Tuesday 17 October 2017

Hooligans and own goals - what we can learn from the English

The Brits have their yobs, writes Donal Lynch, but they can't match us for corruption

HOOLIGANS WRECK LANSDOWNE ROAD: Neo-Nazi thugs chanting ‘Seig Heil’ and No Surrender to the IRA were among the England supporters who tore up seats and hoardings and rained the debris down on Ireland fans
HOOLIGANS WRECK LANSDOWNE ROAD: Neo-Nazi thugs chanting ‘Seig Heil’ and No Surrender to the IRA were among the England supporters who tore up seats and hoardings and rained the debris down on Ireland fans
England thugs attack an Irish fan
Jack Charlton reacts angrily to the rioting at the game
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

There's something about visiting England fans that makes us come over all smug, even before the game starts. Their advent in Dublin seems like such a satisfying reversal of the colonial idea of the Brits as a civilising force. We may have had pigs in the parlour but now they are the marauding brutes, hopefully gleaning a bit of sporting decorum from our peaceable fans.

The bubble wrap around Paddy Power's head office in Dublin - ostensibly "hooligan-proofing" the building - may have been a publicity stunt but it was also truth in advertising. We wonder, per Yeats, if the Brits will disgrace themselves again?

An Ireland-England game is also a boon for the sporting dilettante. From the little we know about soccer, we have an inkling that the result is likely to be unfavourable so instead we gorge on the symbolism, which is so much better than if we played, say, Poland.

This is us, as a nation, admirably putting aside Cromwell, 800 years of oppression and that thing with Jack Grealish to welcome our nearest neighbours.

We were even nice to Charles when he came over. Another pat on the back for us. From us.

Perhaps, though, as loathe as we are to admit it to ourselves, there are still some lessons in civilisation to be learned from the arriving armies of Englishmen, particularly in the light of the FIFA-FAI payment story which largely overshadowed the match in the lead up to it.

We might have the more peaceable fans but the events of the last week has shown that in terms of some of the cornerstones of modern civilisation, Britannia still rules over its smaller neighbour.

Along with the odd hooligan, the English journalists are here in droves and you have to wonder what their famously aggressive brand of media would have done with the FIFA payment issue had it been a domestic story for them.

The headlines on Friday screamed of John Delaney's 'Hand of Wad' but there wasn't the immediate rush to judgment that might have characterised the story had Fleet Street been sinking its fangs into it.

While social media raged, with some pointing out that the winner of the national football league makes less than a third of Delaney's salary, Eamon Dunphy went on RTE's Prime Time item on the story and said that "most Irish people would say fair play" with the deal that the FAI had struck, and portrayed the secret payment as a piece of shrewd pragmatism.

Enda Kenny chimed in with his support for the FAI boss. And like the IRA song debacle which engulfed Delaney last year, it appeared that this would be yet another colourful incident that John the Baptist would simply ride out.

Of course Delaney has not been shown to have been doing anything illegal but his weathering of storm after storm highlights another massive difference between the two nations.

In Britain, even the faintest whiff of reputational damage to the organisation you work for would generally be enough to force a resignation, whether you were in the wrong or not.

It would be difficult to imagine the head of the FA, for instance, surviving after the kind of year Delaney has had.

But another reason we can get down off our high horse about the hooligans is that in British public life heads roll for the tiniest of infractions, whereas in Ireland, politicians and other public figures generally take the Sepp Blatter approach: dig in at all costs and brazen it out.

Just in recent years the English have had Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell resigning because he allegedly called a police officer a 'pleb' (it was later proven he didn't). Peter Mandelson resigned because he took out a loan and was paying it back. And you had Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigning because she tweeted a picture of a house with a cross of the St George flag on it (which was taken to be some sort of condescension to the working classes).

In each case these people had not even done anything majorly wrong but the media outcry was enough to force their hand.

In Ireland by contrast we do not have a culture of resigning in our politics.

In fact in the 96 years since the first Dail only eight TDs have ever resigned. In the last 10 years alone more than double that number of British MPs have stood down from the House of Commons or announced that they would not seek re-election (they can't technically resign).

These exacting standards in public life occasionally produce preposterous results but not as preposterous as the sight of our own politicians digging in and hoping the scandals that engulf them will blow over.

Little wonder that a recent report from the Council of Europe has indicated that there is growing concern about corruption here.

Perhaps there is hope and sport, as always, provides the mirror for life. There is planned, long-awaited legislation, which will criminalise corruption in politics.

And just as the Brits slowly and painfully sanitised their national game of the hooligan element, perhaps we can bring a greater degree of accountability into Irish public life.

Sunday Independent

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