Jackie Cahill TD wants to bring the World Cup to Thurles. That’d be the FIFA World Cup, not the yard of ale world cup. Deputy Cahill (FF, Tipperary) reckons Semple Stadium would be right for a slice of the biggest event in global sport.
Thurles, he said last week, has “top-class rail and road infrastructure”, so spectators based in Dublin for world cup games in Croke Park or Lansdowne Road could “hop on a train” and rock up to Semple Stadium “in an hour and a half or less.” The venue would be “ideal for the group stages. Thurles has a long, proud history of hosting sporting occasions and has a proven track record in this regard.”
Indeed, as this writer for one can testify, it certainly has a proven record for serving you a shnack box and a pint bottle of Bulmers, no matter how many other punters are looking for the same vittles at the same time of a Munster final day. “Do you want ice with that?”
Now, if you had a troop of FIFA junketeers landing in Thurles for our old friend the fact-finding mission, we’re not sure how the scenes around Liberty Square on a big hurling occasion would appeal to their renowned Epicurean sensibilities.
Life on the FIFA gravy train does not necessarily involve a gravy chip, or indeed the pint bottle of the old Clonmel chardonnay. Their chardonnay would be the real French McCoy. So, if Deputy Cahill were to act as their local tour guide for this auspicious visit, he might be well-advised to steer them clear of any scenes straight out of shnack box Babylon.
Other than that, he and his committee for the Thurles World Cup would merely have to demolish the whole stadium and build a new one. A slightly less financially astronomical option might be to rip out the whole interior and convert it into a 50,000 all-seater destination with all mod cons, not excluding bathroom facilities that would preclude the practice of 50 fellas at a time pissing up against a wall. You couldn’t have the grandees of world soccer, not to mention their wives and mistresses, arriving to Semple in their blacked-out SUVs, only to be greeted by these unedifying rituals of the native Gael.
To tick all these boxes would be no small task. In fact, Jackie and his committee of good men and true might have to bring on board famed local fundraiser Michael Lowry TD to get the project over the line. There would need to be a few test runs too before the big gig, maybe a Tailteann Games or a Eucharistic Congress or the like.
They’d have time on their side – it’s the 2030 World Cup they’re talking about. And as long as talking is all they do about it, there should be no harm done, apart from annoying the people.
In fact various people have been talking about it since 2018, so already it is beginning to carry the whiff of old chestnut. It was at the World Cup in Russia that Sepp Blatter publicly threw Ireland’s name in the ring. A British bid for 2030 was being mooted, incorporating England, Scotland and Wales, and Blatter was asked for his opinion. “And I said, ‘Why not Ireland? All of Ireland together.’ They will be a candidate I’m sure. And I think with 48 teams, you need more than one country definitely.”
Blatter was yesterday’s man by then, having been turfed out of FIFA’s presidential suite in 2015 when even this infamous Masonry of deep-sea trough-divers could no longer stand the stink. Indeed, the mere mention of Ireland coming out of his mouth should have been enough to send everyone in this country running for the hills, on the basis that if Blatter thought it was a good idea, then automatically it was a very bad idea. And when his papal nuncio in Dublin, John Delaney, also started floating the proposition, it was time to double down on the scepticism.
Last Monday however another PhD graduate of the school for scandal, one Boris Johnson, gave it fresh wind when he pledged £2.8 million of government funding towards a potential bid that would also include Ireland north and south. The British Prime Minister said it was the right time “to bring football home”. A day or so later Jackie Cahill was saying it was time to bring football home to the home of hurling.
In the meantime the FAI aligned with the English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland football associations by putting its name to a joint statement that said they were “delighted” with the UK government’s support for this bold initiative. No doubt the other four associations were greatly relieved that the FAI would be bringing all its financial muscle and international credibility to the party.
Naturally enough, Micheál Martin joined the chorus too, ably backed up by his junior minister for sport Jack Chambers, and his senior minister for miscellaneous, Catherine Martin. The Taoiseach on Tuesday said it was a “very exciting” prospect. The Irish government would be “very happy to co-operate” with its UK counterpart and a World Cup on the Emerald Isle “would be something to look forward to.”
Ah, they do love a Big Idea, the pols, not least because it helps them to camouflage their perennial struggles with small ideas. There’s too much work and botheration in doing a million small things well when you can come across all grand and visionary with talk of world class this and state-of-the-art that and Bertie Bowl the other. End of the day, you can’t beat a good feasibility study for a castle in the air, with a corresponding cost-benefit analysis thrown in for good measure too.
According to followers in England of international football politics, Johnson’s quote about bringing the game “home” was an early diplomatic gaffe. It smacked rather too much of old Blighty arrogance in these post-colonial multi-cultural times. Apparently this is where Ireland might have a role to play, in terms of softening the impression that this would otherwise be a feat of global grandstanding by an entitled John Bull. Maybe Brexit has left the international community feeling a little touchy about Johnson and his ilk at the moment.
And maybe for now Paddy might be happy to play the part as a sort of diplomatic mudguard for England, so long as we don’t have to cough up too much brass for the pleasure of the ride. If the UK is willing to pay for these preliminary costs, before anything gets too serious, then there’s no harm sitting in the back seat and singing a few songs to pay our way. Sure the whole thing is nearly ten years away anyway and we could all be dead by then. Or we could still be waiting for our pandemic vaccines by then. Who knows where we’ll be in the summer of 2030?
One thing is for sure: we won’t be in Semple Stadium waiting for the kick-off say between Germany and Paraguay. It’ll more likely be Cork and Tipp flaking away to a band playing. Never mind the world, all politics is local after all.