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Monday, 10 October 2005

Football, Football Everywhere But Not A Drop To Drink

Time was when I used to be tearing my hair out on an International
Saturday, trying to decide which live game to watch. I'd invariably be
torn between watching matches involving Ireland, England or the far
more entertaining prospect of a French side aided by an assortment of
Gallic Gunners. I've long since learnt not to channel hop. You don't
get a proper feel for any game and invariably you end up frustratingly
flicking around just in time to miss the crucial moments in each of
the matches.

Whereas on Saturday the schedulers had been very sympathetic.
Although I somehow doubt there was much altruism involved in Setanta
advising us of the availability of the subsequent Switzerland v France
encounter, on advertising hoardings all around the stadium in Nicosia.
Unable to find this game on any other channel (the exploits of the
French can occasionally be found on TV5, an obscure station up in the
800s on my satellite gadget), I might've been tempted to cough up what
I seem to recall is Setanta's extortionate pay-per-view price, if it
merely involved the fairly painless matter of pressing the 'select'
button on my remote.

My closest Spurs supporting pal has one of those massive plasma
jobbies, almost filling one wall of his living room. Thus he's blessed
with more mates than his lounge can accommodate whenever there's a
sporting event on the box, since watching at his gaffe is indeed the
next best thing to being there. I often plan on going round to watch
the big boxing gigs. I wish I could say it was for the good company
and the great view. But in truth it's probably because I am loathe to
stump up yet another 15 quid for an over hyped brawl which will be
lucky to last more than a couple of rounds. However come the wee hours
when these fights often take place, I'm usually far more tempted by
the thought of pressing a button on my remote and climbing into my
pit, than the idea of schlepping around to my mate's in the middle of
the night. The knockout punch comes at the end of the month when my
Sky bill is pushing a ton!

Somehow a deferred payment doesn't feel nearly so painful as actually
putting ones hand in ones pocket. Unable to find any alternative
viewing which was exactly riveting, doubtless I would've done likewise
on Saturday night. I don't know if the other group game was only
available to watch in Ireland, but despite five different Setanta
channels, I couldn't find one which even offered me a phone number to
call to pay for viewing access.

To be honest I didn't try too hard to suss it out and if such
difficulties were down to a shambolic Setanta, then I guess I should
be grateful they saved me a few quid. With our 'big' summer signing,
Alexander Hleb, involved for Belarus, I had a passing interest in
events at Hampden Park. However I never dreamt that the relatively
humdrum football in the first hour of this game was going to be the
highlight of my day.

I am forever cursing the avalanche of inserts and the vast forests
that must be felled to provide the proliferation of annoying bunkum
which falls from our bulging newspapers these days. But ironically I
ended up seething on Saturday night. Some 'tea-leaf' must've had it on
their toes with my free Cabaret DVD, as my paper came without its
tree's worth of nuisance literature that normally includes the one
thing I ever have any use for, in my weekly TV guide.

As a result I wasn't aware of the live coverage of N.Ireland v Wales.
I'd already missed all the action by the time I found this five-goal
thriller on BBC2. Yet it wasn't until after I'd endured all 180
minutes of the agonisingly awful other matches that I found myself
mourning the fact that a light-fingered Liza Minnelli fan had
inadvertently deprived me of the only entertaining encounter out of
all four live broadcasts. Now if this 'fagele' thief had ended up
diddling me out of the dubious pleasure of the emasculated efforts of
England and Ireland, I'd want to repay them with an entire Barbara
Streisand box-set as a reward!

I wasn't aware that the Irish media were already out for their
manager's blood. Some might suggest he hasn't got much to work with.
But the Irish squad is positively star-studded compared with the
Jock's motley collection of jumped-up journeymen. It's hard to believe
Brian Kerr still has the bones of the same outfit which drew with the
runners up in the last World Cup and were only a whisker away from the
quarterfinals. It's even harder to accept that this was evidence
(according to Cunningham) of how driven the players are by their
selfish desire to play in Germany. If this was 'driven' heaven help us
if they ever play as passengers!

This is what I found so unacceptable (and I'm only an adopted
Irishman). Perhaps the English had more of an excuse because they were
that much closer to qualification. Yet while a lousy performance is
always forgivable as a cruel twist of fate, you never got the feeling
on Saturday that these were footballers demonstrating their
desperation to slake their thirst, with their penultimate pint in the
last chance saloon, in perhaps their one and only opportunity to
perform on the stage which is the absolute pinnacle of every players
dreams. Nor were the efforts of either team the sort of 'run till you
drop' type displays which suggested their awareness of the burden of
the hopes and aspirations of all those millions of fans back home.

Perhaps it's me and the fact that as far as I'm concerned
International football is an increasingly fetid old flame. Thus I
struggle to get excited about being unfaithful to my first love.
However despite the contradiction of Damien Duff deciding to appear
with stitches in his foot, I get the distinct impression that
commercialisation is largely to blame for a level of cynicism, which
no longer permits the possibility of living out innocent childhood
dreams of 'doing a Bobby Moore'.

