Montreal Ireland Supporters Club

January 26th, 2013

The Montreal branch of officially sanctioned Football Association of Ireland (FAI) Supporters Clubs is in the process of being established, and we could use your support. Once established, the club will join a Canada-wide umbrella group along with clubs from other cities. Official status would allow us to:

  • Coordinate and organise where to watch matches as a group.
  • Increase bargaining power when trying to get matches shown in pubs and sports bars.
  • Have an open directory of members across the country, so that when you are away on business or holiday you can still watch matches with other fans or just meet a friendly face for a drink.
  • Receive special treatment from the FAI if and when a party from the group of clubs travels to Dublin for a match, including reserved match tickets and access to the players’ lounge, among other benefits.
  • Further develop the network of Irish Societies in the great city of Montreal.
  • Communicate with other Supporters Clubs across the globe regarding best practice.

Please contact me on hugo@hugoodoherty.com if you’re interested in becoming a member!

GrannyKiller

January 30th, 2012

I have become involved with a new project with three journalists with whom I worked with on Scope magazine called GrannyKiller. It will be an online magazine of sorts, with interactive feature articles, live blogs and the like. We’re temporarily hosting some stuff on a tumblr site. I have one piece up there about Occupy Congress, but expect some more developments soon. Peace!


Day Trapper: Come on you Boys in Green

November 8th, 2011

It looks like Silvio Berlusconi is in a spot of bother, and this time the Teflon Prime Minister might not make it through. I’m scared. Why am I scared? Well, you should be too. Them Eyetalians will probably want another cheeky septuagenarian from the homeland to take the keys to the Palazzo Chigi , one with a nice smile and public recognition. If Silvio is forced to resign, it’s likely that we’ll lose Trap as his replacement. He’s that good.

Before that happens, however, Trap needs to guide us through some choppy Baltic waters. The lads are meeting in Dublin town this week ahead of the journey to Tallinn. We heard a rumour that Robbie Keane arrived all the way from California this morning, cart wheeled into the dressing room and stood defiantly with his arms out for all to marvel at. What did he point at? Apart from himself, I mean. He pointed at Duffer, but Duffer was asleep in the corner under a pile of coats. Séamus Coleman got so scared that he ran all the way home to Donegal to cry to his Mammy.

Trap then asked Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews to put out the cones for training, but they never looked for the cones and when one of them found them by accident they left the chore to each other. Trap found this so endearing that he made them both captains for the 7-a-side at the end of the session. He also gave them a lollipop and an ice cream sandwich each. At this point Andy Reid was spotted behind a fence a hundred yards away, crying into a bowl of Shreddies while glugging back a litre of Sunny Delight.

Poor Kevin Kilbane was also spotted behind the same fence, dressed as Brian Boru while singing the national anthem through a loudspeaker. Poor fella had his heart broken.

The lads then played a game of crossbar challenge. Stephen Ward didn’t understand the basic rules and instead dribbled the ball all the way to the corner whereupon he ran it out of play. Darron Gibson said that he was too good for crossbar challenge and promptly went off to text Alex Ferguson. Kevin Doyle ran to the ball, turned his back to the goal and asked a non-existent referee for a free kick on the halfway line. James McCarthy was called to take his shot, but Trap looked around and noticed that he’d left the field without telling anyone. Throughout all this, Stephen Hunt was bouncing up and down screeching “is it my turn yet?!” A member of the Garda Siochána was eventually called to threaten him with a Taser or incarceration into a mental institution. Paul McShane missed the ball altogether and fell on his back (Trap said this showed his “good mentality”). The only one to hit the crossbar was Marco Tardelli, who celebrated by crying uncontrollably while running with his arms waving all the way to O’Connell Bridge.

This was just a normal training session for Trap and the lads. When he becomes Il Primo in Rome, hanging out with Ratzinger and Francesco Totti, Trap will look back at those days in Malahide and surely smile. Surely.

Premier League Preview, 2011-12

August 9th, 2011

It’s summer, and the only football on is either the quasi-pornographic American version – “D-Beck and Thierry On-ree (emphasis on the first vowel for the yanks) are linking up on a play for the All-stars,” etc. etc. – or one can follow the League of Ireland’s finest as they struggle to overcome Lokomotiv Plovdiv or Vorskla Poltava in a qualifier for a qualifier for the right to qualify for the Europa League.

