Alex Salmond, Scottish First Minister, gravely announced after the ‘Old Firm’ cup game that he was convening “a summit on the shameful incidents at Parkhead.”
I’ll bet when Alex was watching the game in the privacy of his home or office, he enjoyed every second. I did. Everyone I know did.
At the final whistle, I got a text from a friend: “Brilliant! F... political correctness! F... mutual respect. Call a spade a spade!”
The friend in question is a solicitor, pacifist and one of the most civilised people I know.
On Wednesday of this week, the ‘summit’ was held, a large gathering of supposedly eminent men drinking tea and worrying about the end of civilisation as they once knew it. In trooped the chief of police, the Scottish First minister with his aides and the bigwigs from the Scottish F.A.
All this because there were 13 yellow cards and three reds in a contest where no one raised a hand! The two key measures that were agreed were that heavy drinking before and after matches would have to be curbed (“Down with that sort of thing”) and secondly – I kid you not – that “men convicted of domestic violence would be banned from football grounds.”
What about sex offenders? Shoplifters? Embezzlers? Other violent offenders? People who use the ‘f’ word when they get excited? What about women guilty of domestic violence? Sexists? People who let their dogs poo on the street? Litter-louts?
The reason given for banning those convicted of a domestic violence offence is that when these games take place it is believed there is an increase in domestic violence. There is no statistical evidence in support of this, but even if it were so, how would this measure help?
They can still go to the bars and watch the game. Or sit at home, brooding in front of their televisions, enraged as they quaff their special brew. Yes, that’s going to be a big relief for their partners.
In the Crossmaglen semi-final against Kilmacud, there were three red cards and 15 yellows. Why has the Deputy First Minister not convened a summit? How long can Cross be allowed to get away with it? In future Short’s Pub will have to be closed on match weekends. Supporters with convictions, even MLAs and councillors, will be barred from games.
A Thrilling Contest
The truth is that the ‘Old Firm’ contest was thrilling, reminding me of George Orwell’s observation in an article he penned in 1945 called “The Sporting Spirit” where he said: “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting.”
Orwell’s piece was prompted by a tour of Britain that year by Dynamo Kiev and, in particular, a ferocious contest between the Russians and Glasgow Rangers.
A small piece of news footage of the game is available on the internet. “ Glasgow turned on a characteristically heathen welcome for the Russians” says the plummy voiced BBC presenter. “The Glasgow boys struck more than one blow for Bonny Scotland.”
People in high office and sports journalists may shake their heads in feigned sadness and say that “something must be done.” But like the pacifist secretly thrilled by the bullfight, they do not actually mean it.
When Michael Buffer, resplendent in his tuxedo, roars: “Let’s get ready to rumble” from the MGM Grand, the thousands in attendance and the millions at home want to see violence.
We want to see someone unconscious on the canvas. As the killer blow is delivered, we will jump off our sofa and experience that matchless surge of adrenalin.
When Paul McCloskey knocked Italian Guiseppe Lauri into oblivion in the King’s Hall last year, a row of Dungiven ladies in front of me went into a frenzy, dancing and hugging each other. They did not spare a thought for the stricken Italian who lay motionless for several minutes.
When the international rules game was at its peak, it got there because the lads went to war. They fought up and down the touchline. Every time someone ploughed in a bit high or a bit dangerously it was the cue for a fistfight. More than that, the glory of it was that the boys were sailing in without a thought for personal safety.
I was at the first test as a schoolboy in St. Pat’s Armagh and we talked of nothing else for weeks. As far as we were concerned, the Irish players, from O’Rourke to McNicholl, were heroes deserving of military pensions in their old age.
Yet political correctness eventually destroyed the game, leading to the sterile contests of recent years.
It is worth noting that the recent rule series was promoted by showing footage from the glory days of McGilligan & Co. TG4 are lucky they weren’t reported for airing misleading advertisements.
Nowadays, school kids go along and enjoy the lights and fanfare, but the games are forgotten at the claxon. The stirring battles Dublin and Kerry in the seventies and eighties, Meath and Dublin in the eighties and nineties and Tyrone and Armagh in the mid noughties are the very heart of sport, not something to be frowned upon by armchair generals.
Derry and Tyrone used to despise each other. We played in cauldrons of emotion. A friend of mine from Dungannon told me that before the ball was thrown in on our first round battle in 1992 at Celtic Park, a Tyrone supporter in front of him got so carried away that he got down on all fours and started doing press-ups. That spice is gone since we became their doormats. We can only hope that Gerard O’Kane’s pre-match stare down of Sean Cavanagh last Saturday night will start the process of restoring the old balance.
Sometimes we must turn to Eric Cantona for clarity. He did an interview with Football Focus on Saturday past where he described his satisfaction at his famous karate attack on that “hooligan.”
“It’s a dream for people to kick these kinds of people. So I did it for them. So they are happy. It’s a kind of freedom for them. It’s a great feeling but difficult.”
Eric is right. Publicly, there was self righteous condemnation. Privately, we raised a glass to him and toasted the size of his cojones.
In the film “Looking for Eric” he said: “Each time I played I wanted to give the people a gift. Sometimes it didn’t work. Without risk there is nothing, only dullness.”
The most exciting sport is tribal and honest. Ally McCoist makes no bones about his position. True Rangers men love nothing better than to drink pints and sing “The Billy Boys,” where the heroes are “up to our necks in Fenian blood.”
Ally McCoist despises Celtic and its traditions. Likewise, Neil Lennon embodies Celtic’s bloodline and has fought for it on and off the field. It is why both men are adored by their respective supporters. They represent their tribes. Mutual respect is not feigned. They call a spade a spade.
It is why people fear Crossmaglen. They don’t do political correctness. They aren’t nice. When you take the field against them, you are not their friend. You are their enemy and they will do what it takes to dismantle you. It is why in a few days time they will win a fifth All-Ireland.
Pure, unadulterated honesty. Why should we be so afraid of it?