I was amused to hear Brian Kerr clutching at such straws about the
home side being inspired by the atmosphere created in a stadium
brimming with the battalions of Boys in Green (while their own fans
were at home watching Greece!). But I didn't hear Kerr offer an
explanation why the side they were supporting weren't similarly

Although the lack of fervour appears to be a malaise of epidemic
proportions amongst the established nations, I am sure that like me,
when summer comes around everyone will be suffering from World Cup
fever. Meanwhile it's truly marvellous that we can look forward to the
debutantes from Angola, Togo and Côte D'Ivoire, as they are bound to
bring pure unadulterated passion, to what might otherwise be a far too
Germanic party.

On the face of it, some might accuse Kerr of being unable to inspire
his troops. If there are pampered prima-donnas who won't play for
their own pride, or for the honour of the Republic (considering some
might be more familiar with God Save The Queen than Amhrán na
bhFiann), at least with Roy Keane in the camp, the bollocking they'd
get back in the dressing room would be incentive aplenty! But with no
offence to Kenny Cunningham's leadership, on Saturday they reminded me
of my own team of late, crying out for the driving force of a guv'nor
out on the pitch, emboldening them all in attack and radiating the
necessary air of composure at the back.

It was admirable and quite brave of the Irish to promote from within.
But then you'd assume no one would've known the players better than
the man who'd been with them since they were bairns. If I'd doubts
about Kerr's ability to boss the big boys, my prejudice was probably
due to the fact that he was a relative novice as the 'buck stop' bloke
at this elevated level.

Sorting out his charges at St Pats must've been a slightly different
prospect to putting the wind up an International, who never again has
to get out of bed if he so chooses. Although Kerr's struggles to raise
Ireland's game puts him in good company with Eriksson, Domenech the
French coach and all the other International managers who've been
baffled by underperforming star players.

Sadly I didn't catch a sparkling cameo from Jose Reyes. Coming on as a
2nd half sub, he helped to maintain Spanish hopes, with 2 goals in 3
minutes resulting from Jose's crosses. I sincerely hope Arsène
witnessed his effectiveness out on the wing, as I remain unconvinced
that he's an out and out striker. While we're not exactly blessed with
ball winners in the air up front, it feels as if we can go all the way
back to Georgie Armstrong (RIP) for the sort of orthodox winger who'd
terrorize defenders, taking the ball to the bye-line before whipping
in a terrific cross.

I was expecting salvation on Sunday but both Bolivia v Brazil and The
Match on Sky were a bit of an anti-climax. Mind you even Brazil's 2nd
XI managed more entertainment than I'd seen in all of Saturday's
matches put together. That was until they succumbed to the exhaustion
from the Bolivian's major home advantage.

In a dumb "I don't speak Bolivian" observation, Bravo's commentary
team demonstrated their obvious ignorance. But it was a dreadful wind
up listening to them diss the Brazilians work rate, without the
slightest appreciation of the problems of playing at the altitude of
La Paz.

I toured S. America with a mate many years back. He wasn't nearly as
fit as me but was unaffected by the altitude. Whereas without liquid
assistance, I appeared stocious from the moment I stepped off the
plane, staggering to the terminal and subsequently sick for three days
(at least that was my excuse for drinking pots of coca tea), grateful
for frequent gulps of oxygen available from cylinders on every floor
of our hotel. I was still struggling to walk after acclimatizing for
24 hours and can't for the life of me imagine how anyone could manage
90 mins of football.

Meanwhile both England and Ireland's lacklustre efforts suggested they
might've learned a thing or two from the spunk shown by the portly
legends and the passionate celebs in The Match, albeit misdirected on
occasion. Poor Nigel Winterburn appears as if he's still carrying some
baggage from his contretemps with Di Canio. I bet he's taken some
stick over the years after 'bottling it' in front of millions on TV.
Perhaps counselling might be an idea, before Nutty eventually causes
some serious bodily harm by trying to prove to the world that he's no
more of a coward than the next man!


Hi folks

You'll have to forgive the fact that there's very little Arsenal
relevance in the piece above and while I am sure I could find any number
of topics to ramble on about, I'm afraid I'm all typed out. What's
more having received my appointment at the Arsenal reservations centre
to come and select my seat at the new stadium. doubtless it will
probably develop into yet another rant concerning my various
reservations about the new gaff (and I don't want to begin to sound
like a broken record)

So since I'm struggling to keep my eyes open, I'm afraid that if
you're totally uninterested in the travails of the Irish team, you
might want to give this one a miss as it's been written primarily with
the readers of the Irish Examiner in mind.

I ran out of room at the end, so in case you didn't catch The Match on
Sky on Sunday night, I was referring to Nutty Nigel Winterburn losing
his rag with Olivier from the celebs' side. Finally there was one
other incident in this programme which tickled me. Zoe Ball had
Winterburn in the studio the other night with a couple of the Legends
team and at one point she referred to Nigel as something like "Secret
Squirrel" . I could be wrong about her exact ricket, but she seemed a
little embarrased when they returned from a break and she explained
that one of the cameramen had stitched her up, informing Ball that
this was Nige's nickname when she'd since discovered he was known as

Normal service resumed next week
Peace & Love

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