Archive for February 8th, 2007

Escape From Victory

These days I find it very difficult to get worked up about any sporting event. I sense it dates back to 2002, when Armagh won the All-Ireland. I was there, and, as I jumped around at the end, possessed with the explosive euphoria of victory and five pints, I very nearly poked the eye out of the girl in the seat behind me with the flag I was waving. She squinted at me for a moment with a wounded look in her other eye, as if to say: you nutcase.

To be fair to myself, it was an accident, but since then I have viewed sporting passion with a pair of health and safety goggles. The search for victory destroys many things -bank balances, garden hedges, rib cages- in its wake, and may even destroy the reasons you wanted to see victory in the first place.

I don’t think I have really been all that bothered with seeing a team winning since then. I got rather het up during the World Cup last year watching Zidane’s stunning performance for France against Brazil, but that was more because I wanted to see justice done for such a magnificent display.

But I think I have lost the capacity to cheer on a team because I identify with it in some way. Maybe if there is some direct personal connection, things might be different, but when it comes to the Republic of Ireland’s football team, I couldn’t care less if they lost all their games, or won them all for that matter. This was not the case in 2002 when I, like many millions, lost my mind with the Saipan stuff and didn’t regain it until Spain knocked Ireland out.

Part of this may be down to the way sport now seems to encroach upon everything else. I’m sick of being confronted with -to give an example- billboard advertisements of muscle-bound rugby and GAA players intended to stimulate the appetite for mobile phones or energy drinks or whatever else. Especially annoying is when they are represented as pre-modern warriors, or ultra-modern warriors, or continent-straddling titans.

Sport -like war- also pervades the language of work, so you have ‘team players’, ‘game plans’, ‘ball park estimates’, ‘curve balls’, ‘dropping the ball’, and so on. As the distinction between sport and work erodes, watching and thinking about sport starts to feel like an extension of work. There is no goal scored in a football match on TV that does not double up as some financial goal achieved. This being the case, it is hard to complain if professional footballers feel that they would be better off concentrating on their own goals (own goals as in the ones pertaining to them, not, you know, the ones that go in off their arse into their own net) rather than goals in the national interest.

Yet maybe the closest thing to a national interest these days is the continued stimulation of consumer appetites for drink, mobile phone calls, and so on, by way of advertising. Scoring goals for your country still matters, then, but not for anything as antiquated as national pride (which I doubt ever existed anyway).

Which leads me to San Marino vs. the Republic of Ireland last night. I watched about 10 minutes of the second half, and even then I had only one eye on proceedings, and I felt utterly indifferent to what the match meant for the team and its supporters. Aside from the mind-numbingly boring spectacle of watching a poor team defending desperately against another far superior -but still poor- team, I found myself wanting something non-football related to happen, like a peacock landing in the goalmouth, or an earthquake rending the pitch in two.

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February 2007