Of course, this is not entirely accurate. One can follow their chosen team’s pre-season tour of Northern Norway as the “gaffer” (horrible word) tries out the latest trialists from Burkina Faso and Venezuela. They could be the missing pieces of the puzzle; you just might have to take out a scissors and cut off a corner of the piece prior to forcing it into place before the puzzle is complete. For those less inclined to taking much notice of such encounters, they can simply press the ‘refresh’ button on their chosen football news website or watch Sky Sports News all day as they show yet another exclusive interview with Steve Bruce and gather the collective thoughts of Tony Cascarino, Tony Gale and Gerry Francis. In order to get work as a pundit on SSN and sound authentic, it seems that one must speak with a working class London accent. Being called Tony also helps.

2011 is also one of those hibernation years in which there is no World Cup or European Championship. If you want to stay up until 5am, you can watch the feast for the eyes that is the Copa America, but that is only for the hardcore – those for whom football takes on a drug-like quality.

But fear not! A gigantic truckload of such drugs is on its way. This weekend there will be ten Premier League matches. There are perhaps four teams with a chance of winning the league, six that can harbour hopes of qualifying for the Champions League, and a good eight or nine that could be relegated. In fact, the only team that has no chance of being threatened by relegation or stretching towards the upper echelons of the league is Everton. Everton will finish seventh. I have never been surer of anything in football than this prediction that out of twenty possibilities, Everton will finish in exactly seventh place after 38 games.

Manchester United will probably win this season’s title. They have the deepest squad, some clever new signings and the best manager – one that has been sitting in that chair chewing gum with an ugly red face for as long as I have been alive (save six months). They are also frustratingly good at winning. This has been a difficult paragraph for me to write.

Two of their realistic rivals for the title continue to deal with transfer sagas (roll up, roll up Messrs Tevez and Fabregas) while the other has not significantly strengthened in the last few weeks. Indeed, Chelsea’s most astute signing might be new manager André Villas-Boas, who, on failing to win the title, will inevitably be sacked in favour of Avram Grant. Again. Michael Essien will get injured and Fernando Torres will fail to turn up for important matches a week after grabbing a brace in a 4-0 victory at home to Norwich.

If Manchester Citeh can make Super Mario Balotelli concentrate for ten minutes they would have a serious player on their hands. As it is, the young Italian (though ethnically Ghanaian) seems to be living life as the ultimate wind-up merchant, and hats off to him for that. A lot will also depend on how the Tevez situation unfolds.

Citeh are still stronger than Arsenal though, who have only signed Ivorian forward Gervinho and have bafflingly failed to get hold of a non-joke goalkeeper, even as Shay Given was available once again. Robin van Persie will get a series of niggly injuries and Theo Walcott will skin defenders before crossing the ball too short, too deep, or straight into the watching crowds as they curse his name. Meanwhile, Tomas Rosicky and Andrei Arshavin will sometimes masquerade as the footballers they once were, but more often than not they will live to frustrate.

And then there is Liverpool, who have now made August groundhog month for a full twenty years. “It might be our year!” Forget it lads. Over the past couple of years Liverpool have traded Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres for Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll, so just forget it lads.

At the other end, all three promoted clubs will struggle to compete. Going solely on the strength and discipline of their managers, Norwich probably have the best chance of surviving due to Paul Lambert’s presence. Neil Warnock is… I still don’t know what to make of his buffoonish self, and Brendan Rogers will be totally out of his depth. At least two of the three will go down, but I fancy Norwich to finish ahead of Wigan, who will miss Charles N’Zogbia like a fat kid misses cake.

One team that will definitely be down there is Newcastle, whose best midfielder has developed a serious dose of the crazies in tandem with an addiction to twitter trolling. Combine that with a forward line consisting of the “do I belong here? how did I get this job?” trio of Shola Ameobi, Nile Ranger and Leon Best, the invisible Xisco and Mr. “I haven’t scored since 2007” (actually true) Alan Smith. A lot will depend on whether Demba Ba can continue the form he showed at the end of last season with West Ham and if Hatem Ben Arfa is fully fit after missing last season with a broken leg. Newcastle also have three equally average goalkeepers and a multiple choice of dodgy defenders. They should expect a long season.

