Smirking From Home

Turning ideas into words.

Kickin’ Fitba’

Way back, when you could accuse the local slapper for being a witch if she refused your advances and you threw your daily ploppings out into the street, I borked my knee playing footie in the front garden. Dewy grass has always been looked upon with suspicion since. I was 15 or 16 at the time and looking forward to playing in my first Open Week as a competitive juvenile delinqu….I mean, golfer. (I doubt if juvenile delinquency was even invented in the 1980’s and hoodies back then were reserved for the monks). Up until that point in time I actively played football, both gaelic and less-culchie version, at school and whilst not being terribly effective at either, enjoyed hurling myself about a field with youthful abandon. Then the knee thing happened and whether it was a self-conscious thing or not, the enthusiasm for physical sport diminished. It wasn’t a terribly gruesome injury but it did necessitate gallumping around on crutches and regularly lifting pound bags of sugar strapped across my right foot for 6 weeks. None of yer underwater recuperation for this Irish lump. Shortly after it had healed, I went to Rosses Point in Sligo with an old friend of mine from school, the journey taking what seemed like 4 hours. Stepping out of the car when we reached Ryan’s Hotel, my leg took the rest of the evening to straighten itself out, something, at the time, I imagined it never would. Therefore I can only assume that a deep-seated fear of a similar injury re-occurring took hold and my non-existent potential as a professional footballer subsided, never to be re-discovered.
Now that was a long-winded way of saying I’m not a running about a field chasing a lump of leather type of person. Watching football? Yes but getting involved in an actual game? No way Jose. Except for this week. And whilst the mind thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the avuncular heap of slightly overweight flesh that carries me about today, didn’t. It was my nephew’s eighth birthday and my own mother hosted a small party for him and his muckers from school. We were down in Carlingford, where I grew up, for the day in order to assist with controlling the mayhem that normally accompanies such gatherings. The goalposts were mercifully easy to assemble, although unfortunately, a little on the minuscule side. The vertically challenged would have struggled to score goals in them things. The general field of play was determined and we waited for the guests to arrive.
It’s remarkably easy to forget just how haphazardly young folks throw themselves into a game of football. You tend to have a ball with everyone stuck within a 3 foot perimeter of its position on the pitch. For the most part, this was the case except for one major difference. The tackling was ferocious. A short while after I had left university I undertook a spot of substitute teaching for the Ma whilst she was recovering from an ailment of some sorts. It lasted 2 weeks and, not being their regular teacher, the lessons and pupils were less stressful than I have previously imagined. PE was exactly as I had described it above. Hordes of 8&9 year olds, all running after the ball, trying to give it a whack, the direction of said whack being entirely irrelevant. It was all fairly harmless yet something has obviously happened since that time which has added a more focused element to the chaos. (I’m wagging my finger in the general direction of SKY on this one). Putting in mildly, when it came to snaffling the ball from another player, the tackles were vigorous and just a tad over-exuberant. “No fear” is the expression that springs to mind. Luckily there were no broken limbs either.
The last time I encountered such physical endeavour on the football pitch was back in 1995. I’m going back on myself here a little as I did initially say that I avoided “playing” fitba, preferring instead the leisurely meandering of the golf course. However that’s not 100% accurate. In 1995 I used to frequent Robinson’s Rockbottom in Belfast on a Saturday night. Dirty, greasy shithole that it was, I bloody adored that place. Rock and Metal, Shots and Pints, with a bloody big Harley Davidson on the back wall. Not a Limp Bizkit or a Slipknot in sight. If heaven were in fact a real place and not some mumbo-jumbo paradise invented by some beardy blokes in dresses 2000 years ago, Rockbottom would have been its earthly equivalent. My Sunday afternoons, following the previous evening’s alcoholic entertainment, involved a primeval game of footie in a grassy clearing in one of Northern Ireland’s most notorious estates. There’s not many with an Irish dispensation who can say they’ve mingled with residents of Rathcoole without having to visit the Royal afterwards. 
Those games were remarkably skillful despite the large number of flying tackles and studs up challenges that were on show. I learned pretty quickly to volunteer for nets. On the rare occasions I was required outfield, I adopted the traditional goal-hangers position for the terminally clump-footed. Even to this day I’m still amazed no-one ended up in A&E considering various areas of the pitch had more glass than a tomato farm. Although perfectly amicable, I’m pretty sure no-one would have been too disappointed had the Paddy gashed himself a little. Then again, when in Rome, don’t feed the lions.
Naturally enough there were a few tears this week as the game progressed, mainly involving uncomfortable grass burns and scrapped elbows from the pebble-dashed wall on one side of the pitch. Children’s parties rarely finish without a little gowling from one guest or another. Mind you, waking up the next day and wondering who had replaced my legs with concrete pillars, was excruciating in itself. I’ll readily admit to being perfectly aware that a paragon of physical perfection I ain’t, but the simple fact that if an eight year old can floor me with a hearty lunge, then I need to lose a few pounds here and there. Oh and everywhere else too.  

