On a bright, cold afternoon in March, we began the short pilgrimage to Twickenham Stadium. An Englishman, an Irishwoman and a Scotswoman; the proverbial joke personified.
Our seats were on the upper tier and we entered the enclosed, grey concrete, spiral to ascend to our seats, having to mentally reassure ourselves that this wasn’t a multi-storey car-park, and we weren’t suddenly going to come face-to-face with a hatchback or people carrier, winding its way down the ramp.
The brass band, in their heavy grey trench coats, had taken their position on the field, in preparation for the national anthems, when suddenly an adult fox sprinted out of the access tunnel in the southwest corner of the ground. The crowd erupted with laughter and cheers, amazed at the spectacle, as the creature seemed so out of place. It sped across the field at an incredible pace, the rusty orange fur easy to spot against the vibrant green turf. A tall, round-shouldered man in a dark blue suit sauntered onto the field and spied his quarry. He approached the fox cautiously, but the auburn invader was too quick for him. Every time the fox evaded the man’s grasp, the crowd roared with appreciation at the unorthodox pre-match entertainment. While the chase continued, the Scottish and English rugby teams made their way onto the pitch. Again the assembled masses let out an almighty roar, but it was audibly different to the ones that had preceded it. The fox provoked joyous, carefree cheers and catcalls, whereas the appearance of the forty-or-so burly men brought forth primal, guttural war-cries from the assembled masses.
The fox eventually tired of the chase and made its way nonchalantly out of the ground via the tunnel in the northeast corner. The crowd predictably gave a great final cheer upon the fox’s departure.
Once the teams were lined up for the anthems, the announcer advised the crowd that a minutes silence would be observed for the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. I have been to Twickenham stadium several times; it is usually a lively, exciting, sometimes rowdy place, where you can witness raw, untamed emotion. However, the quiescence of 82,000 people is far more intense and unnerving than the noise they can make. During the silence, a mobile phone beeped on the far side of the stadium, but it seemed like a foghorn against the awed quiet.
The game itself was remarkably average in comparison to the unusual display of pre-match fauna; a try each and a smattering of penalties and drop goals on both sides. Fate must have noticed the crowd’s indifference to the mediocre match, and decided to intervene with another first in Twickenham history; seeing fit to cause the referee an injury severe enough to warrant him being substituted.
England ended the game victorious, but were flattered by the 22-16 score line. The game certainly wasn’t a classic, but the fox and the referee at least, will ensure that this is one match I won’t forget in a hurry. It may however make future matches seem dull by comparison. Perhaps Twickenham stadium should install the fox as a permanent pre-match feature.