Saturday 26 May 2018

Television review: England looks back to 1966, Ireland looks to Dundalk

* Imagine...Sir Roderick Stewart (BBC1)
* World Cup 1966: Alfie's Boys (BBC2)

Absence of self-doubt: Rod Stewart
Absence of self-doubt: Rod Stewart
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

It may just be a dark coincidence, but there is a strange poignancy in the fact that Brexit has been followed by the 50th anniversary of England winning the World Cup. So when we are looking at World Cup 1966: Alfie's Boys on BBC2, it feels more like an elegy than a celebration.

An elegy not just for the decline of the football team, but for a lost world which was once embraced and even dominated by England - a world from which they are now withdrawn.

And by an even bleaker coincidence, on the same night on BBC1 there was Imagine... Sir Roderick Stewart, a full history of the career of Rod Stewart which started back in that black-and-white world of the early 1960s from which the Boys of '66 also emerged, breaking out of there into the glorious sunlight of international success.

With astonishing prescience, the BBC had actually filmed the young Rod Stewart as a kind of a spokesman for his generation, living above his parents' newsagent shop on the Archway Road, wondering how best to make his fortune - apparently certain that he would make it whatever way he went.

We all know that Rod is a man not lacking in self-esteem, but you would need to see him in this monochrome version, before he ever became properly famous, to understand that he may be the single most confident human being of his or any other time.

And I mean this in a good way. He was tremendously talented, of course, but he wasn't bragging about any of that - it is more the complete absence of self-doubt which strikes you still as being extraordinary.

Does England make such men any more?

The Brexiters are just disguising their fears and their phobias behind a front of braggadocio - these cultural heroes of old England really did believe in themselves.

Bobby Moore had this aura too, not a boastful thing, just a way of communicating some inner certainty, this quiet knowledge that he knew who he was, and what he could do, and given any chance at all he was going to do it.

In the World Cup 1966 documentary, narrated by Sir David Jason, there was an underlying theme of class: that these players did not see themselves as being above the people; that they weren't paid enough anyway to develop such notions; that they weren't Big Time Charlies but they were still resourceful enough to think for themselves - the England player of today has so many people doing his thinking for him, it is hardly a surprise that there's no Jack Charlton, no Nobby Stiles, who can follow orders and yet have an individualistic streak.

But then '66 in the light of Brexit has become something far greater than a story of England putting it all together, and winning. It assumes the shape of a national myth, something so fantastical it is almost impossible to believe that it happened at all. That it isn't just a tale fashioned by story-tellers.

In Ireland we know all about that - know it too well - and yet last week as England looked back into the mists of the 1960s, it was Paddy who stepped into the light.

I started to look at Dundalk's match with BATE Borisov thinking that this would clearly follow the ancient pattern - knowing it would follow that pattern -whereby the Irish team would put on a respectable show, up to a point, that point arriving when the other team beat them.

So ancient is that pattern, indeed there is hardly any other pattern, it is the way that life has been for Irish teams trying to get ahead in Europe, knowing somehow in the depths of their souls that such things are not for the likes of them.

For Dundalk to break with that tradition of failure and to do it with such apparent self-belief was almost disturbing. It suggested that our national memory bank had somehow been destroyed; that these guys didn't actually know what was supposed to happen; that they weren't meant to be doing this; and that nobody would blame them if they didn't.

Who are these people who are growing up in Ireland today not knowing such things? Or more to the point, who do they think they are?

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