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Fan base broadens as many switch sides in support of Ravenhill men

By Niall Crozier

There can be no doubting that rugby has become a lot more cosmopolitan in recent years.

There was a time – and it's not so very long ago – that it was the preserve of the few. In truth, the very few.

Let's just say that in the days of amateurism on which some of the old brigade continue to reflect so fondly, 'sold out' signs were seldom required at Ravenhill.

But things have changed a lot; nowadays, just about every Ulster home game attracts a full house. And with Ravenhill's capacity soon to top the 18,000-mark that represents significant vocal support to say nothing of the fiscal benefits it generates.

No-one can dispute rugby's growing appeal. As you make your way around, have you ever noticed how many people you see wearing Ulster Rugby gear these days?

Ever noticed how many of your non-rugby friends and work-associates are talking about Ulster?

Success attracts people. Fact. But it is also a fact that Ulster have won nothing since 2006.

So how does one square that circle?

Simply by accepting the reality that success is something bigger than can be measured solely in terms of silverware. Proof of improvement and evidence of commitment to its continuance until such times as it does yield a trophy or trophies keeps people on board.

Until such times, they attend because it's good entertainment served up in the safe, non-threatening atmosphere of a first-class stadium. In short, it's a great night out for all the family.

Ulster's recent heroics in Leicester threw up an interesting aside. With the best part of a day to punch in before flying home from East Midlands Airport on the Sunday night, I found myself in the bar of the Holiday Inn where I had spent the night. Eight others, on the same trip, were there, too – two of them mates and a separate group of six people.

We watched Munster destroy Edinburgh and then the first-half of a dour all-French scrap in the mud featuring ASM Clermont Auvergne and Racing Metro.

When the half-time whistle sounded at Stade Marcel Michelin, one of the eight – and I know him to be a whole-hearted, seldom-misses-a-match, bona fide Ulster supporter – stood up and asked if anyone fancied switching over to watch Chelsea versus Manchester United from Stamford.

To a man, they said 'yes'. Every one of them was from a football (association-type) background.

Like I said at the outset, rugby has become a lot more cosmopolitan.

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