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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

World Cup Fever

“We are not unreasonable or intolerant people. We are your neighbours and friends and relatives. We are completely normal people who live completely ordinary lives except for one thing --we cannot understand the attraction or value of sports. . . we think there is something wrong when people base their lives on the outcome of a game. We think there is something wrong when grown men collect baseball cards. We think there is something wrong when people are willing to pay for the opportunity to watch other people play and have fun. We think there is something wrong when people think we're weird because we don't watch sports. And we especially think there's something wrong when our favourite TV show is interrupted for a *&@!^%$#@!! sporting event!!! This site is dedicated to free-thinking people everywhere who have enough self-assurance to resist the influence of the common herd.”

I didn’t write that (it’s from a website called but it gave me an idea.

Professor Brendan Kennelly said: "You can overcome a bad marriage, you can grapple with and overcome alcoholism, but you'll never get over losing an All Ireland Final." But many literary figures, great thinkers and philosophers down through the centuries would argue that sport is not that important. Patrick Kavanagh reminded us: that " . . . in Ulysses, only the punter speculating on the result of the Ascot Gold Cup comes into the theme. So sport can't have been very vital."

While Kipling’s advice to competitors would be to "...treat those two impostors just the same" he referred to " ... the flanneled fools at the wickets or the muddied oafs at the goals." So he mustn't have considered a love of balls to be indicative much upstairs. Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes confess that " My ramifications stretch into many sections of society, but never, I am happy to say into sport." George Orwell saw sport as having nothing to do with fair play but: "... bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness and disregard for all rules." R.S. Surtees spoke of sport as "... the image of war without the guilt." Apologies for quoting a person who worked in a Bank but T.S. Eliot felt sorry for anyone whose only monument was, “ . . . the asphalt road and a thousand lost golf balls.

So, is sport that important? I don’t have any answer but I have a few questions: 72% of men between the ages of 18 and 29 describe themselves as Sports fans but only 58% of men over 50 describe themselves as such. Does this mean that young men follow like sheep and cop on as they get older? If you are over 50 and one of the 42% remaining you can bet in the coming months that your favourite television programmes will be cancelled or postponed for some sporting event. And you’ll still be paying for the sporting sections of newspapers that you don’t read.

Losing, even in amateur sport can have a devastating effect on the loser (can you think of a similar hardship experienced by non-sporting types). And of course there is a downside to winning. It has been said "Those who know how to win are much more numerous than those who know how to make proper use of their victories." Chamberlain said of war ”whichever side may call itself a victor, there are no winners, but all losers."

Should the same apply to sport? Sport is only second to drink as a cause of working days lost and . . .we are told that every taxpayer in Ireland is paying €3,313 each year as a result of alcohol abuse. But . . .we are not told how much we are paying because of sports injuries.

Of those who claim that an interest in sport reduces drug taking and crime I can only ask “Do you not read the national or provincial papers? Or watch the world news?"

One man said “Winning a match is of more importance to the people than the capture of a town in the east.” If you believe that, do you know the company you are in? Goebbels uttered these words.

I was disappointed that two prominent sports journalists, at different times, stated that people who are not interested in sport consider themselves to be intellectually superior. I don’t believe that although one Ancient Chinese philosopher said "The way of the sage is to act but not compete." Remember Italia 90? A fellow making a reverse call from Rome asking the wife to sell the washing machine or car to finance an extended trip? Not the type of behaviour to qualify one for membership of Mensa. Do you remember some years ago when the Celtic tiger was still alive there were people lying on trolleys in our hospitals; but all we heard about was the Bertie Bowl.

People who claim that an interest in sport kills all artistic tendencies in a person get branded as begrudgers and knockers. But poet, Sir John Suckle was not indulging in self-approval when he described himself as one " ... who loved not the muses as well as his sport."

A journalist recently described the GAA as " A tinpot organisation with a coveted sportsfield." He didn't do himself or his newspaper any favours but for generations cynics have classified Gaelic football with "blood sports." And Irish sporting records would appear to endorse that sentiment. It has also been described "... .detested sport that owes its pleasures to another's pain." I won’t ever get on Room 101 but if I did sport would go in. I told you I wouldn’t have any answers . . and I don’t but . . . a word of advice to the males: You are probably wondering whether to take a few sick days or apply for holidays for the World-Cup. But remember. . whatever you do don't give up any interesting pastime, to sit shouting at the telly for two weeks and then expect to take up where you left off, with impunity. Remember the words of Peter Osgood: " World Cups only come once every four years but women are around all the time."

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