Loyalty is Not a One-Way Street!

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DURING the week, I tweeted: “To those tweeting ‘Thank you Sir Alex,’ as though you have shared some heroic adventures, it is worth remembering he is a complete stranger.”

My tweet provoked a storm of resentment from a lot of Irish folk. His retirement was one of those dung-spreading events that are becoming more regular in society, where sane people lose perspective, using the language of bereavement and tragedy.

They exaggerate more and more wildly until eventually the dial is flat to the dashboard of the ‘exaggeratometer.’

Everyone was ‘gutted’ or ‘stunned’ or ‘heartbroken’. A man from Bangor was interviewed by Radio 5 live outside Old Trafford on the first day of the wake: “Q. How did you hear about it?

A. “My mum woke me early this morning and said ‘Son, I have bad news’. When she told me, it was actually worse than a death.”

Another man came on to say that he was so gutted, he couldn’t go to work and just wanted to come down and stand outside the ground.

A caller to the programme rang to say that: “Sir Alex even showed respect to

the groundsmen. He would say hello to them and never had a harsh word.”

It was a melodrama, like the death of Lady Di. On and on and on it went, until the tsunami of bullshit swept over everything and everyone.

People left flowers at Old Trafford. Grown men wept.

I can understand enjoying a bit of soccer in moderation. I like ‘Match of the Day.’ I enjoyed Cantona and Bruce and even Gary Neville. I enjoyed the great Man United teams and appreciate that Alex Ferguson (everybody is a ‘Sir’ in Dungiven) is a superb leader of men.

What I cannot understand is the worship. Giving your loyalty to an English soccer club is like endlessly chasing a woman that has no interest in you. Gordon Taylor, the Chief Executive of the PFA, accurately describes professional soccer as “an important part of the entertainment industry.” It is akin to the cinema.

One might, for example, enjoy Tom Cruise movies, but most of us are sane enough to know that it is inappropriate to give him our loyalty and devotion.

There will be the odd young lad or lass who becomes fixated and perhaps starts to stalk him. They might hang around outside his house hoping for a glimpse. They will buy up his posters and his DVDs. They might – in the event that he were to announce his retirement – feel gutted and heartbroken. But they may also end up in the dock in a courtroom. Yet many Irish people behave in exactly this way towards a foreign corporation.

Manchester United is a gigantic PLC. It has 600 million customers worldwide (‘fans’ their PR department calls them), the majority from the Far East. They do not give two f***s about us, other than to work out how to get us to spend money to pay for their badge kissing footballers, their agents, their managers and their owners.

These 600 million customers have made the Glazers billionaires and Colleen Rooney a household name. It is a one way street.

Meanwhile, last week, I dropped in to see Anthony Tohill. The rolling 24 hour coverage of the Ferguson wake was going flat out on the TV in his kitchen. “Thank God Fergie rejected me” he said.

“I’d be running about now with dyed hair and an armful of tattoos.” Instead, big Anthony is living in a most beautiful spot outside Swatragh beside his parents and his brother. As he explained to me himself, since his accident he has seen the value of the GAA.

His fellow under-14 coaches already have him back out with the kids, helping him to break the ice and coaxing him back into the swing of things. Next week, he will be at the launch of the new Derry ‘optforlife’ jerseys for the Ulster Championship, handing over the famous No.8 to Derry Chairman, John Keenan.

One of the greatest footballers to have played the game is now immersed in his local community.

On Monday night, I was in Bellaghy for Catherine Quinn’s Commemorative Mass. Father Andy Dolan, who pronounces one word in every five, said a beautiful Mass (I think) in her honour.

The Chapel was packed with Gaels. From Ballinascreen and Dungiven and Bellaghy and Glen. I could go on.

Afterwards, we had tea in Quinns, where the talk was all of the Bellaghy Under-14’s. Danny’s son, Conor, plays midfield for them and as soon as we got home from the Mass he tore off the shirt and tie and had the No. 9 shirt on, kicking about in the back yard.

They are the Feile champions, after an epic victory over ‘Screen in the final a fortnight ago. Under the watchful eye of Danny and Damian Cassidy (both senior All-Ireland winners) they are now targeting an All-Ireland.

The house, like the Chapel, was packed. I left with a smile on my face, even if the heart was a little heavy.

At training the other day, my Under-12’s finished with a do or die practise match. When I shouted “Next score the winner,” they went at it like dogs. Fifteen minutes it took before the winner arrived, by which time the parents were cheering every kick and every block.

On Saturday morning, LIFECYCLE will take off from Harlequins (St Brigid’s share it with the rugby club) at 9.00 a.m. The First Minister will be in lycra, leading off the peloton with the GB and N. Ireland World Transplant Games Cycle Team and a host of sports stars. 500 cyclists will take part. But none of this would be possible without the voluntary effort of our club members. One hundred of them will steward the route and the car park. More will make the tea and coffee and food for the guests. Yet more will play the music. Nothing will be too much trouble. No one will ask for a brass cent.

The great Arsenal and England centre-back, Sol Campbell, said on ‘Panorama’ this week that young people should not treat professional soccer players as role models.

“I am very uneasy about that. It is not a good thing. Look up to someone in your local community instead.”

He is right. But he has no need to worry about us.

We already do . . . .