Monday 16 September 2019

Let us go to Denmark with feelings of deepest despondency

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

When we were drawn against Denmark in the World Cup play-offs, for a few moments a sense of euphoria came over us. It was probably not quite the sort of win that requires the spraying of Champagne, but it was certainly enough to be breaking out the exclamation marks on Twitter.

"We've got Denmark!!!!!!" they exulted. We had won the Draw, as it were, and while we hadn't 'achieved' anything in the conventional sense, we felt that we had found favour with the baleful gods. Which is a feeling rare enough, and good enough, to be regarded as an actual accomplishment.

We had dodged a bullet. In fact we had dodged two bullets. We had feared certain death against Italy or Croatia, due to our ancient feelings of inferiority when we are playing teams that seem to us to be more 'technically gifted' - a reasonable fear, as it happens, because they are actually more technically gifted - and death would indeed have been certain against either of these.

Now that death was perhaps not so certain, all our foolish instincts told us to rejoice, to savour the simple pleasure of being 'alive', not just for a few more weeks, but until next June. And yet, in truth, after all we've been through, our instincts should be honed a bit sharper than that.

It feels wrong, this vague optimism at the thought of Denmark, and we know it feels wrong, and we're going to have to stop it. Now. Today.

Denmark, I would remind you, featured in what is widely regarded as one of the worst days in the history of the Republic - the last match with Eoin Hand as manager, in which we were beaten 4-1 at Lansdowne Road.

I felt this most keenly because I was one of the few Irish people there, on what should have been quite a happy occasion for me - a piece I'd written in Hot Press magazine about the commentator Philip Greene was being used in the official match programme, for which I was receiving an honorarium of £25 and two tickets to the match.

Thus I and my friend, the controversial rock journalist George Byrne, had excellent seats for this deeply humiliating occasion - with a brilliant Denmark team so much better than us, that they let one Soren Lerby leave just after half-time to catch a flight back to Germany to play with Bayern Munich that night.

Relaxing later that evening in the International Bar, George and I were starting to get over it, when the noted TV folklorist Eamonn Mac Thomais walked in and declared in his ebullient style: "Aha! Brian Boru was the only fella who could beat them Danes!"

While we admired his zeal, his display of consummate eejitry, we felt that on this night the Danes were beating us even at that game, with thousands of 'Roligans' wandering through the bars of Dublin wearing Viking helmets and drinking heavily.

The Roligans had created a kind of anti-hooliganism, and their defiantly cheerful and peaceful attitudes would soon be adopted by the very people who were now suffering under the yoke of their triumphalism - from them the Green Army would learn that it was possible to combine various degrees of alcoholism with a broadly benign code of behaviour, to make a total disgrace of yourself in ways that were somehow not really disgraceful.

Dan Brown would not understand either the Roligans or the Green Army, as he demonstrated with his crude portrayal of Irish football fans in his latest novel Origin. Essentially he presents members of the Green Army as drunken savages. But we should not be concerned about this, as the opinions of people who read Dan Brown books are of no value anyway.

We should be concerned instead about our own state of mind, we should be doing everything we can to induce within ourselves a feeling of profound despondency at the prospect of facing "them Danes" - a despondency even more profound, if that is possible, than the one we were feeling before we played Wales.

How quickly we forgot those feelings, and how essential they were to the events which ensued in Cardiff. I recall there were many people who could hardly bring themselves to look at the game at all, so convinced were they that this Ireland team is incurably bad, that most of these players are just not much good at football. And that Wales might not be much better, but they didn't need to be, against this poor team of ours, which has one good player who hardly ever gets a game, and another who's got a broken leg, and one who's being played in the wrong position, and another who has ended up in positions that nobody knew existed - Wes, and Seamus Coleman, and Robbie Brady, and James McClean, and that's about it.

Then again legend has it that 'Trap' rated only two of our players, Robbie Keane and Shay Given. So if anything to be rating four of them is to be deluding ourselves as usual.

So again I urge all of you in the strongest possible terms to recall that deep disenchantment you felt before Wales, to embrace those feelings again, to own them, to live them. Because they were the right feelings, to be having, and they are still the right feelings. And without them we are surely going to spend at least one more night looking at our old friends the Roligans engaged in displays of incandescent Danish eejitry without even an equivalent contribution from Eamonn Mac Thomais to put it into perspective for us.

Without an appropriate level of hopelessness at the enormity of the task that faces us, we are sunk. We had it just about right for our last World Cup play-off against France, when nobody in their right minds thought we would get through - and how right they were. Yet we came absurdly close, before the baleful gods stepped in to remind us that in their eyes, we are lowly dogs.

We came absurdly close because we did not believe for a moment that we could do that. And the moment we started to believe, with a few minutes left, it got away from us.

I have never been able to share this until now, but I think it is true to say that as a result of the Henry handball, nobody suffered more than I did. Nobody, as Trump would insist. Except in my case it's true.

I had been asked to write a book about Italia 90, which eventually was called Days of Heaven, and which was meant to be published in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup, when everyone was in a great mood because Ireland had qualified.

Turned out that nobody was in any mood, for anything - and so that night in the Stade de France, I was watching a year's work going awry.

I hope that that has reminded you of all the bad things that can happen on these occasions, and I trust you will be thinking of even worse things in the coming days and weeks.

One more time: Brian Boru was the only fella who could beat them Danes.

Sunday Independent

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