Monday 22 January 2018

Vincent Hogan: A generation wanted Joe to lamp Gattuso

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Imagine the hullabaloo if Joe Jordan had done the responsible thing in Milan last Tuesday night? Imagine he had smacked that bearded plodder, Gennaro Gattuso? There would have been uproar, of course, because the Italian would be hospitalised and, most probably, anointed within the hour.

And Joe's resignation would have been tendered and accepted while they were still picking baby teeth out of the San Siro turf.

But, let's be honest, it would have been worth it. If old Joe fired that single, insane shot, trust me, millions of middle-aged men would have been dancing around their living-rooms, exultant.

Because I'd wager Gattuso took one look at Jordan's greying, bespectacled countenance and saw someone he reckoned should be spending their days pruning leaves and farting out loud by the compost bin. In other words, someone he could bully.

And seeing as how he'd just played with all the impact of a wren in bronchial difficulty, it must have seemed a smart diversionary tactic to start a pitch-side ruck.

Gattuso wouldn't have known that Jordan once wore the black and red stripes of AC Milan himself. He wouldn't have had a clue that there was a time big Joe roamed wild in the north west of England when, to steal an old Jim Murray line about Sonny Liston, "people who saw him would call the circus to see if any of their cages had been vacated."


If you are of a certain vintage, you will remember that Jordan played without teeth or a shred of physical apprehension. But he's nearly 60 now, which -- in some eyes -- probably makes him the human equivalent of a gramophone.

And that was the imagined old fogey Gattuso went for with a headbutt. Just a pity he didn't do it in an empty room.

Now before the 'what about the children?' choir starts up, let me stress that I watched the game with my 13-year-old, yet managed to keep all this vitriol to myself. In any event, the kid saw what Gattuso did and managed the arithmetic all by himself.

Hard chaw on his home patch, picks up a needless booking? Misses the return trip to London. Brave.

"Didn't fancy it Da, did he?"

"Write it down!"

As this is an adults-only forum (get off the internet son), though, I can now be as candid as I like. And seeing an old-timer cleave some humility into one of football's self-appointed hard men would. . . well. . . have been wonderful.

Certain people bring this vigilantism out in me and, I'd wager a small bet, probably you too. Be honest, have you ever looked at Joey Barton and not found yourself -- at best -- deeply resenting his contribution to the planet's carbon dioxide problems? Likewise El Hadji Diouf?

Maybe age is at the root of it. This column grew up in an era when the tough guys were Ron Harris, Tommy Smith, Norman Hunter and Peter Storey. Smith's birthday is the day after mine, so I've always been mindful of his climbing age. He'll be 66 this April.

Which of course means that, if you're under 40, you won't have the foggiest what he looked like as a player. Yet, here's the curious thing. Smith represents a generation still gloriously relevant to the English Premier League. Three of the current top four clubs are managed by men born, like Tommy, in the 1940s.

Actually, of the top six, the managers' average age is 58. Until Roberto Di Matteo's recent sacking, the average age in the bottom six was 49.

And of course the market leader, the one they still all follow like pilot fish, lived through the Second World War out of a Govan council estate, Alex Ferguson slipping into this life just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.

Someone reminded me recently that Mick O'Dwyer, still gloriously driven to shape football teams, will be 75 in June. Now the iPod generation could not possibly understand how important that kind of achievement is to those of us who've slipped the wrong side of 50.

But O'Dwyer is a living affirmation of Walter Hagen's dictum about being "only here for a short visit" and making the most of that time.

On Saturday, I stayed up late watching the old baseball movie 'For Love of the Game'. It ticks all the customary boxes of cliche and schmaltz, Kevin Costner playing the dwindled old player who, out of nowhere, pitches the perfect game.

I'd seen it a few times before, yet there's a part that will always trigger goosebumps in this old sucker. It's when the famous American sportscaster Vin Scully (playing himself) announces: "And you know Steve, you get the feeling that Billy Chapel isn't pitching against left-handers, he isn't pitching against pinch hitters, he isn't pitching against the Yankees. He's pitching against time. He's pitching against the future, against age and, even when you think about his career, against ending.

"And tonight I think he might be able to use that aching old arm one more time to push the sun back up in the sky and give us one more day of summer."

Corny I know, but beautiful. Sport is such an endless affirmation of athleticism and the golden glow of youth that the value of wisdom is too easily forgotten. When Joe Jordan felt Gattuso's head snap into his face last Tuesday, he could have been forgiven responding in kind.

It would have been calamitous to his career, no question. But he'd have had the gratitude of a generation.

Irish Independent

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