Unlike a lot of careers, when your husband is a professional rugby player, it has a massive impact on your life. Your week revolves around game day, whether they are picked to play or not, if they win the following week will be a good one, if they lose, potentially not. Worse still, if your husband suffers a serious injury, your life can be turned upside down for long periods of time and in some cases, his job can be at risk. It is standard that rugby contracts contain clauses that can see your husband sacked from the team if he suffers an injury that prevents him being available for selection for a certain period of time. Let me say that again. If he gets hurt, playing for the team, the team will sack him for it if that injury is serious enough to keep him from playing. Sound fair? To add insult to injury, literally, if they are sacked, all the medical help stops and the treatment ends and your husband will be forced to join the back of a usually very long NHS queue. So the NHS ends up footing the bill, and your husband’s pain is dragged out.
Rugby spouts off a lot about the values that it upholds, team work, respect, blah blah blah, yet it has no respect for the wives, the girlfriends, the mums and dads that are often left picking up the pieces and dealing with the aftermath, sometimes even paying for the medical bills that the club wangles its way out of paying. A lot of the time you see, it barely has any respect for the players.
Life as a rugby widow, especially if you have children, is dictated by where your husband plays, it determines where you will live and where you can work, where your children go to school, ultimately, who your friends will be! I have had to give up two very good jobs to follow my husband. The alternative was to live apart from him, me and the kids in one place and him, alone, in another. I say it determines who your friends will be, not directly of course, but you move to a new place and so make friends according to that place, if you are lucky enough to stay a while, you might make some very good friends, who will remain that way for life. If you have to move around a lot, you probably won’t.
Despite dictating large aspects of the women’s lives too, rugby ignores us completely. Wives are preferred to be seen and not heard, when they are, the response is always derogatory, always negative and always punishing to how the husband is perceived, and sometimes even to his career. A good friend of mine told me very recently that her husband was informed that he should put her and their kids second to rugby if he was to succeed. In a career that is likely to end far sooner than his thirties will, an already remarkable statement, becomes even more so. But perhaps unsurprisingly, there are a lot of misogynists in rugby, who believe that the partners should silently support their husband, with smiles on their faces and follow them uncomplaining around the country. They says things like, “can’t he control his Mrs” and “he should have a leash on her” if they perceive the little woman to have stepped out of line, and god forbid, dare to utter her opinion or displeasure.
Players are often hurt, pushed aside and forced to move around a lot, but the decisions that these events foster are simply that, decisions, lifestyle choices that give them the best chance of succeeding in a very cutthroat world. For their families who bare the brunt of the outcomes, the correct word is not decisions, but compromises and in most cases, sacrifices, and we better not say a word of complaint about it except as pillow talk to our men. We are forced to sacrifice that job that we love or having family around a us, and all for the betterment of our partner’s career, a career that will end and will leave him having to start from scratch in his mid-thirties, if he is lucky enough to escape a career ending (and potentially life changing) injury before then. A career that will spit him out when he is broken and riddled with arthritis, like it spat us our years before.
I read once that the average pay of professional rugby players was around £80,000 a year, I can’t remember where I read it but it stuck with me. I laugh at this figure. If you take out the small few who play internationally and talk solely about domestic players, that figure would be very different. So it is often the case, more often than not, that players struggle to save for their futures and are forced to pay exorbitant amounts of money for insurance policies that work hard not to pay out when the need arises.
So the truth is that yes, we get the pleasure of spending more time with our other halves than most people, their hours are short. But it is also true that we are completely marginalised by the clubs and the people that run them, made to feel like we should just shut up and get on with it. We spend a lot of times in hospital waiting rooms, in doctors surgeries and dealing with husbands who are in pain and are suffering. My husband has had four major surgeries, with another one potentially on the way. I know players who have had a lot more.
You see, our men might love rugby, but it sure as hell does not love them.