I have to admit that I’m torn by this EURO 2012 lark. It’s all very exciting and having twelve consecutive days of tournament football on the television box is almost as exciting as Christmas. But...
I can’t help feeling that our beloved league has been shoved unceremoniously into the corner while this ludicrously glamorous rival steals that which should, by all the laws of natural justice, be ours to enjoy too. I’m reminded of the feeling of rejection when, as a young child, my tuneless but enthusiastic rendering of My Old Man’s a Dustman was practically ignored at a Christmas family sing song. Meanwhile, my perfect cousins’ admittedly magnificent rendering of Danny Boy was greeted with such wanton adoration that, to this day, the noble call prompts a swift call to a support group.
I feel a bit mean saying this, because the Euros is a magnificent thing and Ireland’s achievement in getting there is something to be celebrated, but the football hysteria that is sweeping the nation smells a bit off to me.
We all know the deal, and the arguments have been made many times before, but here it is centre stage and with an enormous spotlight picking it out from the surrounding detail. The Irish football public have been mobilised, every man woman and child, and yet the national league limps on in the shadows, ignored by all but the loyal few. The League of Ireland is football too, isn’t it?
It’s sobering to think that the money being spent by Irish football fans on the championships in Poland and Ukraine would probably pay for significant ground improvements at all twenty of our league clubs. Flights, hotels, replica shirts, beer, car flags, scarves, car rental, van rental, camper van rental, petrol, not to mention time taken off work and Solpadeine. Put all that in a kitty and, well, remember the family sing song I mentioned earlier? The combined total of dosh could get the kid in the shadows some serious singing lessons.
As things stand, the clubs in the Airtricity League have entered a three week period of zero income. In one case, that of Athlone Town, they are enduring a six week stretch in which they have precisely no home games with which to feed the meter. Monaghan United and Dundalk are two clubs that have already declared the financial pressures that they are under this season. Three weeks of league darkness certainly won’t help their cause.
For all that, on Sunday night I will be around the corner in Vaughan’s shouting on the Von Trap family along with everybody else. And I guess it’s no time to be a party pooper. I may be one of those League of Ireland loonies but I know how to do the Ireland thing too. A tightly gripped pint and an expression of unrelenting doom is the order of the day. For those unversed in such matters it’s important to remember that there is an etiquette to be observed on occasions such as these.
For a start, cheerfulness is a big no-no. Any expressions of positivity or excitement will be taken as naivety and will mark you out as an amateur. Tension is all you will need in your box of emotional tricks. Much shaking of the head and casual abuse of our central midfield should see you through, along with occasional passionate outbursts such as your basic “Cmoooon Ireland”, or “Fer fucksake Whelan, what are you doing?”, if you want to join the advanced class.
Nor is it permitted to touch on other subjects that may be of interest to you. This is not a time for exploring current affairs or the latest film you may have seen. This may give the false impression that something exists in your life that is more important than Ireland not being beaten. Furthermore, anyone who responds politely to your insensitive tangents runs the risk of being ostracised for collaboration. Dig your own grave if you must but spare a thought for the innocent.
You might also consider bolstering your credentials with war stories from previous tournaments. One of my own includes missing Kevin Sheedy’s goal against England in 1990 because, at the crucial moment, I fell off the bar. Why was I on the bar in the first place? Because it was there!
I also managed to get involved in a shouting match with an elderly Norwegian lady in 1994 and, in the same tournament, I almost missed the Holland game after I had mistakenly put a theatre company’s entire stock of costumes out for the bins. Chasing a bin lorry up the main street of Kilkenny is not what you’re looking for in the way of preparation for such a momentous event. I am also proud to say that I did not watch a single minute of the 2002 Wold Cup after Ireland had been knocked out by Spain. These are not just stories, they are medals of honour. Wear them proudly.
Finally, for those concerned about how to behave in the aftermath of these games, worry not. The tide of fate will direct you. If Ireland lose, the whole event will be swept away like a body in the hands of the mafia. If we draw, the celebrations will be of such a scale that you will be free to behave in any manner you see fit. Just as it is impossible to be the weirdest person in New York, even your wildest excesses will pale into insignificance compared to what some bloke will be doing next to you. And if we win... well, we’re not really used to that, anything could happen, but it might be the ideal time to persuade a loved-up Ireland fan to take a trip to his local League of Ireland ground.
Simon O'Gorman began reporting for Extratime in 2010. He remembers Milltown and Flower Lodge and, back in the mists of time, saw Diego Maradona play at Lansdowne Road. He now lives in Co Kildare and reports on Shamrock Rovers among others. Simon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org