Gareth Dyer’s exclusive rugby union column

Is today's game as good as the old days?

Is today's game as good as the old days?

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I have had the pleasure of speaking with a number of former Hoppers players in recent weeks.

Some have only recently retired whilst others hung up their boots more years ago than they care to admit.

Amongst the stories and tall tales, one topic that is always a discussion point is whether the players of yesteryear would thrive in the current game.

Of course there is the old adage that class is permanent and that good players would be good players in any time.

But perhaps more sobering is the sentiment from former players that they wouldn’t actually want to play the game in its current form.

The general feeling from the older brethren is that the game has lost a lot of its fun and values. Before the advent of professionalism they played the game hard but purely to be enjoyed.

They didn’t have the peripheral issues to contend with such as what match fees the could command, whether a club down the road will pay a few pounds more, the terms of a contract, the expectation of results, whether they should move clubs or the travelling to fulfil games.

As one former player put it: “the drip effect that dilutes the spirit of the game as I knew it”.

The one thing that appears to be agreed upon is that whenever you finish playing it is being part of a dressing room that you miss the most.

To the uninitiated rugby dressing rooms can be “interesting” often “emotional” environments.

They are the inner sanctum, the strategy room, the place where you prepare for the battle as a group.

They can be intimidating, ruthless places but also full of mischief and laughter.They are populated with a mix of personalities and characters from varying age groups who perhaps wouldn’t choose to spend their time together under normal social circumstances.

And how this varied bunch gets along can be a big determinate in how successful a team is. For it is a common phrase we hear regularly in the language of sport as to whether a club “has a strong dressing room” or not.

At Hoppers the players come together three to four times a week for 10 months of the year.

The first-team squad at Lightfoot Green runs to around 45 players, so the need for positive relationships is important.

And as with every team of every age there are certain types of character to be found in every dressing room.

I am sure everybody who has been part of a dressing room would be able to identify the ‘Comedian’, ‘Moaner’, ‘Psycho’, ‘Coach’s Pet’, ‘Serious One’ and of course the ‘Poser’.

Then there is the ‘Family Man’, the ‘Ladies’ Man’ the ‘Intellectual’ and of course those who are not so cerebral.

This eclectic mix rub together to create humour and tenderness in equal measure.

For instance, there was a team who used to do a lot of travelling to fulfil away games where one of the team’s intelligent players used to always sit on the team bus next to one player who was a little slower on the uptake.

They would then read a newspaper together to pass the time.

One week, the ‘Intelligent One’ was reading a story from the local paper to his team mate about the gruesome discovery of different body parts in different areas of the local countryside.

The police had managed to ascertain that they all belonged to the same unfortunate soul.

“Oh that’s a horrible story pal. What do the police think caused it…suicide?” was the unforgettable response.

Whilst there are always humourous moments when you are part of a team there are also the more serious moments.

I have seen team-mates have to break bad news to a colleague or be there to help them with personal problems.

It is times like these that you learn a lot about what it means to be part of a dressing room and the strength of unity that exists amongst players.

Over the last few years I have wondered whether the young guys coming into the game still develop the friendships, the memories, the togetherness and the camaraderie that the older players talk about in such warm terms.

I sense that they do but perhaps not to the same extent. And that is a shame.