There was a Texas bluesman named Lightnin’ Hopkins who makes my stomach do that rollercoaster ‘drop’ when I hear him play. He’ll walk his fingers over this sleepy chromatic riff, like he’s asking you the time, before scratching a string against the fret board as he bends a note to the heavens, or deepest hell, and I’ll just lay there – gut-hurt and bleeding. Heaven or hell, music has no room for what’s in between. How can it then be anything but beautiful, frightening, and necessary?
The first time I ever heard Hopkins’ music, I was sinking through an ocean of late-evening darkness somewhere in my thin-walled, city centre apartment. The middle-distance shouts, laughs, screams and cries seemed to me to be the final bubbled-breaths of fellow drownees before they were smothered by the hand of Death – playing blues guitar at the end of the world.
“You’re gone and you left me / that’s the reason I’m gon’ cry”
His notes just fell away as he played, taking chunks of me with them. Each hammer-on would chisel through the stone until, by the end of the song, I was remade in the image of his pain, his longing.
“Sometimes I’d sooner be dead / you are the reason why”
That moment affected me. It was such a strange sensation to feel like I’d been taken over by the spirit of somebody I never knew, possessed almost, and his passion existed vicariously through my being. Now, I’m aware that that all sounds like something you might find Flathan trying to compute in his charlatan brain on TV3 at an ungodly hour of the morning – actually…*glances at clock – dials extortionate payphone service number* . To look at it through a more romantic, and clichéd, filter; I connected with the music, maaaan.
There is another medium through which I’ve experienced that feeling though: sport. ‘Beautiful, frightening, and necessary’. That’s what sport is to me. The link, and thus the reason I’m writing/watching TV3 right now, occurred to me last Friday night while I sat in the RSC watching Waterford United desperately attempt to keep their promotion hopes alive as they closed out a 2-1 win over Limerick FC. The entire Waterford team, bar the youthful, counter-attacking talents of Sean Maguire, was scrambling from one side of the field to the other like it was the first round at Wimbledon and Roger Federer was sending backhands screaming to each corner to set up the devastating winner. Limerick were relentless, desperate not to lose for the third consecutive time at the hands (feet) of their Munster rivals, and Waterford were just happy to get a racket to whatever they could and hope it cleared the net before coming, inevitably, back.
I want to point out that I am not a Waterford fan, but their being my hometown club makes them closer to me than any other team and I can’t help but want them to succeed. There’s also the more selfish reason – I am unspeakably sick of covering the First Division. So as I sat in the press box attempting to a) remain impartial and b) think of clever allusions to insert into my updates, I was failing pretty badly on both counts. I was feeling that sensation again. I was experiencing the passion and emotion of others even though they weren’t strictly my own.
When I began writing for Extratime three years ago, I wasn’t a League of Ireland fan in any sense of the word. I knew people who were, and had attended maybe two games in my life (barring glamorous friendlies). I joined up anyway because I had always wanted to be a journalist (I don’t anymore) and I was just beginning to take my first steps into that new and exciting world. I was writing for the sports section of my college paper and the idea of sitting in the press box, like a ‘proper’ journalist, and covering ‘proper’ football seemed terribly appealing. As it turns out, I quickly developed a deep affection for the thrill of match night. Coming through the gate, passing the smiling faces of the unheralded individuals who live behind the curtain; who keep the show alive.
The first glimpse of the bone-white crossbar and the shining hue of the grass mirrored in my own green eyes. Climbing the stone steps to the back of the Old Stand to take my seat became like ascending into the clouds – from where I could sit and watch everything play out before me in the great theatre of reality. But I still wasn’t a ‘fan’ of the team.
I didn’t feel that ‘drop’, it didn’t feel truly necessary. I could still go home after a tough loss, after promotion disappeared once again, after play-off defeat, after a manager who had always been generous and kind to me lost his job, and I didn’t feel overly down. I didn’t worry about next week, next season; I didn’t agonise over missed chances, deflections and mistakes. I wasn’t a fan.
Slowly though, perhaps by osmosis, I have felt that indifference shift and erode. I’ve grown more affected by the bad times (6-0 to Wexford Youths? Christ!) and more buoyed by the good. I’ve started to feel what the people in the stands who’ve devoted years to following their team feel. Their passion has started to seep into me, and take life in this new vessel.
I almost cheered at the full-time whistle. The fans in the Old Stand rushed forward like rain from my privileged cloud to shower their team in deserved praise and genuine affection. The players smiled up and clapped as they forced their weary legs to carry them to the dressing room under this downpour of love. The drum rhythms continued to pound in time with a couple hundred hearts and the triumphant songs which accompanied them were ones of hope. It was hard not to feel what they were feeling. I descended from my cloud grinning and high-fiving to hear the thoughts of the manager who had been taunted and mocked only months before, but had now heard the same stadium of people sing his name as the team which he created won their sixth game in a row. His smile was wider than mine, and again I felt the emotion surge.
When I was finished, and the ground now as quiet as the battlefield where only the dead remain, I had to return to the press box to fetch my laptop. All the lights had been turned off and I once more made my way up those celestial steps, this time shrouded in the blue night. I paused before leaving, and looked out upon the ghosts as they danced their final dance once more. I spent the walk home thinking about promotion.