Thursday, February 08, 2007

The state of the nation

If I was depressed yesterday, then today I have even more reason to look through rose petalled spectacles at lengths of rope, car exhausts, gas stoves razors and the other miscellaneous contents of my bathroom cabinet (Thinks: I wonder how much fizzy echinchea tablets it would take to put an end to my abiding misery about life in this country. Hmmmm, at least I'd bow out with a healthy immune system).

The exponential increase in this writer's unhappiness quotient in a mere 24 hours can be explained succinctly as follows:

San Marino 1 Republic of Ireland 2

To some of you this might be just a football result. To others it might prompt a 'Feck it, we got the 3 points and we're still in with a chance of qualifying' sort of response. Such optimists deserve nothing less than being frogmarched to the Cliffs of Moher and gently nudged into the Atlantic swell. Survivors would be encouraged to join contemplative religious orders where their benign idiocy might be of some use.

Like many Irish descent people I have followed the fortunes and misfortunes of the Republic's team since the days when it was, as they say, neither popular nor profitable. My support for my country's side originates in a mythical long forgotten age before they sold prawn sandwiches at Lansdowne Road.

I put up with abuse and piss-taking from my English contemporaries and resisted the sometimes strong temptation to pin 3 lions to my chest and get with the local programme. I can honestly say I must be one of the only people on these islands who has never seen the 1966 World Cup Final (I actually spent that afternoon with a Scottish mate playing a hybrid game of Hurling and Shinty in a local playground).

I have seen the Republic play great games, good games and bad games, snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (and more often the reverse) and receive pummellings from the 'big' footballing nations. I have memories that I will carry with me to the grave. Like the afternoon a Scouser headed a ball down to a Jock who slipped it into the back of the English net and thus brought to an end 800 years of oppression (or at least made it more worthwhile). A day in New York when a London born,alcoholic black orphan kept the Italians from getting an equaliser. I could go on but you get my drift.

What I never saw (or more often heard via a crackly Radio Eireann) in those times was an Irish side play with less than conviction. If they lost you were proud, if they won, or even drew, you were ecstatic. But whatever the result, you knew that pulling on that green shirt meant the same to most of the players as it would to you, given the chance. And it meant the same to them wherever they were born, whatever their seed breed and lineage.

In later years, we're talking about guys who played for some of the top clubs in England who, without complaint, would be bundled into cattle class for away games while the gombeens from the FAI sipped champagne and negotiated dodgy property deals up front in business class. Men who would run headlong into a goal post and feck the consequences for their careers if it meant conceding or scoring a goal.

Last night, the game against San Marino washed all that away like footprints in the sand. For the first time in my life, I found myself cheering for the opposition. When San Marino scored an equaliser, the choreography of which would not be out of place in a Mack Sennett one reeler, I cheered. Worse still I began to hope that the result stayed 1-1. It might teach us a lesson. When the equaliser came (thanks only to a liberal dash of extra extra time by the Danish referee) I was plunged into schizophrenic paralysis by the emotional conflict I was feeling.

Staunton squeezes out a victory over the mighty San Marino

I haven't read a paper today and I don't intend to. I know what they'll say: sack the manager, change the tactics, give the players a good kick up the arse, blah blah blah ad infinitum.

I can't blame Stan. Anyone who bothers to think about it knows that he's just warming the seat in the dugout until that Cork guy, whose name escapes me, learns his trade as a manager up at Sunderland. That's the reward he gets for nearly dying of heat exhaustion in the we were robbed game against Mexico in Florida.

I can't even blame the players. They're just a product of an age when playing professional football changed from being a vocation or an expression of artistry into that pernicious construction of late capitalism called a 'career'. The young ones with talent are just Celtic Tiger cubs who don't know any better, the older ones, who are by and large not so talented, know their international days are numbered and have given up hope.

A particularly telling and sad moment came when an Eircom apparatchik shuffled on to award man of the match Kevin Kilbane an auld glass salad bowl. He looked like he was handing a bedpan to a particularly noisome and incontinent geriatric in-law. I don't even think he shook his hand.

Kevin Kilbane explores alternative career avenues after winning man of the match against the mighty San Marino

In my view, there are two related factors which explain last night's dismal performance: The economy and the FAI. Think about it.

In 1988 Ireland was a 3rd World nation, a banana republic without the sunshine.The economy was sinking fast and emigration was as high as it was in the 1950s. When the lads marched out to face England in Stuttgart the pride of the nation was the only thing at stake. Even in defeat we could extract a moral victory through effort, determination, and sheer bloody minded refusal to roll over and lie down (fear of Big Jack in the dressing room afterwards probably played a part it should be noted).

Not so today. Irish pride is at its apex and verging on arrogance. The problem is we still live in a banana republic and in our hearts we know it. All the wealth generated in the last few years has been translated into SUVs and inflated house prices, holiday homes in Malaga and dodgy property deals in Eastern Europe.

Things that might give us pride in ourselves and in the sacrifices and achievements of previous generations, like a decent health service or education system, care for the old and vulnerable, a less than corrupt political establishment, an efficient civil service, or an improved quality of life in general have just been pissed against the wall. All we're waiting for now is the bottom to drop out of the housing market.

We can't blame anyone else but ourselves and we know it. We're not the plucky little country we once were, fighting for our dignity and our place amongst the nations of the world. We're bloated, smug and self-satisfied. Our performance last night simply reflected that zeitgeist. All the players did was act out what Ireland has become.

Which brings me to the FAI. This cabal of gombeen men are symptomatic of the Irish ruling class a whole and appear to have wandered straight out of the pages of Frantz Fanon. They have invested next to nothing in the team or the game here and contented themselves with exporting 14 year olds to the football factories of the Premiership to be fattened up for onward sale and then abandoned them when they don't crack the big time over there.

They have extracted the maximum value from the successes of the past two decades in the form of franchises, ticket prices, licensing deals and so on. They must be rubbing their hands together at the prospect of games at Croke Park with its executive boxes and corporate facilities. It's only a shame they have to split the profits with the culchies.

If there was any justice in this country the FAI should be forced to give away the tickets for their next home game to the plain football supporters of Ireland free, gratis and for nothing. Now that's an election winner for Bertie, Enda, Pat or the other fellow whose name cannot be spoken.

But there isn't and they won't.

1 comment:

James B said...

Hi Liam, I was scratching my head at the strange comment made by the FAI's John Delaney after the match,
"I will answer to the board of the FAI on the overall development of the game which doesn't just include international football"

Hhhm... I wonder what he means? Shurely shome mishtake!

But like you, I feel is there really any hope!