Pride & Passion with P&P: Jeff Winkelman
In the latest feature of Pride & Passion with P&P, we caught up with long-distance fan Jeff Winkelman who discusses supporting the team from Arizona.
Pride & Passion brings supporters stories to life, as we hear their reasons in choosing to #BackYourBurgh. Brought to you Main Club Sponsor Principal & Prosper, find out how you can receive impartial financial advice today.
Jeffrey Scott Winkelman (but my kids call me Jeffrey “Scotch” Winkelman!)
Where do you live and support the club from?
Tucson, Arizona USA Yes, we have tumbleweeds, cactus, and cowboys, but we also have a world-class university with a stadium that seats 57,000. The University of Arizona is a leader in astronomy, optics, and anthropology.
How long have you supported the club?
About one year now - since February 2020!
It’s pretty unusual to follow Edinburgh Rugby from Arizona, can you tell us how you came about supporting the club?
I’ve always enjoyed playing and watching contact sports. I played a lot of American football growing up and wrestled for four years in high school.
I’m a big college (American) football fan and knew Rugby had some similarities. I got the opportunity to visit Scotland for work (to tour the University of Edinburgh and St. Andrews), but it was a colleague of mine, Dr. Matt Coleman, who suggested I go see a rugby match at BT Murrayfield.
Turns out Matt has been a longtime supporter of Edinburgh. I bought a ticket online and had no idea what to expect. It was my experience at the match that solidified my love for the club.
First of all, the community of fans were so welcoming and non-judgmental of my ignorance for the rules. Second, the game of rugby is just awesome. No pads, freezing rain, and 80 minutes straight with no TV commercial time-outs. What’s not to like?
How was your first Edinburgh Rugby game day experience and how did rugby differ from perhaps US sports that you’ve seen live?
Two major differences I noticed right away. First, the clubhouse where patrons can have a pint or three before the game is not something we do in the states (we drink in the parking lots outside of stadiums on the tailgates of our trucks, hence the term, “tail gaiting”).
Second, the players from both sides mingling with the fans after the match is definitely not something you would see in the US.
My experience began before I even reached the stadium. It was literally my first night in Scotland and I had no idea how to get from my hotel to the stadium.
I was wandering around lost and looking for the correct bus when I noticed a man wearing Edinburgh Rugby gear.
I asked him for directions and he told me I was going the wrong way and to just follow him. This gentleman turned out to be Chris Gobey and he took me to the clubhouse where he introduced me to at least a dozen people including Darren Coutts and Nicola Garforth.
Luckily for me Chris and Darren’s friend didn’t make it to the match that night (against Connacht 41-14) so they let me sit in his seat during the game. I received an excellent crash course in the rules of rugby.
The most exciting part of the game for me was during the throw-ins when players lifted each other up to grab the ball. There’s really no equivalent to that in any sporting event I’ve ever seen. After the match we headed back to the clubhouse for more drinks and socializing.
I could hardly believe the tight-knit family atmosphere of the clubhouse and taking selfies with the players was one of the highlights. If it wasn’t for Chris I don’t think I would have found my way back to the hotel either
What was it about the club that you liked from the get-go and did our supporters make you feel welcome at BT Murrayfield?
I felt welcomed instantly. The supporters of Edinburgh Rugby are the greatest fans I’ve ever encountered. There is a certain sense of class, respect, and decency that is often missing at American sporting events.
I was pleasantly surprised at how well opposing fans (and players) got along after the game too. That sort of comradery would never occur after a Michigan-Ohio State football game for instance. Also, the beer wasn’t as over-priced as it would be at a sporting event in the US.
How have you followed and supported the club since then?
I must say the Facebook fans group has been incredibly helpful in keeping me informed and educated. I try to contribute pictures and birthday wishes when I can. Because of the currency difference it is hard for me to make financial donations though.
For a while I could only watch the highlights of the games after the fact but my wife got me an ESPN+ subscription ($5 a month) that lets me watch the PRO14 games on my computer, which is fantastic.
For a time the weekday games were happening during my lunch break (7 hour time difference) so I could usually catch at least one half at work. I listen to the Six Nations games on BBC Radio online.
How has the reaction been from friends of family back in Arizona when you tell them you follow Edinburgh Rugby?
A few think I’m crazy but I found that one of my friends plays on a local rugby team, or at least did before the pandemic.
I often text my friend, Matt, during the Saturday games. He played rugby in college and gives me insight into the various penalties and rules. I’ve recently discovered that the University of Arizona has a rugby team and I’m looking forward to supporting them as soon as they get back into action too.
Is rugby played in Arizona and is it followed in any way outside of Major League Rugby?
Yes, many colleges have rugby teams but they are often “club” sports, meaning players can’t earn athletic scholarships for it.
Rugby is rarely shown on TV here either. Rugby does not have a big following in the states but it is slowly catching on.
How big a role has the Edinburgh Rugby Fans Group played in maintaining your support of the team?
The Fans Group has been a huge help in maintaining my enthusiasm for Edinburgh Rugby. It helps keep me informed and I continue to learn much more about the game, the players, the history, and the various competitions.
What is it about Edinburgh Rugby that stands out for you and makes it such a unique club to follow?
The fans first and foremost. Always supportive and encouraging. But also, the players, many of whom take time to send birthday wishes to young fans or do interviews with 12-year-olds (Pierre!).
What is particularly endearing for me is the fact that the athletes are doing it for the love of the game. None of them are making millions of dollars like American football or basketball players.
I also really appreciate how competitive the league is in general. There are certainly some teams that are traditionally stronger but every game is exciting and upsets happen frequently.
How exciting is it to see the club now move into its new home?
Since it is hard for me to just pop over to Edinburgh for the weekend I am probably not as excited as most, but I would still love to see a game in the new stadium. It looks like the fans will be closer to the action.
Are you hoping to make it back to Edinburgh to cheer on the boys soon?
If I were rich I’d buy season tickets tomorrow! Actually, my family and I are planning a trip to Scotland (and the UK) this June (pandemic permitting. My wife and I have both been vaccinated!) but I don’t think there will be any rugby matches going on at that time.
If the boys are playing any games in the first few weeks of June 2021 I’ll be there!