And there you have it; I have gazed into my crystal (foot)ball and successfully predicted what will happen. Either Steve Kean or Neil Warnock will be the first manager to be sacked and for a young, relatively unknown player to become more of a household name, keep an eye out for David Hoilett of Blackburn. This is how the table will look come May 2012:

Manchester United

Chelsea

Manchester City

Arsenal

Tottenham

Liverpool

Everton

Aston Villa

Sunderland

Fulham

Stoke

West Brom

Bolton

Blackburn

Wolves

Newcastle

Norwich

Wigan

QPR

Swansea

The Women’s World Cup is Wonderful

July 15th, 2011

Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes and she’s gone.

In one of my favourite Simpsons scenes, Lisa is having her future told by a Native American. Her future husband, an over-the-top Hugh Grant-coiffured opulent Englishman, says in reference to Lisa’s position within the Simpson family, “you’re like a flower that grew out of a pot of dirt.” Lisa is the flower, her family the pot of dirt.

This Sunday will see the United States play Japan in the final of the World Cup of Association Football. Sorry, I should write the women’s World Cup, but that prefix is becoming more and more of an afterthought. High crowds – more than 73,000 at the opening game and an average of more than 25,000 for the tournament – have watched good quality football, played with skill and a degree of endeavour and honesty that makes a mockery of much of what is going on in the men’s game. The tournament has shown us again that football, at its most basic level, is a means to distinguish extraordinary human beings from ordinary ones, and this three-week contest has contained both. It reminds us that even among the fickleness and corruption of FIFA in the twenty-first century, football still retains the ability to release from us our most extreme emotions. Yes, this current World Cup is like a flower that grew out of a pot of dirt.

Canada lost all three games in the group stage of the tournament, yet one Canadian, captain Christine Sinclair, was still justifiably lauded for one simple act – she broke her nose in the opening 2-1 loss to Germany, but continued to play and scored a superb 25-yard free kick while experiencing immense pain. There are very few players, male or female, who would willingly carry on playing in such circumstances.

Sinclair is one player who managed to succeed immediately after suffering an injury, but an arguably bigger story is that of Japan, a team hoping to bring joy and relief to a nation recently devastated by the double-whammy of an earthquake and tsunami. The Japanese winning goal against Germany and the ensuing ecstasy might do more than any monetary donation or government initiative to help the people of that land recover from desolation.

Media coverage of women’s sport has traditionally focused on femininity, proving time and again that male writers are generally inept at profiling women, particularly successful women. References to how many children they have or lengthy descriptions of their appearance abound, and subjects are described with words that contrast their femaleness with their careers; successful yet female, rather than successful and female. Or just successful. They are portrayed as a curiosity, a tangent to normality, a tributary to the gushing river of “real” news and coverage. There is no reason why we should not notice a subject’s hairstyle, young children or distaste for makeup. The problem starts when we get snaggled on these details, stuck to their femaleness like bubble gum in long hair.

What has been refreshing over the last few weeks is that players and coaches were, to most media outlets, first and foremost just athletes. Japan or the US would both be worthy winners in Frankfurt this Sunday, but – and excuse the litany of clichés that is about to follow – tears of joy and tears of sorrow will be shed, fingernails will be chewed to the quick and heart rates will go up exponentially. There will be winners and losers, but only in one sense. In reality, the real winners are those who took the time to follow the tournament in stadiums, sitting rooms, bars and newspapers or while listening to games on the radio. The tournament has reminded those for whom football is something beyond 22 individuals trying to move a ball into a net that for every Blatter-esque autocrat or ridiculous dive or feigned injury, there are many more moments of honesty and, dare I say it, beauty that are worth celebrating.

FIFA the Banana Republic

June 9th, 2011

What are the main principles of a banana republic? Ownership of a state ought to be one taken as a given, another perhaps being that the state ought to have a currency which is an international laughingstock. These principles would automatically disqualify FIFA, the international governing body of association football . . . or would they? FIFA, of course, is not a state, but rather a part-stakeholder and sometime benefactor of 208 states. That’s more than the United Nations. And currency? Currency itself is the commodity that FIFA trades – the bananas, if you will – previously in an indiscreet way, but now in such a brazenly open fashion that it makes a mockery of those people who ultimately fund the organisation: the fans.

