Wednesday 18 September 2019

Declan Lynch: 'It is left to Gary Neville to see the big picture'

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

During the Great Crash, we heard a lot of people quoting Warren Buffett's line, that "only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked". With the tide going out on the UK, perhaps never to return, we are discovering a lot of things that we didn't want to discover, and not just about the UK.

Every day now, we are getting this stunningly accurate illustration of what happens when you let nationalism out of its box - indeed, when you don't check constantly that the box is where it should be, buried 20,000 leagues under the sea.

Because once it gets out, though it may be destroyed eventually, it will cause unimaginable amounts of grief. So if any of you ever wondered why some of us are a bit less relaxed about Irish nationalism than others, we would invite you to observe the unravelling of the United Kingdom, hour by hour.

Here is England, which has been years ahead of us, decades ahead, in terms of its famously reasonable attitudes to immigration, its legendary tolerance towards other cultures which can be seen by any Irish person who has spent any time over there - in the average journey on the London Underground we might well encounter more black or Asian people than we have encountered in a lifetime in Ireland - and yet this mighty civilisation is now struggling to govern itself, essentially because of paranoia whipped up by the worst people in that country, on the subject of what might broadly be called "bloody foreigners".

There's nothing much more to Brexit than that. It is otherwise incoherent, incontinent, unworkable. And what we must observe in particular, is that it only takes a few bad actors to get those primitive juices going.

We know that ourselves, and yet we keep forgetting it. So when we see what a few determined nationalists can "achieve" if they really put their minds to it, maybe it helps us not to forget.

We saw it last weekend during the abuse of Raheem Sterling by supporters of Chelsea, because the English version of nationalism is a white nationalism, which will naturally lead to racist slander, even in the case of a footballer such as Sterling who has actually played many times for England.

Yet it was the Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville who defined the issues correctly on Monday Night Football. It wasn't the political correspondents, it wasn't the leader writers of the London Times - indeed, another thing we are seeing with terrible clarity is how useless conventional journalism has been, when it is confronted by the braying voices of nationalism.

Most of the reasonable people of England in fact have been defeated by these voices, because as we know in our dealings with the Provos, there are essentially different energies at work here, and the energy of the nationalist will usually prevail because it doesn't have to make any sense. It just has to push the right buttons.

Therefore we see the likes of John Major, Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine, speaking in despairing tones about the delinquency of the Brexiteers - but knowing that they themselves have been powerless against it, that being right doesn't really matter any more: the rights and the wrongs are for normal times, and these are times of unreason and disgrace.

How strange it is indeed, to be seeing Major or Clarke or Heseltine almost as figures of the left.

When once they were seen just as Tories, against the common good, now they look like exemplars of British common sense. Nationalism will do that for you. It was Caroline Lucas the Green MP who last week described Brexit as "a project for the right, by the right" - so far to the right indeed, that those ancient Tories can now look like eccentric old socialists.

And yes, there was Gary Neville, once thought to be a most unadventurous fellow, analysing the Raheem Sterling story with the kind of vision that would probably make him too good for Newsnight, describing a malaise far greater than a bit of football hooliganism.

"We are at a moment where every time I turn the news on it's about Brexit. Brexit was fought largely on an issue of immigration. You see kids that are refugees trying to get into America who are being tear-gassed. There are a lot of issues here. There are 600-odd MPs in the Houses of Parliament who don't represent us or this country or what we are. I think it's a massive problem in society."

It was all good from Neville - though in the spirit of full disclosure, I should add that I was saying something similar the previous day during the Paper Review on Off The Ball, without the bit about the kids in America being tear-gassed.

Neville was seeing an even bigger picture there, and rightly so, since nationalism in America is as poisonous as the English variety, and every other variety including our own.

It's all bad.

I'm a three-time loser, baby!

And so the awards season has ended - no more will I be in the Mansion House or the old Burlington or the even older Duns Library, wandering around the banqueting hall searching for the table with my name on it; no more will I be in that strange place, thinking that I might win, even though I know that I won't; no more will I be hearing a name being called out that is not mine.

Three times… three times they gave the trophy to somebody else… I'm a three-time loser, baby!

And while they say that you are winning just by being nominated, I have also noted that when someone is nominated for an Oscar and they don't win, the reports will tend to say that they "failed" to win. They were winning up to the point that they failed and brought disgrace upon themselves and their country.

Then again most of these unfortunates will be failing in one way, whereas I can claim to have done it three ways, like on MasterChef. It is the range of not-winning that is impressive, starting with the Newsbrands Journalism awards, then on to the Non-Fiction section of the An Post Irish Book awards, and finally the Eir Sports Book of the Year - an almost unprecedented treble.

They're calling it the famous three-in-a-row, because anyone can do it once, but not many can do it twice - and as for the three-in-a-row, you're getting into something there that is almost mystical.

And yet it seemed so easy, almost effortless. In the journalism awards, I was in the features category for the World Cup Diary which eventually grew into this diary. Out of six nominees in this category full of vastly disparate material, the winner was Conor Lally of The Irish Times for pieces which included one about the rickshaw business - there's an old maxim in this inky trade of ours that the rickshaw business always beats a World Cup Diary, and so it transpired.

For the An Post Irish Book Awards, my co-author Tony O'Reilly and I would probably have been feeling quietly confident about winning with Tony 10, were it not for the fact that, in the grip of a gambling addiction, one of us had stolen €1.75m from the sponsor.

I asked a friend of mine, who is quite big in corporate Ireland, if he felt that An Post might want to make a statement here about redemption and so forth. He thought about it for maybe a quarter of a second and joked: "No."

On then to last Monday and the Eir Sports Book of the Year which had a shortlist of three, one of which, The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee by Paul Gibson, had just won the prestigious William Hill prize in London - the other was Fighter by Andy Lee with Niall Kelly, and in truth, Tony and I accepted the verdict that we were winning just by being on that short-list. But the prize went to The Lost Soul...

So while we were winning, up to a point, we were now losing, in a sense, to a man who had lost his soul.

Then the Andy Lee book just edged out Tony 10 for the Second Captains podcast book of the year, and for that I can hear some of you calling me a four-time loser, baby! But I'd be appealing on a technicality.

I didn't have to leave the house for that one.

Early morning aesthetics have gone to the dogs

Anyone who has enjoyed the surrealism of the "early houses", either at the start of a day's drinking, or at the end of the previous night's extravaganza, will be pleased to see that there are now "early houses" of a sort for greyhound racing.

Due to an agreement between the Irish Greyhound Board and SIS who provide live coverage of sports to betting offices around the world, we will soon be seeing the dogs running at Waterford and Kilkenny from 8am, every Wednesday and Thursday.

Though when I say "we", I mean mainly punters in Australia or in Russia for whom these will be evening meetings. And when I say "punters", I am assuming that - the excellence of our greyhound racing notwithstanding - there wouldn't be huge numbers of people in Russia who'd just want to see the dogs racing in Waterford at eight in the morning for the pure aesthetics of it.

Though I could be wrong about that...

Well, no, I couldn't.

Ah, it is a wonderful world, and we already know how it works - we found out in controversial circumstances that there were people in places like Malaysia betting up to €400,000 on events such as the Midlands Classico between Athlone Town and Longford Town. Again, while they would greatly have enjoyed the TV coverage of the Classico even without having a bet, marvelling at the range of skills on display from both sides, no doubt the €400,000 would have sharpened their interest more than somewhat.

And I suppose there will be some who find aspects of this troubling - when they hear the mere mention of the word "Russia", they will be worrying about the integrity of our sports.

You would indeed want to be up early in the morning for those lads.

Sunday Independent

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