The voice of Emirates Airline Park
His presence has become synonymous with the Lions Rugby company. As their ever-present presenter, Rick Alan’s knowledge and passion for the game continue to excite and entertain the match day crowd. He’s earned his stripes as a presenter in radio, television and a range of recorded and live events. Recently, he kept the audience enthralled as the MC for The Voice South Africa. Rick forms an integral part of the bigger picture for rugby matches, but even if you didn’t show up for the MC, there’s no denying the extra energy he brings to the fans’ experience on game day.
While hosting Craven week, we catch up with him before one of the Quarter Finals taking place this weekend at Emirates Airline Park. The Emirates Lions will be taking on the Cell C Sharks on Saturday, with kick-off at 14:30.
- When did your passion for Rugby start?
- In your opinion how will the unions fill stadiums again?
- Your take on the new competition, Supersport Rugby Challenge that just finished?
- Who will take the SuperRugby trophy this year?
- According to legend (and the good doctor at the maternity ward), I was destined for the rugby field from the first kick in the womb. While I can’t vouch for that, I do have some fond, early memories that shaped my love for the game.
As a young boy, I spent many afternoons listening to rugby on the ‘wireless’ with my grandfather. His passion and incredible understanding of the ins and outs of the sport gave me an early opportunity to learn and appreciate the real beautiful game. My father took me to watch my first game at the Emirates Airline Stadium (Ellis Park). I still remember being in complete awe. It left a lasting impression on my younger self.
Even at school – initially through my older brother – I was exposed to the uplifting spirit and camaraderie surrounding the sport, and the captivating thrill of a winning culture. While I was in primary school, I would attend the matches at my brother’s high school to watch their team play like the champions they became that season. I saw the players as heroes, and can still tell you every one of their names. In 1980, when the British and Irish Lions toured South Africa, I followed the series closely, the Springboks’ won the controversial series 3-1. It was the same year that the legendary Naas Botha emerged onto the international scene, and his skill inspired me.
Over the years, there has been an endless list of players who encouraged and fuelled my passion for rugby. Of the current generation, I have great respect and admiration for many players, including Warren Whiteley of the Lions, who was named the 58th Springbok captain this year. The coaching staff, management and structures surrounding rugby also deserve appreciation for improving the game and continuing to transform the sport. Former president Nelson Mandela knew well that ‘sport can change the world’.
- There are two important parts they need to get right: the fan experience and the team’s brand of rugby. The entire fan experience at the stadium is important – before, during and after the match. SARU and the Lions union, from my experience, put a huge effort into making the day memorable for the fans – through the entire pre-match build up we do what it takes to get the crowd buzzing. It’s important for the unions to continuously find more ways to interact with and fire up the fans, and technology can definitely help. It’s about enhancing the experience for the person watching it live.
The best way to bring people into the stadium remains for the team to play an expansive, winning brand of rugby. This is what keeps the fans excited about coming to the matches. If you look at the Lions, they’re on a 13-game unbeaten streak, scoring an average of 48 points per match, which is amazing for the team and for the fans. The supporters love watching the team, so they generate an electric atmosphere in the stadium and the players feel it. It’s as if the fans are part of something greater.
A winning team is also about everything around the team. I believe the entire staff contributes to the team’s success. It’s a great privilege for me to be part of a huge, well-oiled machine and the work they do. As a fan, when you put on your team’s shirt, it’s almost like you’re taking to the field (although most of us wouldn’t stand a chance). I like to believe that every little bit of positive energy and support from the fans, staff, and everyone connected to the team goes a long way in firing up the team and getting them across the line for the win. As a fan and MC, I get to celebrate along with and as much as the crowd.
- Although it’s still early days for the tournament, I believe it has a bright future. Credit to SA Rugby and SuperSport – the tournament fits in well among the existing South African structures of the game.
I see it as filling a gap; it offers a brilliant platform for younger players, staff and rugby professionals who want to step up. It’s certainly played at an incredible standard, which is why it’s ideal for grooming players and furthering their skills before playing at a higher level. If it can increase competition between players and raise their skills and keep them in SA it can only be beneficial.
- It’s a tough tournament to play in, and equally difficult to predict, nonetheless my blood is red! The Lions’ comeback story is not over yet. Remember, they haven’t lost at home in 13 matches! We have beaten the Sharks in the previous 5 (Super Rugby) encounters, but this is the knockout stage and each of the remaining 8 teams is in with a chance.
The Crusaders have an impressive record; the seven-time champions and the most successful team in Super Rugby history, the Crusaders are always up there with the best. But if they travel to Emirates Airline Park, a home-ground advantage for the Lions could be the difference. Not only do we have the skills and the talent to compete, but the Lions’ den is a fortress for all home teams that play there, including the Springboks. We are expecting massive support, which is a daunting prospect for any opposing team. The sheer design of our stadium is something admired the world over. If Emirates Airline Park is having a quiet afternoon, the home team knows it. But when it’s full of passionate, cheering fans, it’s a powerful, motivating force for the home team and daunting for the opposition. The guys will also be motivated to give it everything for coach Ackers.
The success of the Lions this season is a great reason to come support the team. Even if you’re not a fan (or, dare I say it, a Sharks fan), you can join an electric, passionate, welcoming group of supporters in getting behind a proudly South African team. We’ve been waiting since 1993 for Gauteng rugby to once again experience this kind of success (in Super Rugby), so this time around is another special moment in our history. We’re on a quest to be the kings of the Southern Hemisphere, so get your tickets. #BeThere