But the chief principle of banana-ism is surely kleptocracy, whereby those in positions of power and influence use their time in office to maximize their own gains, always ensuring that any shortfall is made up by those unfortunates whose daily life involves earning money rather than making it, once again: the fans.

The ‘Republic’ makes sure that the trappings of accountability and democracy are left intact. In FIFA, a President, elected by a Congress, is joined by a General Secretary. This seems accountable, democratic, and almost state-like, but let’s look a little deeper at the structure. The Congress meets in ordinary assembly once a year, though extraordinary sessions may be called by the President, who also chairs what is called the Executive Committee, a sort of Cabinet to the Congress, and that Committee forms the main decision-making body. Thus, the overall structure is very much top-down from the President and not bottom-up from the Congress (let alone the fans or players themselves). The one principle that must not operate is accountability.

A case in point is the reigning President, Sepp Blatter, who was recently elected unopposed for the fourth time since first taking up the role in 1998. It’s the sort of record that Mugabe, Nguema , or Lukashenko might be proud of. In the most recent vote held last week, Mohammed bin Hammam, who played a key role in securing the 2022 World Cup for Qatar, withdrew as a candidate after being accused of bribing 25 FIFA officials to vote for his candidacy. Soon after, FIFA suspended bin Hammam and its own Vice-President Jack Warner from all involvement in the game. Remember: the structure within FIFA means that not a lot can happen within without the President’s blessing. Blatter then had a free ride to victory.

So, did Qatar buy its right to host the 2022 tournament? Is FIFA selling the right to host events as well as positions within its own structure? Secretary General Jerome Valcke issued a statement denying it was bribery that brought about the astounding result, but rather that the country had merely “used its financial muscle to lobby for support.” And so FIFA is now establishing its own lexicon of euphemisms.

Banana Republics do not open themselves up to any sort of external auditing, for the obvious reason that the numbers would not add up and heads would inevitably have to roll. However, and probably in an attempt to maintain or establish a veneer of accountability, they are often wont to some form of voluntary regulation. This is, if not always then more often than not, fundamentally flawed from the beginning because the institution being regulated can opt in or out of supervision. The fact that FIFA has now established such a body diminishes the perceived mandate of the program and weakens its effectiveness.

Heads will not roll, corruption will continue, and something is rotten in the state of association football. A money class creates and then fleeces the system while the very trunk of the game is permitted to rot. Mix that with kleptocracy and the sale of central positions and bang! You’re a banana republic.

Montreal Four Months In; Ireland Four Months Out

May 5th, 2011

This is a list of 10 things I like about Montreal, Quebec and Canada and 10 things I miss about Dublin and Ireland. They are discussed alternately, beginning with something I like about this place. Let’s go…

 

Montreal/Canada: Pubs open ‘til 3am, even on a Sunday

“Have you no homes to go to… Can you finish up there please?” The usual GTFO call of barmen at about midnight where I grew up. When my cousin visited here, she left Toronto at about 6pm on a Sunday and set out on the six-hour drive. We still had time to meet up after midnight and get merry. With nobody forced to concentrate their drinking and socialising into narrower time periods, fewer people throw a load of alcohol into their bodies very quickly.

 

Dublin/Ireland: The Sea

Look, just look! Where I grew up, if I kicked a football from my garden gate it would – after a few hops and a little help from our friend gravity – end up in the salty goodness otherwise known as the sea. Obviously I never did kick a ball into the sea, at least not on purpose. Rivers are a poor substitute, especially when they’re frozen five months of the year. I miss the smell, the sounds and the visual beauty of the sea. And I miss swimming in it. The last time I enjoyed swimming in a river was in Ghana, almost two years ago.

 

Montreal/Canada: Integrated public transport at less than $3 a day

You have a card that cost $6, once off. You pay $72 per month or $22 per week to use four metro lines and all public municipal buses. That’s under $3 per day or around €2, cheaper than a single journey ticket from Dun Laoghaire to Dublin city on the DART. The LUAS lines in Dublin do not even meet up and you can’t buy integrated bus-rail tickets. The Montreal metro comes every five minutes or so except for the wee hours when it’s about every ten minutes. Did I mention it runs into the wee hours?

