Well, I’ve just about got the ringing out of me ears after last night’s game. Honestly, in 17 years of watching the Falcons I don’t think I’ve ever heard a crowd as loud as Brive’s for this match. Whipped up by a band and several drummers, they were quite mad.
For away players, I imagine it is quite intimidating, and for the officials too no doubt. Certainly I’ve never seen such heckling for a decision against a home team. It was probably one notch below ‘violent’ and made the Shed look like a Kindergarten.
It is to the Falcons’ great credit that they came away from this exciting match with a losing bonus point, helping to keep the group wide open after two games. For a third-string side (so we were told), Brive had out a fantastic set of backs with pace that we struggled to contain at times.
Yet we could, perhaps should, have won. We had plenty of chances and missed a few points from the tee (as did Brive like). If Sean ‘Le Monster’ Tomes had been able to get his scoring pass to Chris York backward rather than forward, who knows? What if we had been able to make our extra man count in the second half instead of Oliver Tomaszczyk’s mist descending?
We could go through “What ifs” all day. Even if the result was disappointing, we away fans had a good time as always. Wor lass and I flew over to Limoges last Sunday and spent the week driving round some small villages and towns in the Corrèze and Dordogne regions, overcoming questionable hotels, closed cafes and enough ham, eggs, cheese, bread and chips to make me want a salad like never before in my life. Our most notable destination was the aptly-named Beaulieu, a rugby-loving village of 1,000 people where we had a few chats with the owner of the local rugby bar.
Oradour, near Limoges, is a humbling and haunting place that anyone with an interest in history should visit. We met a café owner there who explained that he was a fan of lots of sports – mostly handball, as he had a photo on the wall of himself with a Graham Kitchener lookalike who is apparently the world’s best handball player. Discussing his framed football shirts, I mentioned that we were over for the Brive-Falcons game – he then showed us a framed t-shirt with the names of Brive’s 1997 Heineken Cup-winning team on. His wife is a Brive native and a big fan.
This gentleman spoke little English, less than we could speak French, but this encounter reminded me that sport truly is an international language.
In Brive, Café Post has been done out but still offers a good feed and a nice environment for a few beers. On Saturday lunchtime, a French TV presenter came over and asked us to embellish his notes on the Falcons team. “Alex Tait, is he Mathew’s brother?” “Why is a hooker wearing number one?”
“Tomes et Barrow, deux metre?” Yes, Tomes is a “beast”. He didn’t understand. “Monster?” “Ah, merci.” Our new friend then wrote “Monster” beside Tomes, I wonder if he mentioned it in commentary?
Semi-official count of away fans was 11, although there may have been more locals we didn’t meet. Apparently we made enough noise high up in the stands to be heard among the Brive band, drums, cheering, howling and whistling. Fraser McKenzie heard us anyway.
Apart from Jersey last season, this was my first overseas trip to watch the Falcons since Montauban in 2006, and I remembered what I have been missing, apart from the obvious benefit of a holiday – the chance to meet new friends among both travelling and home friends, and also to get to know existing friends better, over a few beers in a new place and of course watch a game. It’s a bit more relaxed than a normal Premiership game where we tend to go, watch the game, chew the fat then go home. It looks unlikely I will be able to make Calvisano but going to look into it.
For now, with the Falcons still just a point behind Brive, it looks possible that we could yet qualify for the quarters despite last night’s result. Just win the rest of our games and get a couple of bonus points, that should do it and it’s doable.
Thanks to everyone we enjoyed Brive with, and for those we hadn’t met before, looking forward to seeing you at another game soon.
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)