This article was first published in the Cork Evening Echo in 2006
I hate sports. There’s no more succinct way of putting it. Whenever sports comes on the television I change the channel. I dump the sports supplements of newspapers straight in the bin. Sometimes I feel guilty for the waste of paper, the sacrifice some tree has made and I try to pass it on to somebody else. Last Sunday I noticed two squad cars parked outside the newsagent, I started to dump the supplements I never read: the driving section, the travel pages, the property supplement and the appointments advert section. I pause before dumping the sports section. I tap on the squad car’s window and ask the vigilant Garda Siocana inside if he would like it as I never read it. He politely refuses. I wonder has he turned it down because 1) he prefers to read the sports supplement from a different paper 2) he doesn’t want to fraternize with civilians 3) he thinks I’m trying to chat him up and doesn’t want to encourage me 4) he is just like me and hates sport. Somehow I think the last option is the least likely.
I know I am not alone in being a straight man who hates sport but I also know I’m in a definite miniscule minority.
Everywhere I go I’m interrogated with: Whatchya think o’ the match bouyyy? There was a match? I reply. My only inkling that Scotland were playing Ireland recently was when there was a news story dealing with the chagrin of Scottish fans having to drink in a smoke-free pub. But exactly what were they fans of? Soccer? Hockey? Tiddley winks? I had no idea. Many people are astonished at my level of ignorance but it’s amazing how much of this kind of thing can pass you by when you don’t read the back pages of the newspaper and switch TV channels as soon as Tony O’Donoghue comes on the telly. Not that I have anything against Tony O’Donoghue. I went to school with the guy and know he can be really interesting when he isn’t talking about games which involve balls or fields of crew-cut grass painted with white lines.
About twelve years ago I met Roy Keane and I had no idea who he was. I was working in a bookshop at the time. Late one weekday evening when there weren’t too many customers I was approached at the desk by this really fit-looking young man with a marvelous Cork accent. He radiated a peculiar vibe. Academically, it’s interesting how I understood exactly what that vibe meant because I had never really come across it before. The vibe meant: I don’t know who you are but you obviously know who I am. Now I have to make it clear there was nothing arrogant or caca-headed about this vibe. The young man couldn’t have been more pleasant, well-mannered or respectful. Any parent would be proud of the demeanour of this young man, but there was the unmistakable presumption on his part that I knew who he was. Of course I hadn’t a clue. I thought to myself, well, if he’s that famous and I haven’t a clue who he is, he must be a sportsman. At that stage I had no idea that any Cork man played for a major English soccer team so I presumed he must have been a member of the Cork Hurling or Football team. I’ve since learned who he was of course. Roy Keane is now iconic, literally ( a photograph of him hangs in the Crawford Municipal Gallery, the same photo will feature on the cover of an Irish poetry journal in June) and he appears on all sorts of non-sports news stories. Plus I have to admit, in spite of everything, some atavistic tribalist compulsion made sure I took an interest in Ireland’s participation in the last two world cups – all without reading the back pages of newspapers mind.
Generally I get very peeved when sports stories start appearing on the front pages of newspapers – don’t the feckers have enough space at the back I reason.
Occasionally sport impinges in a pleasurable way on my life. Theo Dorgan, the Cork poet, has written a very good poem about some hurler who, funnily enough has the same name as the bridge next to the Opera House. In the poem he discusses the legendary skill of this apparently famous hurler. What’s most impressive to me of course is the poetic skill with which Dorgan describes the hurler.
Another pleasurable sporting experience was when I walked into a pub in Barrack Street and noticed all the male customers staring at the television set like zombies. I looked to see what was so hypnotic and got hooked myself. It was the middle of Wimbledon and there was this very nice looking young woman making all sorts of interesting movements across the screen. Soon a pair of names flashed up. One I’ve forgotten forever, the other etched itself onto my brain: Anna Kournikova. I don’t think there were too many tennis fans in the pub that day. I’ve since learnt Anna Kournikova isn’t actually a good tennis player, however I didn’t learn it from Tony O’Donoghue or the back pages of a newspaper.