of scanning tickets and performing bag searches together on the outside perimeter of the massive complex, means that you can no longer simply watch on the big screen outside the stadium in West Car Park; unless you have a ticket.
The disruption I feel doesn’t stop there as the knock on effect has been that queuing system is now under intense pressure with tailbacks at last 50 deep and with a capacity of 82,000 trying their best to gain entry, You know have to queue for over 15mins at least then have bags and full body scan and provide a ticket, slowing down a process that worked before, so why change it ?. . Whereas the old system was bag and body scan to gain entry to car park area then just show/scan ticket in main stadium, within the car park area. There were often queues to main stadium as many leave it until the last minute, but everyone knew this and the process was quick and slick , due to split of bag and ticket entry. Perhaps health and safety should come into play where you are being herded into the ground, it is certainly not an experience that many are enjoying. These changes can and will affect what can be a fantastic family day especially for the younger generations of the sport.
Retaining that Inclusive element an important Rugby ingredient
One of the greatest experiences of watching the game outside on the big screen within the West Car Park was during Ireland’s 2018 Grand Slam game against England. I will never forget it. You almost felt that you where in Ireland, being completely outnumbered with over a 1000 Irish supporters who had gathered to watch the game there. The atmosphere and singing between everyone was what makes sport magical, of which you needed no policing between supporters with Ireland fans happily mingling with the English.
This I fear has now been lost as come the Six Nations any travelling fans without a ticket – and there are often many – who will no longer be granted access to watch on the big screen only.
The RFU may be missing something here, as I am sure that many would pay for a ‘Fan Site Ticket’ at cost of say £10-20. Access, just to enter the West Car Park and view matches on the Big Screen. This would provide extra revenue for the ground and also boost sales at facilities, like the huge Guinness tent, etc, Yes you would not be able to enter the ground, but it would mean that travelling supporters without a ticket could still visit the ground; on a first-come-first-serve basis.
This policy in place during the forthcoming 2019 Six Nations will be tested. Last Word on Rugby feel for those travelling supporters from France, Scotland and indeed Italy, who may not know anything about this until their arrival, could be left standing outside the ground. The RFU has not widely publicised this policy change and many will be disappointed in having a wasted journey. Only being allowed to watch in nearby Twickenham bars, a mile away from the ground.
Twickenham 2019 – Exclusive not Inclusive
I fear that this could resonate through the game and other stadiums will adapt the same strict stance. Beware though as Twickenham is now fast becoming soulless, as the Rugby playing public are being forced out to the highest bidder.
So if you are attending the Six Nations, be aware of the changes made – especially if making your way to ground without a ticket. The chances are lower today, that you can just ‘walk up’ to a ticket stall and attend a big fixture (as many enjoyed in the past). True, times change and the games are now hugely popular but, popularity does not mean exclusivity. Corporate clients shouldn’t be afforded anything more than general admission customers – the fans who travel by train, save up their money to enjoy one of the greatest rugby grounds in the world.
Twickenham still has many positives to endorse. The iconic sgadium is buoyant when the whole crowd is on song – there is no other place in the world, that can maintain the harmony of ‘Swing Low’ like Twicker’s can.
Balance is needed. Fans of all types and tickets for all classes should be freely available. Pre-sales are all good, but the ability to attend games is now less freely available. Lose that, and the regular visitors may feel less valued. In combination with security clamp-downs and access issues, the classic rugby experience is being diminished.
We need to make sure the game is there for grass roots community rugby, as well as corporate sector and changes are made for the better not to detriment of what is the ‘Home of English Rugby. Let’s make it a home for everyone to enjoy.
The RFU in their wisdom has made the ground exclusive not inclusive.
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