Another fortnight, another editorial. I’ve decided to hold back on the shameless flattery I offered last week in the hope that we’re now close enough that you chose to read this regardless of whether it offered your crumbling self-esteem a welcome boost or not. For the handful of you (I’m being hopelessly optimistic here) that have continued reading, I shall do my best to reward your trust and patience.
This week has been interesting; when I wasn’t giggling childishly at the clever headline I thought of for Sean O’ Se’s magnificent article about Irish GAA stars heading to Australia (Going Down (Under) to Get Ahead), I was being shouted at by drunken strangers. While walking back to a house late one night by the gates of the college, I was spotted by some inebriated young scholars who took exception to my eyebrow-length and generally awesome hair and decided I was clearly a raving homosexual who thought Gaelic football was a kinky sex act involving tongues, testicles and a foot fetish with my ‘life-partner’. They commented on said stylish locks and questioned whether I’d ever seen a hurley or football in my life, never mind actually played a sport. It briefly crossed my mind that it could be fun to go back and shatter their misconception by explaining my sporting obsession as well as my various work as a sports reporter for this and other publications, but I settled on just telling them to f**k themselves.
This encounter did make me think however. Sport has evolved to an almost unrecognisable level over the years due to increased media coverage, money and celebrity-status athletes amongst many, many other factors. But there are still a few traditions which are central to people’s perception of sport in general. The idea of tough, uncompromising men playing hard but fair, with no quarter being asked or given for the duration of a match, and then shaking hands with the opposition afterwards – it’s many people’s enduring perception of what it means to play any sport. Competition, testing yourself against your fellow man/woman, striving to achieve your physical maximum. Soccer is the sport which has most deviated from this traditional premise in modern times. The sport still retains that sense of pride, mutual respect and fair competition but it only takes one glance at Match of the Day or any professional match across Europe to see how much it has changed through the years.
There are still plenty of tough, unrefined, short back and sides type players around but almost every team has at least one player who takes to the field sporting a dainty hair-band or similar accessory. The modern footballer will often line up wearing gloves, neck-warmers, tape, wrist-bands and even leggings. It’s mostly a sign of the evolution of culture, convention and fashion but it’s interesting to observe the impact it has on the traditional, manly-man’s world of football. The type of player I have mentioned is usually a winger/striker or an attacking player of some diversity. These are the most glamorous positions on the pitch and the ones charged with putting the ‘beautiful’ into ‘the beautiful game’. It’s easy to see why these positions attract these kinds of players. Aside from the natural negativity that comes from the perceived feminine and ‘weak’ influence these athletes bring into this alpha-male world, there are also negative connotations that stem from the phenomenon of ‘diving’ which is corrupting the sport. These forward players are the ones who will often be found rolling around in apparent ‘agony’ on the floor or waving imaginary cards at the referee – in other words, they are seeking to cheat and bring unfairness which will destroy the noble idea behind competitive sport: respect and fair competition.
I have a friend who, among her various dispositions, loves delving into amateur psychology when she hears about my problems – apparently it’s rubbing off. That’s enough of my attempts at observing the human condition, I hope you found it at least mildly interesting (there’s that hopeless optimism back!).