 

Dublin/Ireland: Living in a place where people like football

At the pub in which I work at weekends, the kitchen staff finish their preparation work at around 10.30am, leaving a good hour for us to sit and watch the football from England on the TV in the bar before opening. They don’t have much of a clue though. Say, for example, it’s Bolton versus West Brom, they might ask: “Is this Champions League?” Or maybe it’s Man Utd against some other lot: “So does Rooney score all the goals for Manchester?” I suppose I’m the same when I watch (Ice) Hockey, but I miss watching football with people who know what is going on.

 

Montreal/Canada: A walk in the country in the city

Montreal, as the name suggests, has a mountain (more like a large hill) smack bang in the middle of the city. My former housemate used to bring her skis on the walk to school in winter, and the walk up the south slope through the snow is a lot of fun. I can’t vouch for summer yet, but it seems like a perfect short hike to walk off a hangover. Few cities have such a wonderful natural amenity in their city centre.

 

Dublin/Ireland: Taking the piss out of each other

If one stereotype is true about Canada, it’s that people are nice. Frustratingly so. Let me make my point by way of anecdote. About two months ago I went to Quebec City with a friend that I had met for the first time three days previously. We had got along well but we both knew that there was a giant elephant in the room – neither of us actually knew each other much at all. When we got out of the car – a rideshare – my new friend went searching for his money in his bag. A slight panic set in when he could not find the $200 he swore he put in there before leaving. It was a large enough bag packed with loads of things and I had seen him put the money in there earlier, so I was sure he would ultimately find it. “Ha! Man, you are useless!” I said. What I was suggesting here by saying this was that I now felt comfortable enough in his presence to be able to take the micky out of him. It was me saying ‘we’re friends now’. Unfortunately, he took it as me being frustrated and nasty, meaning that I had to explain that in Ireland, friends spend their whole lives telling each other they are useless or fuckin’ eejits. Canadians do not do this.

 

Montreal/Canada: Respect for cyclists

450km of cycle paths. A public bike system with over 300 stations. Cyclists generally rule to roost here and, as a reluctant driver and four-time driving test failure, I think this is great. Now that the snow has disappeared I can get out and cycle to work and around the mountain.

 

Dublin/Ireland: Proportional representation

Ireland should not be held up as a beacon of leadership in how to compose a just electoral system, but this first-past-the-post thing over here is slightly ridiculous. Take for example this week’s federal election; a slight national shift to the left has resulted in a more solid right-wing government. How does this happen? The centrist Liberals lost ground to the centre-left NDP as well as some votes moving to the centre-right Tories. With vote splitting occurring between the Liberals and NDP, the Tories won more seats and a majority government without significantly increasing their vote. Counter intuitively, the Tories were delighted with a surge in support for their ideological opposite, and that’s just wrong. In Ireland the makeup of Parliament is proportionally closer to the will of the people.

 

Montreal/Canada: Classified ads

North America has realised before any part of the world that classified ads are now free to post and offer a new way of getting stuff done. If I need a lift (“ride”) to another city, it’s cheaper at short notice to get a rideshare from someone on craigslist than to get a bus from a bus company. And you can also buy THINGS. So far I have bought a lamp, a microwave and a teapot through classified ads, at a much reduced cost.

Dublin/Ireland: Playing football on grass, outdoors

With snow guaranteed to cover the ground for five or six months of the year (I just watched the weather forecast and there were snow warnings. In May.), football is played on synthetic surfaces, usually indoors. There seem to be no grass fields for football anywhere near the city. I suppose that, with land value being higher, having a piece of land redundant for half the year makes no sense. That said, I really do miss playing on soggy grass fields in Ireland. And old habits are dying hard; I’ve got cuts on my legs from slide tackling on synthetic grass. Indeed, going in for a slide tackle – one of my favourite things to do during a game – is seen as a bold move here that instantly gives the tackler a degree of respect among other players. ‘Watch out lads, this fella is prepared to bleed to get the ball back.’

