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Rugby Refs and D.C. United Fans at Nats Game

So I'm sitting here in the press box thinking about what sort of blogging I can offer the world, since Barry's blogging the actual baseball game, and I'm not sure how many people care about the name of Kelli Johnson's fantasy baseball team, so instead I decide I'll go wander around and see if I can find something that I cover but the rest of The Post doesn't, which, at this point, is just rugby and D.C. United fans.

Luckily, on the 500 level, near the enormously endless line for Dippin' Dots, I ran into Paul Planzer, aka Captain, one of the Elders stalwarts of the Barra Brava, the D.C. United supporters group. We chatted about the Barra's upcoming plans, which, as DCU fan Banshee Jay e-mailed me today, include a 75-person contingent traveling to Denver for the season opener and a fairly energetic tailgate for the home opener. [Edit: Many of the contingent people will be Screaming Eagles, I'm told, whom I also love dearly.]

And directly behind Captain in the beer line was Jim McNeely, a well-built man wearing a PAC Rugby shirt. He's mostly given up the rugby in favor of cyclo-cross, a sport I had never heard of. Even better, he's also a rugby ref, and he told me he was at the Nats game with a group of about 30, who assembled in honor of two rugby exchange refs from the UK. So naturally I directed Jim to take me to the refs, the refs being Andy Canning and Ron Gore of the East Midlands Rugby Union Referees' Society.

Up in section 520, I got some background from Tom Lyons of the Potomac Society of Rugby Football Referees. PSRFR actually has several refs exchange programs, as does EMRURS. The exchange programs are meant to ensure that all refs in all countries can call rugby games the same way, using the same standards and the same terminology, without players complaining "hey, we're allowed to do that over here." Also, refereeing being the loneliest of hobbies, such exchanges allow refs to get in some rare socializing; the visitors are taken to the monuments and the museums and all that; they go eat crabs in Baltimore and go check out baseball games in between reffing college games and high school games and men's league games.

("Your writing is more messier than mine," Tom's son James pointed out during this interview. James and his brother Garrett both play youth rugby, naturally.)

And this week's visitors are quite accomplished, as it turns out. Ron's been a ref for 23 or 24 years. He stayed at levels 5 and 6, the highest levels you can reach without going national.

"Now then, this young man next to me...." he said.

"Young blade," Andy said.

"He got to the giddy heights of the National Panel," Ron continued. "That's a pretty high level."

"An elite level," Tom Lyons seconded.

"That's it, elite," Andy agreed. "E, L, I, T, E."

But no joke, the National Panel is an elite level. There are about 65 on the actual panel, only seven of whom are fully professional. Andy got as high as No. 29 on the panel, which is grade 2, behind only the Premiership, meaning he was doing women's international games, U-19 international games, reserve division (i.e. "Wanderers") games and so on. Sort of like a top AAA umpire, I guess.

"I never figured out who he was humping, but there you go," Ron said. "Yes, go ahead and write that. It's quite normal."

Andy had been a strong player, at levels 7 and 8, but he injured his knee. He was an English policeman, so he couldn't put his career on hold to recover, and so he took up refereeing instead. He stepped down from the National Panel for work reasons, so he's back to working local games.

Fans up in 520 did the wave, and everyone stood for the 7th Inning stretch (attendance: 40,389). Ron said he's learned quite a bit about baseball this afternoon; he said the home side seemed to have switched tactics midway through, opting less for the slugging and more for putting the ball in play, and he said it seemed to have worked judging by the scoreboard. (Dmitri Young got a double while I was up there, almost living up to his son's pre-game promise.) Ron appreciated how baseball was such a tactical sport. Andy was less confident.

"I understand about the eating and the drinking and the socializing, but the baseball...." he said. "It's about like when we take these guys to cricket."

Anyhow, Opening Day is about being a tad saccharine, and so I'll quote the refs as they spoke about the reffing life.

"You're quite lonely, because you're on your own all the time," Andy said.

