Monday, November 30, 2009

Pet Hate

Even Van Morrison likes the Sunday papers. There’s something so very – civilised – about them. Even the rags, the oaten husks among the nourishing porridge.

There is something soothing about the presence of the Sunday papers, the great, fat lumps of them, the majority of which were printed on Tuesday at the very latest. If any news happens on Saturday evening, your Sunday paper is the last place to find out about it. There’s no room left for news by the time they’ve stuffed in all that other stuff.

The newspaper industry is on its last legs. It’s soon to go the way of the telegraph and the valve television. The way we consume media evolves all the time, and what you’re reading now is the vanguard of that. The internet struck the first blow, but the real revolution are the 3G portable devices. iPhones, Apple’s new tablet if it happens, all these amazing devices that have shrunken the world to pocket-size leave the humble newspapers looking like rusty old steamships in the jet age.

But there’s a romance about those old steamships too, the great ocean-going liners. The papers are going, but they are not gone yet. And there remains a sense of adventure about going into a shop, and seeing what they all have to say on a particular morning, in their own particular ways.

Unless, of course, you go into a shop like the Spar visited by your constant quillsman, An Spailpín Fánach, yesterday. For some reason, a flock of clocking hens seem to have got loose in the shop – many miles from the own mileu, I can assure you – and attempted to nest among the flagships of the O’Reilly Empire.

Or else the shop was plagued with the sort of stupid, selfish swine that pokes his or her way around all the papers and then leaves them in a heap afterwards, with no consideration of the other people to come. These are the sort of people who do not flush toilets, spit on the street and fail to pray for Mother’s rest whenever they pass a churchyard. They are the scum and sweepings of the Earth, and An Spailpín Fánach wishes to God the world were rid of them.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Soccer is a Cheaters' Game, and Has Been for Generations

All this guff about replays from the FAI and An Taoiseach over Thierry Henry’s handball last night is just so much old blather. Soccer is a cheaters’ game, and has been for generations. The Theft of St Denis was not a once-off event – it happens week-in, week-out in professional soccer, and is now an accepted part of the game.

As evidenced by the Irish players’ refusal to a man to condemn Henry himself. They will talk about Sepp Blatter and Platini and FIFA and the ref ‘til the cows come home, but as far as they are concerned, calling Thierry Henry a cheat or a thief is out of order. As far as they are concerned, he is a good pro doing what he must do to win. That’s why Barcelona pay him the big bucks. The Corinthian spirit has no key on the cash register.

It wasn’t always like this. The BBC did a documentary on Sir Stanley Matthews once, possibly around the time of his death in 2000, where he said that when he played in the forties and fifties, if a team won a corner, this was considered a mark against the winger for not doing his job and getting a cross in. These were the days of five man full forward lines in a pyramid, 2-3-5, formation, remember. A totally different existence.

Watching the footage of George Best that saturated all media when Best died it was remarkable how he always stayed on his feet, even after he had a lump kicked out of him. He never went down. Soccer had not evolved to that level. The idea hadn’t been introduced.

But it’s certainly been introduced, processed and assimilated now. Soccer has reached that part of its evolution, where winning takes piority over how the game is played, and the powers that be seem quite happy with that.

Diving is an integral part of the game now. Think of the great players in the Premiership in recent years: Drogba, Ronaldo, Steven Gerrard – diving is an integral part of their game. Pretending to be hurt. Bending the rules. Cheating.

Sneaky, cowardly fouls, like Thierry Henry’s handball last night. There’s a certain honesty in a punch. Not least the not inconsiderable risk that the fellow you punch may punch you back. But diving – it’s just pathetic.

And it’s not like they do it now and again. It’s not like Didier Drogba, say, took a tumble in the box once when Chelsea were 1-0 down with ten minutes to go. Didier Drogba hits the turf more often than the tongs by the fire.

Look at him. He’s six foot two inches tall, over thirteen stones of bone and muscle. He’s an outstanding physical specimen of a man, and a footballer with all the gifts. There is nothing in football Didier Drogba cannot do, and with his physical bulk, he is not a man who is knocked over easily. And yet he is knocked over easily. In what seems like every damned game. During the last World Cup, a man texted Des Cahill on the radio and said that when he bumped into the telly on the way back from the kitchen during one of the Ivory Coast’s games, Drogba went over from the impact.

Cheating is part of the game. It is a part of a professional soccer player’s armoury. You read about players who “can win free kicks.” These are the divers, and they are a recognised, if unspoken, part of the fabric of modern, professional soccer.

