The images of English cities in flames last week demonstrated that David Cameron’s “Big Society” was never more than a soundbite.
It is no longer possible to create, from scratch, a country where people share a decent, common purpose and a strong community spirit because in Britain, like most of the civilised world, the culture is capitalistic and therefore promotes individualism. Citizens don’t know their neighbours. They are suspicious of the outside world. There is no real togetherness.
Soccer used to create community bonds. When Glasgow Celtic won the European Cup in 1967, the entire squad was born within 30 miles of the city. This typified the game in those days, before money turned it into a grubby business, took it away from the communities and made it a commodity like any other. Manchester Utd are the most obvious symbol of what has gone wrong. In the last 20 years, their ticket prices have increased by 700%. In 1990, the cheapest ticket was £4. Now, it is £45. Had prices kept pace with inflation, it would have been £8. As a result, Old Trafford is now, as Roy Keane acidly observed, a place populated by the ‘prawn sandwich brigade’. The American billionaire owners of the brand are currently examining the possibility of raising £1billion by flogging a portion of the club on the Singapore Stock Exchange. The Financial Times noted this week that ‘listing on one of the two major eastern stock exchanges makes perfect sense for an international consumer brand of Manchester Utd’s stature.’
The most pathetic statistic to emerge from all of this is that the club, according to their own press office, now has an estimated 190 million supporters in the Far East. In nations like China and Singapore, where they have been gripped by the most fervent sort of capitalism, there is nothing else to support, save for what is peddled to them by the market. The fact that the owners of the Apple i-Phone factory in Asia have recently had to put up suicide nets around the complex to prevent depressed workers throwing themselves out of the upstairs windows (a move prompted by ten people dying in a single month) tells you all you need to know.
What do these 190 million supporters get in return? They get to buy very expensive club merchandise. Shrewd businessmen the Glazers!
The contrast with our own community could not be greater. Last Saturday, I was in Bellaghy for the Catherine Quinn day. There were 4,000 or 5,000 people there to celebrate her life and show solidarity with the Bellaghy Quinns and the Ballinascreen Murrays. Jarlath Burns brought the Sam Maguire from Dublin and drove it back down the next morning to Croke Park. My old friend Tony Davis, a rebel without a cause since the Mayo game, cut short his holidays to go to UCC and arrange for the Sigerson Cup to be brought up. The legendary Brian Mullins managed the Derry ‘93 team with Adrian McGuckin. Kieran McGeeney turned out for the ‘Ranch’. Twice as I went past him during the game, leaving him for dead, he hit me with his right arm. I thought I had run into scaffolding. Peter Canavan played. A few weeks ago, the TV3 lads were sitting outside their temporary studio at Croke Park. Myself and Colm were sitting outside the neighbouring RTE studio. “Your last big day out lads?” I quipped, which didn’t go down that well. “Where is the greatest footballer of all time today ?” asked Colm, at which point Peter peaked his head out the door of the studio and said “Did someone call?” Pat McEneaney, the country’s greatest referee, drove from Dublin to officiate. Catherine’s daughter Amy sang the anthem and her two brothers were the mascots.
A Bellaghy Select played the ‘Screen, Enda Muldoon starring. Then we played the great ‘Ranch’ Sigerson winning team that Danny played on. Thankfully, John Rafferty has mellowed with the years. He used to be a snarling tasmanian devil on the field who invariably marked me when Trinity played the ‘Ranch’. I remember he slipped once during a Ryan Cup game, which was all I needed. I came inside and as the portly Benny Tierney advanced off his line, I lobbed him delicately into the far corner. “B******d” said Benny, as I wheeled away in delight. I was about to blow a kiss or two when John, who was just getting up off the ground, howled in a rage, eyes bulging. I stopped, tiptoed back into position and muttered something about the pitch being in poor condition. On Saturday, we chatted about McGeeney’s physique, which in fairness is magnificent.
At half-time, there was a lively underage game between Bellaghy and Ballinascreen. Afterwards, we all packed into the clubhouse where there was a terrific Irish Dancing display, traditional music and an abundance of fun.
On Sunday I was in Stewartstown for the opening of their magnificent new floodlit pitch. Again, there was a big turn out. Christy Cooney cut the ribbon. After three days of celebrations, the finale was a game between an Ulster Select and the Harps themselves. At 45, Henry Downey gave a masterclass in how to play at No. 6. It was great fun. I made Ryan Mellon look good (Youtube, ‘Ryan Mellon goal for Ulster select’), caused Adrian Cush to tear his hamstring by urging him to make a diagonal run ( Youtube ‘Adrian Cush goal for Ulster select’) and finally lobbed the Harps keeper as a personal favour to the inimitable Fergal Logan (Youtube ‘Joe Brolly goal for Ulster select’). Afterwards, Christy Cooney made his speech to the accompanying sounds of delighted children. The practice pitch behind him hived with youngsters, wearing Tyrone and Harps’ jerseys. Fergal’s wife Eileen told me her sons had been “kicking ball in there for three days.” Then, it was inside for music and dancing and chat.
The church used to be the cement of society here, but that is gone. I was talking to three female colleagues from West Belfast during the week who told me they had seen my father in Lough Derg recently. I was surprised they had done the pilgrimage and asked them why. “E50 for three days Joe? It’s the cheapest crash diet in the country.”
There is only one Big Society.!