Silvio Berlusconi, the buffoon with the bouffant, may be a figure of fun around the world but not in his own country. Last weekend, he chose Holocaust Memorial Day to heap praise on Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, bringing howls of outrage from all quarters. Mussolini he said, was much misunderstood. Two days later, AC Milan’s owner (pictured right) stunned the football world by buying Mario Balotelli, the world’s most famous black footballer. Racist? Who said I was racist?
What appears to the outside world as a dubious PR effort to stave off damaging criticism in the mouth of the General Election, has been a triumphant success in Italy, where an official SWG Poll has reported a huge surge in Silvio’s support narrowing the gap with the Centre Left Party to five points. When Mario was taken for a celebratory lunch in Milan city centre on Wednesday, a huge crowd gathered outside the restaurant under the watchful eye of the riot squad. The old boy knows his people, shamelessly using his football club to buy the affection of the masses. He is the man after all who once taunted a political rival at the hustings by saying, “Come back and challenge me when you have won two Champions League trophies.”
The Balotelli episode underlines once again the basic unhealthiness of professional sport and the ethics that pervade it. Just three weeks ago, on the 8th of January, Berlusconi had been asked by the Gazetto della Sport whether he might be interested in signing the Manchester city exile. His answer?
“The name Balotelli has never entered my mind. He is a rotten apple and will infect every club he goes to.”
Three weeks later, he boasted to the press, “I have signed Balotelli not to make a political statement but because he scored two goals against the Germans and made them cry, unlike our prime minister Mario Monte who is making the Italian people cry.”
This sordid business was conducted to the backdrop of the January transfer window, or as Harry Redknapp described it ‘gang warfare’. “It’s like gang warfare out there. It’s scary”. West Ham owner David Sullivan revealed on the same day that, “An agent actually threatened me and one of my players with physical violence, because he thought he was being cut out of a deal.” The following day, Hull City manager Steve Bruce revealed that QPR’s DJ Campbell & his agent asked for a break from transfer negotiations with Hull, saying they were hungry and wanted to grab some lunch. When they didn’t return after an hour, the Hull representatives began calling their mobiles and getting only answer machines. Turns out the two lads had driven up the motorway to Blackburn Rovers to do a deal there! Berlusconi himself would have been jealous.
Glenelly GFC had a buffoon with a bouffant at their Boxing extravaganza on Friday night, but there, the similarities ended. As with all of these events, the whole community was there, putting their hands in their pockets for the good of everyone and having a terrific night into the bargain. Pretty savage folk round Glenelly.
“The aim is to go out and enjoy yourselves tonight,” the boxers were told beforehand, “We don’t want anyone injured. So if anyone is hurt, step back and let them recover. This is only a bit of fun.”
This sounded good in the dressing rooms, but quickly evaporated at the first bell when even the women embarked on all out warfare. The referee did his best but reminded me of a man I saw once outside a nightclub in Derry trying to keep his girlfriend out of a cat fight. She told him to mind his own f***ing business, slapped him in the face and within a few seconds was rolling on the ground with her rival. The ref on Friday night didn’t have to take one for the team but that was because he adopted a non-interventionist approach. At one stage, after one girl’s head was beginning to look like Woody Woodpecker’s, the bell-ringer sounded his bell 30 seconds early to save her from further pain. In the end, it was a night of great fun and no one came to any great harm. Afterwards, they were all the best of friends. It is called the GAA. The only downside of the evening was the buffoon in the bouffant. Just before the first bell, a flabby, ginger haired man wearing only a pair of purply coloured Y-fronts climbed into the ring, smiling.
“He must be from Donegal,” I thought to myself. This proved to be the case. His name is Bernard McHugh and as he walked confidently around the ring and through the crowd glowing with pleasure, I could only surmise that he must see himself as a six-packed Tom Cruise. He will have to be kept away from mirrors at all costs. If he ever actually sees himself it could be disastrous.
The following night, there were 400 people at the St. Brigid’s dinner dance and again the same scene was played out. A great night’s fun where everyone could take pleasure in being part of the community effort. Shane Finnegan and his wife Catherine were there and for once, Shane decided to allow himself the forbidden pleasure of a few drinks. Carried away, he ended up drinking far too much. At the end of the night, the two of us were sitting amidst the wreckage, as men with no ties and shirts unbuttoned staggered off home with drunken wives. He swallowed the last of his vodka and cranberry, turned to me and muttered, “I’ll be on that f***ing dialysis machine all day tomorrow.” With that, we both burst out laughing. The GAA. Where would we be without it....