Monday 21 October 2019

Declan Lynch: 'It is more than just a new World Cup - it is a whole new world'

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

It was a gift from the gods that we hadn't expected. A gift that we had no right to expect.

A summer without a major football tournament or even an Olympic Games can be as forbidding as the harshest of winters. There's this haunting inevitability to it, this dark knowledge that we carry deep within us, that once every four years we must somehow get through these months with nothing but real life to engage us - no World Cup, no European Championship, nothing.

Well, there's the golf, I suppose, and the cricket, and the tennis, and the horse-racing, and the hurling and suchlike, and while these are not exactly nothing, they are really just the compensations which nature in her infinite kindness has bestowed, as we struggle with the great emptiness at the centre of these years.

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It is her attempt to balance out the sporting eco-system so that our basic desire to go on living can at least be sustained, if not greatly enhanced.

And then, out of nowhere, it just appeared in front of us.

For the vast majority of us anyway, it really was as unexpected as that. One day it didn't exist for us in any meaningful sense, the next day we're sitting there looking at a World Cup in a year in which there was supposed to be no World Cup - a hungry year, in which somehow we were now feasting like Henry VIII on haunches of venison and flagons of mead.

Like some apparition, it had originally been witnessed only by a very small number of the faithful... but then the word got out, and soon there were thousands, and then there were millions - tens of millions.

Except this wasn't a hallucination, some trick of the light, it just felt similar to those phenomena which occur when a fundamental disturbance is perceived in the nature of earthly consciousness.

Otherwise it was startlingly real, it was an actual World Cup like any other World Cup except with women playing in it - a subtle difference to the usual arrangement, to be sure, but one which we quickly welcomed with the kind of enthusiasm which the more progressive believers brought to the changes of Vatican II.

There was one thing obviously missing - for converts to the cause there had been no build-up to the tournament, no anticipation of the kind that usually starts about two years before the actual games begins. But soon it was clear that this was an acceptable trade-off for these moments of revelation, of illumination.

Though there had been no long preamble, we were finding that this also softened our sense of devastation at the other end, as the tournament was drawing to a close.

Certainly by last week we were deeply anticipating the semi-final between England and America, and today in the final we will mostly be supporting America, not just because they are great, but because their captain, Megan Rapinoe, and others in the squad have maddened Trump with their truth.

With her line about refusing to go to the "f**king White House", Rapinoe - or "Pinoe" as we now call her - has shown a resistance to the culture of the far-right which would be utterly unknown to Trump in his preferred game of golf.

Indeed, I was moved to remark that Trump now has a grudge against "Pinoe", so that would be a Pinoe Grudgio. I'll raise a glass to that for sure.

Though I was saddened that the USA had to get to the final by beating the Lionesses of England.

The women themselves were top class, but eventually they were undone by one man - the gaffer, Phil Neville. Until the semi-final, Phil's game-plan had consisted mainly of the wearing of a waistcoat like Gareth Southgate in Russia last year.

If Southgate was half-man, half-waistcoat, Neville was all waistcoat - and it was working for him and for the Lionesses.

But, under pressure, the man in him just had to come out. He couldn't stop himself making a few tweaks to the England formation against the USA, couldn't resist reminding everyone that he was there or thereabouts - and it was game over.

Personally I was sorry to see Sweden losing in the other-semi-final, because one of the early pieces I wrote for this paper was about Sweden playing Ireland at Dalymount Park on a Saturday afternoon - a "colour piece" as we call it, indicating that the idea of women playing international football was regarded not as a major sporting event in itself, more of a cultural curiosity.

Then again it was so long ago, I distinctly recall that I had to use the pay-phone in a pub in Phibsborough to read out the hand-written piece to a copy-taker. It somehow ended up on the bottom of the front page for the first editions later that evening. I think Sweden beat our women 5-1.

Sweden is where it all started for me, though if I'm being honest, that's where it ended too - until the 2019 Women's World Cup, this marvellous thing which materialised out of the darkness in which women's football had languished, In which we all had languished.