 

Montreal/Canada: Tense political atmosphere being played out without violence

In case you did not know, about 40% of Quebecers want to separate from Canada. This is naturally a sensitive area and, unless invited into a conversation on the subject, I generally avoid the issue while in social settings. Comparisons with Ireland are made, and I have been asked how I can explain the perceived double standard of supporting an independent Ireland as well as Quebec’s continued role within Canada. Whatever the case, I’m just glad – if not a little impressed – that this tension is carried out on a political level through democratic means. The number of dead during “The Troubles” in Ireland is measured in the thousands. The last time that a politically-motivated death was directly due to Quebec’s constitutional status was in October, 1970, when a provincial cabinet minister was kidnapped and murdered by the FLQ. I find it amazing that extreme violence has not resurfaced since then.

 

Dublin/Ireland: Dairy products

The butter here is tasteless and white-ish and the fat content of milk is measured in low percentage points, the highest being 3.25%. I miss fatty churned goodness.

 

Montreal/Canada: Choice of beer in bars

When it comes to booze, the Irish are probably the most unwaveringly loyal and conservative bunch in the world. Walk into a pub and you see Guinness, Smithwick’s, three or four very similar lagers and maybe, if you’re lucky, one other choice. The pub I work in here has something like 22 different beers on draught and the bottles we keep in the fridge are different to those available at the taps, making about 30 in all. This is standard. Most pubs will also stock some local beers as well as imports, and there is a healthy respect for micro-brewing that sadly does not exist back home.

 

Dublin/Ireland: Being able to use Irishisms with impunity

Ireland is more like a big family, more so than its inhabitants realise. Like the best friends or siblings that have in-jokes that nobody else gets (“we see things they’ll never see” /Live Forever – Noel Gallagher), Ireland is full of euphemisms and lines that cheer us all up from time to time. Towards the end of the winter here I trained with a local rugby team, ostensibly to keep fit, but really to try and make some friends. (The latter mission failed and, after going to a wedding in March, any fitness benefit was soon lost.) The men’s team trained after the women and, as is normal with a group of men, conversation came around to which (if any) of the ladies were attractive. “She has a nice ass,” said one of the Canadian lads and, like an unconscious reflex, I said “they all have lovely bottoms”. Perhaps they hadn’t seen Father Ted, and perhaps it’s no surprise I didn’t make great friends there. Another phrase I use more consistently is to ‘give out’ to someone, meaning to reprimand them. Here, among certain people to ‘give out’ means to pleasure someone orally. Oops.

 

Montreal/Canada: Gay marriage

I’m not going to get into my argument for gay marriage here because that’s an essay in itself. Suffice to say I support it, and passionately so. It’s not an issue here, because it exists. When I was born, homosexuality was still a criminal offence in Ireland. Take note, however, that this is not a Canada-wide thing. Same-sex marriage is only legal in Yukon, B.C., Ontario and Quebec. Vive le Quebec.

 

Dublin/Ireland: Spring

It just arrives far too late here. Snow all through March and, as I said above, snow warnings for tonight. At least summer is meant to be longer, warmer and more reliable than Ireland.

Montreal/Canada: Music, shows, gigs

Young people go to gigs here en masse. And not to Justin Bieber or Coldplay, but to small gigs in dingy little places. People take each other’s recommendations and check stuff out. And it’s cheap. A lot of the stuff here at the moment seems to be electro and dubstep, a genre I can’t get into despite my best efforts, but there’s other stuff going on too. And lots of it.

 

Dublin/Ireland: Knowing where to go to get stuff

A haircut, for example. Anyone who has ever hung out with me knows that I like to take care of my hair. It’s my not-so-secret succumbing to vanity. A week before I went to my brother’s wedding in March, I went to get a haircut. Not knowing where to go, I went to a local barber. I asked him to use scissors and he ran a razor over me. I asked him to leave my sideburns and he cut them to the top of my ear. Then he ran a straight line across the back of my neck at the hairline with a raw blade. The cut was all wrong and, when I got home, one of my friends said ‘you need to find yourself a new barber.’ Two things came out of the ordeal: I took to wearing a hat and it was the only time I have not tipped for service since I got here. A few hours before returning to North America, I went to a barber in Limerick and asked for a rescue mission, which was successful (note: Johnny’s in Annacotty). I’m due a haircut very soon and am trying to find a place that won’t fuck it up. (Note #2: the place that DID fuck it up was ‘Athens’ on St Laurent, photo below.)

