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Chris Hargreaves: The oval ball guys put on a good show

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: January 24, 2013

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ODD shaped ball, yes, 15 instead of 11, constant handball, head-high tackles, no abusing the officials and opposing fans sharing a beer next to each other. I am of course talking about rugby.

Why? Well for the last few weeks I have popped to see the Chiefs play. Nothing new there, I have been before, but I have to say how impressed I am every time I visit Sandy Park. I enjoy all sport and would gladly go to any live sporting event – maybe with the exception of Nordic skiing – but with the Chiefs stadium just a stone's throw from Hargreaves Towers it is not only handy but also an absolute pleasure to join the masses and watch the city's Premiership team.

I'm not sure why so many penalties are awarded, I'm not sure why the ref points the wrong way, I'm not even sure why they throw the ball backwards, but for that gladiatorial-like spirit, for the resilience of the players and for the pure match day show that is put on – on and off the pitch – going to watch the 'rugga' can at times put football to shame.

Don't get me wrong, for pure excitement and tension, and to watch a game I love, of course football is my first choice. But seeing that Sandy Park is full every week, seeing how organised the place is, watching people cheering and laughing together, combined with the fact that you can walk around the stadium with a beer in your hand without fear of being flattened by 15 stewards and banned for life, as an ex-footballer I am warming to rugby, big-time.

Yes these big old rugby beasts may not have been very good at football at school and so chose rugby – that is a joke, so please no dumping or gouging in the supermarket boys – but the players' handling and throwing skills are tremendous, the power and speed of these athletes is very impressive, and their ability to take tackle after tackle is incredible.

I have been told on good information that a player's recovery after a game is not too dissimilar to that faced by someone who has been on the receiving end of a front end shunt in a car crash, such is the trauma created by tackle after tackle. And yet a mere week, if not a couple of days later, they are patched up and are back out there once again. Not for the faint-hearted.

The success story of the Chiefs is one of hard work, belief and vision. I really hope that the club continues to grow, and I'm sure it will.

A few years ago I took part in a charity gig with Tony Rowe, chairman and chief executive of the Chiefs, for the fantastic Multiple Sclerosis Centre in Clyst Heath. Tony is a pretty driven man and we raised a lot of money on that day.

A mock 'arrest' meant we had to bring out our own black books and phone people – friends even – and ask them to kindly pay for our release. Most said keep that 'wrong un' Hargreaves locked up, as you can well imagine. But Tony's black book was vast, meaning that with his contacts and persuasive 'bullying', and my phoning of quite a few football club chairmen and directors, a fair few thousand pounds were raised for the centre.

Together with a great squad of players and a manager hungry for success, the future looks bright for the city's rugby team. Thanks to Woody for the tickets, and the 'tour', and thanks to James, and Dan, for the tickets and the beer!

FOOTBALL now, and it is that time of the season when, for some, one eye is on survival, for others both eyes are firmly fixed on promotion. And for some, eyes have been firmly fixed on contracts. As a precursor here – I would take it, we all would – but why on earth have Arsenal have agreed to pay Theo Walcott £100,000, A WEEK, and why on earth have Chelsea agreed to pay Ashley Cole £200,000 A WEEK – it is totally beyond me.

The game has gone mad. Clubs are prepared to pay the money though, and with a plethora of Machiavellian agents all vying for business and frothing at the mouths for deals to be tied up, it will keep on happening.

There is no rhyme or reason to the bizarre world of football, I'm pretty sure I saw the Southampton manager – should I say now ex-Southampton manger as of last weekend – being interviewed after the club's last but one game, and in that very interview the prospect of him becoming a future England manager popped into the conversation.

Wind the clock forward a mere 24 hours and he is gone, replaced by an Argentinian who cannot speak a dot of English and who not many people have heard of. It could only happen in football. I just wonder when there will be a football 'big bang'. There will almost certainly be one, and when it happens I shall not be sitting in my smoking jacket smugly saying "I told you so", I will just hope that my son has signed a mega-deal with an Italian giant, has seen me right for a Maserati Grand Tourismo, a beachside villa – with floodlit tennis court, although not a deal breaker – and a limited edition Ducati 998.

No pressure son – I jest, I joke, education comes first, and well done on your school reports my children, keep the academic hammer down. Always dream the dream, but just give the dream a better chance.

SNOW now and what an ordeal I had last week, I won't bore you too much detail but it was horrific, it was six hours, it was icy, it was slushy, visibility was poor, and but for a hero in a Land Rover who pulled me out of the snow and ice on the A35, I would have been stranded and living through the stories of both 'Misery' and 'Fargo' in one hit – and this was just one day.

I couldn't go forward, back, or sideways, I was sliding up and down hills, I was stuck for hours at a time, and worst of all there was no food on board. This was the day in the life of a full-time commuter. As the car meandered and spluttered to a halt, unable to cope with the conditions, I honestly imagined that I would be spending the next five or six hours stranded on this deserted hillside road, alone but for a lorry driver who had shut his curtains and a woman who thought her Fiat Panda was an amphibious four wheel drive monster truck.

She slid back down past my car after attempting the same ridiculous move as the person in front of her did only minutes earlier – that would be me then! A rudimentary mistake we could all make I'll have you know!

A big thank-you again to the magnificent, and very unassuming, man in his flying machine for rescuing the three cars stranded at the bottom of that hill.

It was only a Land Rover, but had he been wearing goggles and a flying jacket and whistling the theme tune to the Dambusters, I would have totally understood, such was his importance to us that day. For enabling me to get home that wintry morning I am very, very thankful.

There is another side to this Dickensian-like story of journeys over unmarked roads, in the middle of nowhere, and with the only inn miles away.

The other side to the misery of the weather?

Yes, the beauty, the elegance, the purity, the roads shrouded in mysterious trees overhanging with magical icicles. Doesn't the snow just make everything look better, and hey, what about the fun, the children, snowballs, snowmen, the sledges, and the sledging.

We only had a one-day family window but it was good, a quick trip to Exmoor, some virgin slopes, a hot chocolate, and several hundred runs up and down a hill and the adrenaline fix had been well and truly satisfied.

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