It is simply one the best things that has ever happened.

Thomas and his lonely battle to live his life in his own way

There was a big audience on RTE1 last week for the brilliant documentary The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid, perhaps because it went into areas of fundamental conflict in the human soul - Reid could have taken a shedload of money from the IDA for his land near Leixlip, conveniently situated next to Intel, freeing himself from what seemed like a hard life, certainly by bourgeois standards.

But it would have been a compulsory purchase, which meant he wouldn't be freeing himself after all, it would be the IDA freeing him, in order to free themselves.

His ultimate victory in the Supreme Court meant that there is indeed the odd situation in which a person can choose to live in whatever way suits him, regardless of the supposedly superior demands of a global corporation. That they don't always get what they want.

Yet it was the inner conflicts of Thomas Reid which were most absorbing - he would dig deep into his memory to recall the names of the characters in Dallas, or to request a song on the radio by Twister Sister or Horslips, or to embark on a dissertation about the Tesco frozen fish which to him seem just as nice as the Donegal Catch, but cheaper.

It was his personal living arrangements though, which were most fascinating. Reid is, shall we say, a hoarder. From the great heaps of newspapers and documents and other stuff among which he lives, he might produce a copy of the 12-inch single of the Boomtown Rats' Lookin' After No 1, reminding some viewers that there was a time when it was not totally unusual for student bedsits to look like his.

But the scale of the clutter in Reid's place was truly exceptional, and it suggested to me that Reid is not only defying the global corporations, he is showing us an alternative way of living to that of the legendary tidier-upper Marie Kondo. She has captured something in the culture, has Marie Kondo, some obsession with order and neatness.

Thomas Reid is having none of that either.

I've seen the future: it's virtual  dogs, and bookies' virtual concerns

Greyhound races always seemed to me like the "early houses" of the betting world.

You could walk into a bookie's office at 11 in the morning and they'd already be at it - the dogs running every 10 minutes at tracks such as Monmore, Crayford or Perry Barr.

"Going in at Monmore," the voice of the commentator would say, and about 30 seconds later the dogs would have been loaded into the traps and their race run and the punters wondering what possessed them to put actual money on the dog in Trap 3. And then they were off again…

In the days when you mightn't be able to back a horse till as late as lunchtime, the morning dogs would be there for the punter who just couldn't wait that long to engage with their addiction - hence the comparison with the "early houses", which served the needs of the more desperate kind of drinker.

Though of course, like the dogs, there might also be quite harmless reasons for people to be going there.

Going to the pub at seven in the morning is not too abnormal if you've been working the night shift - and the early houses were still open at night, just as the dogs were still running at Shelbourne Park for people who wanted nothing more than an evening of small-time gambling.

Now whether it is worth the killing of 6,000 or 10,000 greyhounds a year, for no reason except that they can't run fast enough to reach that standard at which punters might consider backing them, is the matter raised in the recent Prime Time investigation.

It sickened a lot of folk who had only barely been aware of the dog-racing game, either the dark side of it, or its happier traditions.

Adapting the 1977 hit by Racing Cars, they might have called it, They Shoot Greyhounds, Don't They?

And last week Barry's Tea, FBD Insurance and Connolly's Red Mills withdrew sponsorship of races, presumably because it was against their, eh... values.

But it was the mention of Boylesports expressing "concern" that is most troubling for the industry.

While it may not be in keeping with their, eh... values, bookies have always managed somehow to suppress any feelings of concern, in order to provide a full betting service on a myriad dog-racing events. There was a mutual need here.

But do bookies really need the dogs any more, when they can be putting up markets in the morning on Vietnamese football matches and the like, on their online betting platforms? In their "early houses", if you like?

There have been greyhounds racing from about eight in the morning in Kilkenny and Waterford, purely to be televised for betting purposes - but maybe there is less need for that too, in a world where people will bet on virtual dogs.

They don't shoot them, do they?

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