 

Montreal/Canada: Proper debate over healthcare

We’re too passive back home about the state of our health system. Canadians and Quebecers demand more and, with healthcare ultimately being a political issue, they usually get it. Fair play to them.

 

Dublin/Ireland: Tea, being offered tea, and being served tea in an appropriate fashion

I drink a lot of tea because it’s delicious. When you go into someone’s house in Ireland, you’re offered tea. This is one of our strongest and most brilliant national traits, and long may it continue. When I enter a home here, I might be offered juice or water. I want tea! Restaurants and pubs are worse; they serve you a vessel – sometimes a glass – of non-boiling water with a tea bag on the side. Two things: the water should be boiling and it should hit bag, not the other way around. Otherwise you have to squeeze the bag to within an inch of its life (figure of speech, people) for five minutes in order to get a weak cup of tea. When I was in Quebec City, I asked for tea in a cafe and was served green tea. ‘Do you have any black tea?’ I asked in French. ‘Earl Grey? Breakfast? Anything?’ Nope.

How to get a tan from standing in the English rain

March 4th, 2011

The “brave” Irish were not meant to do this. They were supposed to be “plucky” and “whole-hearted”, but not win. Yesterday the Ireland cricket team beat England at the Cricket World Cup in Bangalore, India. It was the first time that the Irish had beaten the English at this sport and the first time that England beat Ireland at begrudgery.

With most of the game having been played England were in complete and utter control - at one stage bookmakers were giving Ireland a one in 400 shot of winning. That means that if at that that moment you decided to place a $1 stake on Ireland to win, you would have been $400 richer soon after. At around this time, a man called Kevin O’Brien took his position as Ireland’s next batsman. This is what the Daily Telegraph online live commentary said at the time: “The formidable (not really, he’s just a bit porky) Kevin O’Brien is the new man.”

What was being said here is ’ok here’s an overweight Irishman, probably had a few pints last night after a big dinner, let’s just do what we’re doing and before you know it we’ve won.’

There have been some very useful overweight cricketers down the years; off the top of my head I can think of Graham Gooch and Inzamam ul-Haq. Their “porkiness” was seen as advantage. O’Brien’s “porkiness”, on the other hand, is seen as a hindrance. It’s there in black and white: “formidable (not really)”. It is clear that a large section of the English sports media does not treat the Irish as they would the established cricket nations. Never lacking in bravery or pluckiness, whatever that is, but rarely will you hear or read that such and such an Irish player is actually able to compete in terms of technique or intelligence, only endevour. O’Brien won the match by mocking England not with words but with skill, intelligence, effort and, perhaps most importantly, humility. In the post-match interview, former England captain Michael Atherton asked if he would celebrate with “a few pints of Guinness” after “chancing his arm”. Old mentalities die hard. Or not at all.

That same motif carried into the next day on cricinfo.com, the most viewed cricket site on the internet. In an article that referred to the fact that Ireland will most likely not be allowed to compete at the next World Cup in 2015, Brydon Coverdale wrote: “the Irish players could be watching the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand from a pub in Dublin, with pints of Guinness in hand.”

When Russia failed to qualify for the football World Cup, did journalists write ‘well they’ll all be at home necking bottles of vodka’? Or when the US don’t qualify for something, do we read that they’ll find solace in a corner of McDonald’s? Or how about when Iran is not present at some sporting event? Do journalists write that at least they’ll be able to take part in a public stoning? Of course not. But it’s perfectly alright to call the Irish team overweight, unfit and too fond of the drink.

A common accusation from many English media outlets is that, like the football team of the early 1990s, this Irish cricket team is a bunch of has-been and never-will-be mercenaries from the southern hemisphere. Out of the 11 Ireland players yesterday, 10 were Irish-born. Out of the 11 England players, four were born in South Africa and, had Eoin Morgan been fit, 11 Irish players would have played and only six English. It’s Hungary and 1953 all over again. Only the names have changed, the attitude stays the same.