Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Converting a Generation; Kids Eager to Follow in Footsteps of Cup Heroes

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Converting a Generation; Kids Eager to Follow in Footsteps of Cup Heroes

Article excerpt


EARLIER this week, four of the less stellar names in England's World Cup-winning rugby squad turned up for a book signing at the Rugby Store in Twickenham. It started at 6pm yet, by noon, the queue had already started.

Eventually, more than 2,000 customers turned up in the space of less than a couple of hours on a freezing midweek evening to meet the legend that is Stuart Abbott and his mates.

At about the same time down at the Sutton and Epsom club, they were putting on a rugby tryout night for kids. To the coaches' astonishment in the week before Christmas, about 45 lads, aged between 11 and 13 and from non-rugby-playing schools, braved the cold to hurl themselves about on a frosty pitch. Afterwards, over a hot dog, about three-quarters of them, accompanied by their enthusiastic parents, conceded they'd been wooed there by the inspiration of watching the World Cup Final.

A month has passed since Sydney.

Time surely for the euphoria to have subsided? Yet these two snapshots, one taken at the sport's elite end and the other at its grass roots, suggests the feel-good factor engendered by Wilko and Co just keeps rolling on.

The manifestation of this phenomenon has already taken plenty of odd forms.

One woman walked into the Rugby Store and bought 200 signed copies of Martin Johnson's autobiography. Outside Leicester's Welford Road ground, they've had to deal with touts who've suddenly materialised for the first time at Heineken Cup games to meet the clamour to see World Cup stars returning in Tigers colours.

Tomorrow, Twickenham will be sold out for the England homecoming against the New Zealand Barbarians.

Ticket demand has been so high they could have sold out HQ six times over.

Yet, might things return to normal once the conquering heroes have all taken their bow there?

Not yet. Because there's still Jonny Wilkinson to make his feverishlyawaited return and the publication of the New Year's Honours list with the prospect of serious England gongs.

Then, before you know it, as the Cup is being whisked on a 30-stop nationwide tour, we're into the Six Nations, with the world champions going for back-to-back Grand Slams.

No wonder Rugby Football Union officials are pinching themselves; they already sense this knock-on effect could run for months longer than they originally imagined.

The question is: how permanent will that effect be? Terry Burwell, the RFU's operations director, is not the only one left wondering whether the moment when Wilkinson kicked that goal was what marketing types like to call the tipping point, the episode which provides a long-term seachange in the image and desirability of a product. Was it the moment that bestowed on rugby the cool, youthful image it had never possessed before? …

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