"Refereeing is a lonely sport, whatever sport you're in," Ron said. "You love the game and you have great respect for that game. At the end of the day, you're out there for the 31, 32 people who are enjoying the game. That's really the bottom line for most referees."

"The thing with rugby, it's all about enjoying the game," Andy said. "It's not about the money, it's not about progression. It's about enjoying the game."

[Note: If The Post starts a rugby refs blog, I'm quitting.]

By Dan Steinberg  |  April 2, 2007; 3:53 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. United , Nats , Rugby  
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Comments

Refereeing is a sport?

While you're at RFK, you should try to get ahold of the new MLS "anthem", and then tell us whether it will just be a mild irritant or an incredible embarrassment (like US Soccer's incredibly bad pre-game song that they've used for over 5 years now and which makes my skin crawl).

Posted by: Chest Rockwell | April 2, 2007 4:40 PM | Report abuse

I absolutely agree with why a ref is out there. My best days as a soccer ref were those days when I felt the fun of being on the field with 22 people who were enjoying the game.

If you aren't playing, there's no better way to share the experience that the players are having. You just can't get any closer than that.

Posted by: seahawkdad | April 2, 2007 6:50 PM | Report abuse

"...so instead I decide I'll go wander around and see if I can find something that I cover but the rest of The Post doesn't, which, at this point, is just rugby and D.C. United fans."

And Hockey.

Posted by: Tarik | April 2, 2007 7:29 PM | Report abuse

"...so instead I decide I'll go wander around and see if I can find something that I cover but the rest of The Post doesn't, which, at this point, is just rugby and D.C. United fans."

And Hockey.

Zing!

Posted by: Mayor Fenty | April 3, 2007 12:25 AM | Report abuse

Dan - Thanks for going and saying hello to the refs. In any sport, these guys are the unsung hereos. The love of the game drives them back into the pursuit of ref'ing, a no matter how high or how much $$ it's worth, you gotta' love it.

Also, I've ref'd soccer and basketball, and only seen rugby played....but I've got to say, those guys work harded in a game then I ever have for other sports.

Keep up the good work

Posted by: Zebra | April 3, 2007 12:37 PM | Report abuse

after last year's "air disaster" the Cap'n will never be a Barra Elder. We still just have the same old 5 guys as last year.

Posted by: bigrob | April 3, 2007 1:41 PM | Report abuse

My bad, Big Rob, I got confused. Too many sports. Captain yells a lot, but is no Elder. And to any SEs who were offended, I guess the contingent of DCU fans in Denver will be multi-clubbish.

Posted by: Dan Steinberg | April 3, 2007 2:06 PM | Report abuse

The confusion over which supporters are goign to DC is my fault. I said 75+ of "us" are going to Denver and Dan reasonably interpreted that to mean Barra as opposed to my intended DC United Fans. The Screaming Eagles put together a great trip for this match (a trip I am part of) and arranged tickets for many of the fans. The Barra is brining strong numbers as well. All that matters is that we will be rooting for DC United.

Posted by: Banshee Jay | April 3, 2007 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the rugby shout out - a great game indeed. We know how to treat our visiting rugby brethren right ... nothing but the best ... So, if you were in the Cindy Dee Diner (on the outskirts of Harpers Ferry WVA) on Sunday afternoon and overhead three accents (2 English and 1 transplanted Kiwi) these are the fellows you heard discussing the lovely fried chicken. The Ranger at the Antietam Visitor's Center was a credit to his West Point and current day uniform. Great information and courtesy shared - very impressive. So was the stillness of the battlefield. Quite a contrast the next day in RFK. If you want to know more about rugby - by all means check out dcrugby.com and the Washington Renegades RFC!
Cheers - Michele Mulholland France

PS Dear Lerner Family,
Congratulations and best of luck - but the restrooms were filthy at the beginning of the game ...

Posted by: MMFrance | April 3, 2007 4:49 PM | Report abuse

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