In life, there are World Cups and Euros and just a few other minor events in between for men to live for
Published 10/06/2016 | 02:30
If you want to understand the meaning of life for most men, you need to start with the European Championships and World Cup. It's a little more complex than - to paraphrase Descartes, 'Football, ergo sum': 'Football, therefore I am. Of course, other things - relationships, family, work etc - are more important than a round ball. We're not that blinkered or stupid.
Soren Kierkegaard wrote that: "Life must be understood backward but lived forward." The Danish existentialist probably didn't have football in mind. But I do.
Because for me - and my best guess is I'm not alone among my gender - my life can be "understood backward" by World Cups and European Championships.
In my (admittedly slightly sad) head, these two championships have been a road map to the story of my life. From the age of nine, my life can be broken down into 10 World Cup, bite-sized cycles of four years, with the Euros a special highlight in the middle of each one. With good health and a bit of luck, there should be another 10 to go.
Argentina '78 was the first tournament to really impinge on my consciousness. Nearly 40 years on, I can still clearly see the wall chart beside my bed with the score and scorers of every match.
There are sketchy memories of Euro '80 - the ungainly match-winning celebration of Horst Hrubesch, 'the Header Beast' - is probably all that survives.
Two years on, I was in secondary school. I was becoming my own person and that World Cup in Spain brought me my first doomed love affair with the impossibly exotic Brazilian team of Zico, Socrates and Éder. For France '84 - a wonderful tournament - a group of us virtually camped in a pal's house for the entire three weeks. Happy days.
Less so two years on, as the World Cup in Mexico coincided tragically with the Leaving Cert and the Matric exams. I learned of England's shock opening defeat to Portugal from the roars of my dad and brother in the adjoining room as I attempted to study for the following day's exam.
By the time the wonderful, magical Euro '88 came along, I was at college. I can not only remember where I was when Ray Houghton put the ball in the English net but what I was wearing - very unmanly I know. Later that summer, on my J1, my sister posted me what was very much a novelty item back then - a T-shirt proclaiming 'Ireland 1 England 0', with a photograph of Houghton's header. I wore it proudly on the streets of Boston.
Italia '90 brought surprisingly mixed emotions - the wonder and the joy of the occasion tempered slightly by the awareness that my love affair with such tournaments was no longer a minority taste.
Despite that, and the fact I was (slowly) growing up, the passion did not diminish. By Euro '92, I was firmly in the rat race - enjoying matches with new work colleagues at staff barbecues.
Changed times and a new era, but the unmistakeable comfort of one constant. I made it to Euro '96 in England for a few matches with friends. Ireland didn't. Another defeat to the Dutch in a play-off in Liverpool - the pain of which was blurred by a day of unwise overindulgence in the city's pubs - meant we missed out.
The World Cup final of '98 was watched in Smyths of Haddington Road, Dublin, surrounded by people who I knew from college and who had emigrated, but were now home. It was the night it hit me that the Celtic Tiger was starting to roar.
My own roar was softened by 2002. When Robbie Keane scored that late penalty against Spain, I silently danced a jig around the ward in the Coombe, conscious of not startling my new-born son.
A decade later, the baby was now a football-daft boy and we shared the misery of Ireland's dismal Polish odyssey together.
Two years later, when we plonked ourselves in the front of the telly to watch the World Cup final, I felt overcome with an extraordinary sense of nostalgia and emotion. Embarrassingly, tears were welling in my eyes. Of course, this was spotted by my ever eagle-eyed other half.
Later on, following no little teasing and prompting, I tried to explain that, for me, the finals of the World Cup and the European Championships were like staging posts for my existence. Each one, associated with a certain point of my life and with warm memories of the people I had shared it with.
When I was younger, I could name every FA cup winning team for the previous quarter of a century but, after the early 1990s, that fell by the wayside. Somewhere along the line, real life got in the way. I didn't have the luxury of time to polish that encyclopaedic knowledge.
But a European Championships or a World Cup? That's still manageable - a feast to gorge on every two years. It's not about watching every game - that would be pushing things. I won't be calling in sick for Albania versus Romania when they meet in the group stage.
But looking ahead to 8pm tonight, the little boy in me feels just as excited now as I did 38 years ago, when I sat down with my siblings to watch that Argentina v Holland final. If I'm still around, I suspect I'll still have the same feeling in 38 years - that's 10 World Cups and Euro Championships in football time, by the way.
Shane Coleman presents the Sunday Show on Newstalk.com at 10am