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Friday 23 August 2019

World Cup or 'Love Island'? Give me the footie any day but I promise, you won't find me spouting tactics at the watercooler

Bairbre Power. Photo: Kieran Harnett
Bairbre Power. Photo: Kieran Harnett
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

Isn't it funny how much we absorb and purport to know about sports when they are in vogue?

Take the World Cup: the 'entertainment du jour', along with Love Island of course. Since I cannot bear the on-screen machinations of Machiavellian lovers, I've been watching the soccer.

Who do I think will win? Well, putting on my punter's hat, I'd say Brazil will probably pull it off and that's coming from a news hound who interviewed Jack Charlton endless times back around 1990 - but usually not to do with soccer.

I'd be sent out by the news editor because I was one of the few that could decipher Charlton's Newcastle accent. The last time we met, we had great fun, lashing into the mushy peas - at the time, a new arrival on Ireland's culinary scene - as Jack opened his Ramsdens restaurant out on Dublin's Naas Road.

The World Cup fortunes of Jack's Army convulsed the country in the 1990s when, to a man, woman and child, we were wrapped up in their emotional journey and The Beautiful Game.

After that, I forgot about soccer, until the 2002 World Cup, when I became all feisty and attitudinal with the fallout from Saipan and the dramatic departure of Roy Keane. The matter was so vexatious that you couldn't wait at a bus stop without someone bringing it up.

As I'm writing this, I'm actually laughing aloud as the old memory cells have suddenly thrown up another memory linked to Saipan. I was working for the Sunday Independent one Saturday and I arrived into work on the sunny May morning to be immediately dispatched down to the races in Naas. Good job that I had dressed up, as I could blend in with the racing set.

It wasn't horses I was there to report on - I was under strict instructions to get a comment from Alex Ferguson, Keane's boss at Manchester United, on what he thought of the Corkman's departure from the national squad in Saipan.

I waited around and chatted with the racegoers and when I finally spotted Ferguson striding towards the parade ring, I moved at speed towards him. He greeted me with a charming smile, put his hand forward and proceeded to take my notebook and start writing his autograph.

The smile vanished when I chirped up: "Mr Ferguson, what do you think of Roy Keane's departure from the Irish camp?"

The Man U boss growled, swivelled on his heels and vanished into hospitality. By the time I got home, I'd become a fountain of knowledge about the state of Irish soccer and the ins and outs of the Keane v McCarthy spate.

I suspect lots of soccer virgins have been drawn into conversations this month, largely because of the office World Cup draw, where they lucked out and have begun to mentally spend their winnings ahead of the final.

Being carried along on the general wave of soccer enthusiasm is one thing, but it's another to suddenly adopt it as your Mastermind special topic. This is one of my pet hates - people who act as if they know something about a topic of which they are largely ignorant.

You know the ones I mean. They like the sound of their own voice and like to lob in their pound's worth after soaking up a few catchphrases from others.

Unfortunately, there's a rash of people such as this on the loose at the moment. You hear them on the Dart and on bar stools, holding forth as if they've lived and breathed soccer their whole lives.

This 'sudden expert syndrome' is a problem for more than just the World Cup. It becomes prevalent around the time of the Olympic Games - Winter and Summer - when many people become an authority in niche sports, claiming to know the ins and outs of everything from weight-lifting to skeleton racing.

When you meet a true expert - someone with an encyclopedic knowledge of sport - they are actually a pleasure to listen to.

As a younger reporter I had the lovely experience of hearing the legendary Jimmy Magee come into the office and throw out sporting questions to the lads in the row sitting behind me. I can't say I could answer that many, but it was a real education.

I'm often amused when female friends suddenly start pontificating about sports. You just know there's a new man in their lives and they've been watching The Sports Channel instead of The Handmaid's Tale. You can tell it a mile off - it reeks of new love like an overbearing cologne.

I had to hold my tongue recently when a newly signed-up member of Leinster Rugby was spouting about the national squad's victorious summer tour just months after declaring she was insane about soccer. I know there's a man at the centre of this transformation. You don't go from being insane about Prosecco brunches with the girls one minute to squad line-outs the next, without some extracurricular motivation...

With Wimbledon kicking off next week, I'm sure the average Joe and Joanna Soap will be switching attention to the annual July love-in with tennis.

It's the one sport where I think men and women have an equal appreciation. Perhaps that's because it's the one sport where I actually know the rules and can follow the game (although my own tennis skills are nothing to write home about).

I always pitied the ace servers who got drawn with me in the American tournaments at Dublin's Ashbrook Tennis Club. My service game was erratic despite endless practising.

Tennis and me... it's a bit like my love affair with art - more of an appreciation than a practical skill.

Nevertheless, I will still be getting stuck into Wimbledon. Wouldn't it be nice if we had a Croatian double with the World Cup and Marin Cilic to win at Wimbledon? It's something to discuss at the watercooler at least...

Irish Independent

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