Cricket lays down the gauntlet

Since the birth of soccer, or football as it is known in the UK, it has always been the number 1 sport in England.

But this year, 2005, could not be a better time for the sports of the significant minority to rise and take advantage of the age of discontent in football.

Season ticket prices are the highest in Europe. Illustrated astonishingly by the cheapest seat at Arsenal costing ten times the price of AC Milan?s, at ?885**. Football fans are becoming priced out of the game. Even champions, Chelsea, could not sell out Stamford Bridge for a recent clash with West Brom. Ticket prices are not the only source of disillusionment. Fans are fed up with the impact of TV scheduling on the traditional kick off time of 3pm on Saturdays. Fed up with overpaid, overrated ?stars?. Diving. Cheating. Greed. Lack of loyalty. The dominance of Chelsea and their chequebook has seen fans? passion for the game diminish and the Malcolm Glazer takeover of Manchester United has added to a feeling that fans no longer play such a big a role at their clubs.

The excitement of the Ashes Tests in cricket and the passion and fight shown by both sides has led to a surge in popularity of cricket. Often thought of as boring and a sport of the upper class by many Poms, the sport has captured the hearts of the nation. Sell-out crowds and parks full of kids playing cricket have been the images of the summer, Football, once the subject of many a passionate conversation in every pub and workplace across the country, is slowly being replaced by cricket as the thing to talk about. Freddie Flintoff has become a new hero for the young, and cricket bat sales have rose by 40% over the summer!

It goes to show, what a series of exciting, tense games by more moderately paid players can do for a sport. Especially when the nation is not only fighting and showing guts, but at the moment, winning.

Rugby league has a golden chance to capture the hearts of sports fans, particularly those disillusioned with the country?s number 1 sport. The sport hasn?t received the media coverage of football. It struggles to command much more than half a page in many newspapers and it is a hard task when the nation is so in love with the ?beautiful game?. Many foreign footballers have commented that only in South America could you find such a nation of soccer fanatics.

But it?s possible to convert a significant minority of disillusioned footy fanatics. Even for rugby league. It has been shown on a smaller scale.

Leeds Rhinos lead the way in terms of attendances. These attendances have increased significantly since the start of the demise at Leeds United AFC. Fans have flocked to Headingley to see the frantic pace, brutality and sportsmanship of rugby league and have loved it. Leeds is a city with a growing fan base and the Elland Road final should sell out again this year. The city of Leeds have shown it?s not just cricket that can pounce during the era of discontent. Rugby league can and should.

What is vital for this to happen though lies not just off the field with the marketing and promotion of the Tri Nations, but also on the field.

It?s time for the country to get behind the team and not build them up and shoot them down. We need to scream, shout and will the boys on to victory against the Aussies and Kiwis. We need the best team out on the field in their best positions. We need players coming into the series on form, and not solely on reputation. We need the belief and courage to go for victory, and not just to compete.

The importance of clinching the Tri Nations cannot be underestimated. The task is tough. A team of Johns, Lockyer et all, and a tough New Zealand outfit will be the biggest challenge of the British players? sporting lives. But imagine the euphoria of victory. Children going to the store to buy a rugby ball, and replaying classic international rugby league moments in the park, after seeing Peacock and co beat modern day legends.

It?s the time to step out of the shadows of football and our union rivals. It?s time to take on football, head on. Cricket has laid down the challenge. Let?s take it with both hands.

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