April 9, 2010 Posted by | I Am What I Am, Sport, Times Past | , | 1 Comment

A United Front

It’s ironic, in our current recessionary times, to know of at least 100,000 individuals who are wholeheartedly throwing their support behind a group of wealthy financiers and hedge fund directors. A small lump catches in the throat writing that sentence as I have previously tended to favour the public lynching approach when it comes to bankers. However, I’m not scribbling today about how they and their ilk have unapologetically knackered our lives for at least the next 10 years. We all have enough to think and worry about on that front. Today’s concern is about collective action in pursuit of a common goal and the case in point is Manchester United.
With full colours nailed firmly to the mast I’ll readily admit to being a Red of the devilish kind. United inspire devotion and loathing in equal measure. Recent years of phenomenal success have exacerbated that fact, which makes for many a lively conversation across dinner-tables and in workplaces the whole country over. The major question is though: could that loyalty and enmity come together with the aim saving the bleeding soul of English Football? It’s extremely unlikely but there are times when tribal feuding needs to be put aside to vanquish the foreign invader. It’s unfortunate that the blinkered attitude of many rival football fans will probably prevent such a groundswell of protest and action ever producing tangible results. Yet something has to be done and this week I offered my support to a group who are at least attempting to lead the revolution.
The Manchester United Supporter’s Trust (MUST) are openly recruiting fans, home and abroad, to sign up to their campaign to force the Glazer Family from their ownership of the team. IT’s common knowledge, that by buying the club in 2005, the Glazer’s have currently loaded over £700 million of debt onto Manchester United, a figure that will continue to rise. The potential ramifications are huge, of that there’s no doubt. Luckily, MUFC are a highly profitable sports brand and as such are currently buffeted against immediate financial collapse. IN the current economic climate nothing is certain and that’s the major concern. Vast sums of money are leaving the club, which ultimately will be detrimental to the team and the club’s legacy. There are many out there who would relish the collapse of United. Whilst I may be naive in thinking that this could solely be limited to affairs on the football pitch, it would be churlish for any opposing fan to wish for the total destruction of one of their most hated rivals. As a United fan I derive constant amusement at the obligatory “this is our year” jabberings from the Scousers every August but I could never countenance them disappearing down a financial black hole, a perilous situation which they also face. That’s a no-win situation for all fans of the beautiful game.
So on Wednesday I signed up to the MUST website and offered my support to the campaign. The process was relatively simple although I have to admit to being a little underwhelmed by the quality and functionality of the site. I imagine that their incoming web traffic must be causing some technical issues so I can understand any problems they may be experiencing. The main aim however to generate interest in the idea that through pressure and ultimately, financial backing, the Glazer’s can be returned to Florida, tails between their legs. The irony of this being, is if they do, they’ll be returning even wealthier, possibly through selling the club to the Red Knights. Whether the whole plan is feasible, plausible or credible is irrelevant at this point in time. The main fact is that enough fans of united come together to show their support for the initiative. Yes, United is a cash cow, and will be for any investor but surely it’s better for the supporters and the club that the investor’s are (a) well known as fans of United and (b) will not have the club as debt laden as it presently is. Is the grass greener on the other side? Well, I’d like the chance to find out.
An interesting sideshow to all this is happening in Liverpool. The Spirit of Shankly group is trying to force their own Yankee Doodles out of their club as well. I wish them luck although I was disheartened by the following comments made by their spokesman, Jay McKenna, with regards to mutual co-operation between the two organisations in respect to their campaigns. 
Angry as the group is though, there is little chance of them linking up with Manchester United fans, many of whom are equally incensed by the American ownership at their own club, when the two bitter rivals face each other at Old Trafford on March 21.

“It is a complete non-starter,” McKenna added.

“The idea that Liverpool and Manchester United fans will walk down the same road together is never going to happen.”  

Whilst I can understand the mutual loathing between the two sets of fans, surely the greater interest of both parties should take preference. The idea of two bitter rivals sharing a platform towards a common goal could only send a clear defiant message to the powers that be. Stranger things have happened although the police may have something to say about the feasibility of such a congregation.
Let’s just wait to see how things pan out over the coming weeks and months. 

March 5, 2010 Posted by | Sport | , | Leave a comment