Is Thierry Henry a lesser man among his own because of last night in Paris? He is not. And it’s ridiculous to pretend that he is. This is the twenty-first century. Women and children first went down with the Titanic – this is the age of every-man-for-himself.

As a society we don’t aspire to anything other than personal gain – why should soccer players buck the trend of society as a whole? Name one player who has suffered for diving. Cristiano Ronaldo dived all the time for Manchester United – Real Madrid stumped up eighty millions pounds for him. You do the math, baby.

FIFA identifies seventeen rules in the game of association football. If An Spailpín were running soccer, he’d introduce an eighteenth, to do with bringing the game into disrepute. This would have two facets. 1. Anybody diving or acting like a coward or a cheat concedes an automatic penalty irrespective of where the foul occurred. 2. Incidents that brought the game into disrepute can be cited as in rugby, with the player in question suffering lengthy punishments.

Neither of these things will happen, of course. Ireland will take their beating, and we’ll feel sorry for ourselves, something we’re good at, and boo Thierry Henry any time Barcelona are on in the Champions League in the pub or during the World Cup. And in the meantime, professional soccer will rake in the money because people watch the Champions League in their millions, and Premiership in their millions, and the World Cup in their millions.

And when players trail a leg and tumble over and pretend that they’re hurt, all the kids watching the game will see all that adult talk about the right way to play as so much old blather like the tooth fairy and the bogey man. They’ll know that to get on in this world, to get the lifestyle of Ronaldo with the cars and the girls and the money, you cheat and con and trick and pretend. Because that’s what we value now.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pat Kenny Attacked on the Frontline Last Night

When you want to see the nation as she is, RTÉ's Frontline is appointment TV. Astonishing tirade.

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Maybe Soccer Will Catch on in the States Yet

Ron Chopper Harris. Andoni Goikoetxea, the Butcher of Bilbao. Norman Bite Yer Legs Hunter. Duncan Ferguson, the Toast of Barlinnie. Even Roy Keane himself, the Lord bless us and save us. The whole lot of them are only trotting after Ms Elizabeth Lambert of the New Mexico Lobos women's college soccer team, as the following remarkable footage shows. The hair pull reminded me of Brian O'Driscoll on Australia's George Smith in the 2003 World Cup. BOD got whistled for it, and that was top flight international rugby. There are some tough ladies in those United States.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

An Spailpín's Irish Kitchen

RTÉ has started another cookery show last night – Catherine’s Italian Kitchen, a CSI Miami to Trish Deseine’s CSI: Crime Scene Investigation one supposes. And it's hard to blame the national broadcaster for looking across the seas.

After all, if one were to stay based in Ireland, once one had boiled the praties, where would one go next? You might get a Late Late Show appearance by getting the ladies to grow their thumbnails long, the better for peeling said praties, as was all the fashion back in the days when ladies wore shawls and smoked suitably raffish clay pipes on the cover of Irish Tatler magazine, but after that the pickings are slim.

Fine dining is wasted on An Spailpín, of course – the phraseology of the game is jarring to his sensitive ear. Medallions of pork, celebrations of Irish potatoes and sautéed onions. I knew those lads when they hadn’t an arse to their trousers.

Not all gourmands present the best advertisement for the pastime either. Mr Gerry Ryan remarked in his recent autobiography that he is a man who loves food. Gerry’s head looks like a bag of oats sitting on top of a fencepost. We don’t need to buy the book to be appraised of Gerry’s great regard for food. We can tell at a glance.

Strangely enough, although her work is as wasted on An Spailpín as coals brought to the great city of Newcastle, your stew-nourished correspondent has to confess great time for Trish Deseine. She seems a nice Irish girl doing well abroad, and good luck to her. We could all be at again soon enough.

It hasn’t been all cakes and ale for her either, trying to beat the French at their own game. She herself elaborated on this in an interview with Sky News that caught An Spailpín’s eye some months ago.

It seems that she put down the dinner for her in-laws one time only for her father-in-law to sneer that he found it très unusual to serve the trifle before the soup, or words to that effect. Poor Trish retreated to the kitchen in tears, having suffered something of a domestic Austerlitz.

An Spailpín admired her forbearance in not talking Papa by the lug and orating along the lines of “Listen here, you snail munching scut, you’ll ate what you get and like it. We spent enough time here starving in ditches during the Famine to be glad of the grub. Now clean that plate and then up to the window with you and tell me if you see any panzer tanks rolling down the Champs Elysees. I believe you were slow enough spotting them the last time out.”

We’d see what he made of ces oignons, by God.

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