Irish sporting mishaps and a brothel in Riga

As usual, Ireland boycotted the great summer of world sport

‘When Michelle Smith won her second and third gold, I knew this was not how Irish sport operates.’ Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

‘When Michelle Smith won her second and third gold, I knew this was not how Irish sport operates.’ Photograph: Matt Kavanagh


The great summer of world sport is over, and as usual Ireland boycotted it for the reason that we’re not being very good at sport. We were unable to partake in the Commonwealth Games, which was just as well: they were so tedious even Mo Farah decided he was from Somalia again so could not compete.

I’ve never understood why we are so rubbish at sport, since we love it so much. We unleash the occasional star, and yes, Rory has been playing great golf recently, but that’s not a sport. Anyway, he can never decide whether he is Irish or not.

I always like when England are in the World Cup, not so much for the team but just to watch their media’s expectations. Whenever they enter a tournament, the team always leaves to tremendous fanfare, looking pristine with their slicked-back hair and their official suits. They depart at a media-friendly time from Heathrow to much optimism. There are trumpets, banners and bunting. British Airways usually festoon the plane with good-luck messages. Yet they always return in the middle of the night via Luton Airport, looking sheepish as they get off their Easyjet flight, looking sorry for themselves.

There is the usual footage of Stevie Gerrard wheeling his nine cases on a trolley. Nine? How long did you expect to be there for, Stevie? I didn’t have nine cases when I moved house.


Ancient Celtic warrior

The Irish team would have had an open-top bus through Dublin just for qualifying. Of course, Roy Keane would have had a face like thunder as he has clung on to the ancient Celtic warrior spirit of deeming everything a failure unless he is holding aloft the opposition captain’s head.

I quite like our low sporting expectations. I always look forward to our one gold medal at the Olympics. Last time it was for a young woman punching other women really hard about the face. The pride we felt that night as the whole country went around punching each other about the face with sheer joy.

I remember how proud I was when Michelle Smith won her first gold at the Olympics. But when she won her next two, I recall feeling slightly uneasy and a little let down. I knew this was not how Irish sport operates. Every other country in the world would have been jumping for joy at three golds, but the Irish mentality was: hold on a second, there’s something dodgy going on here.


Cherish special moments

When you have lower expectations, everything is a bonus. The Irish fans always get voted the best fans at these tournaments, as we are just happy to be there. Being an underdog helps us cherish those special moments – such as David O’Leary’s penalty – even more.

The Irish football fans just like to have fun when we play away, maybe a bit too much fun, as I found out when I took a taxi to Dublin Airport recently. The driver was your bog-standard borderline racist, but he was mad about the football. His favourite English team is the one with the most Irish players in the squad. He was a 60-year-old Dubliner.

As he was dropping me off, he asked where I was off to next. I told him I was going to explore the cultural delights of Riga for the weekend. I was waiting for him to ask me where Riga was, but I had forgotten Ireland had played Latvia there. He had been at that game. I imagined we would have a chat about the city’s medieval riches and sad history. He was straight in with, “Riga is brilliant”. That was reassuring. Then he added: “They have the most amazing brothels.”

Taking the moral high ground, I asked, “But surely you’re married with kids?” He casually replied, “Oh yeah, but I only do stuff like that when I’m out of the country.”

His parting shot was baffling. “The wife feels the benefits of it when I get home,” he said, laughing his head off as he sped away. Puzzled, I was left wondering whether they have gift shops in brothels.

Michael Harding returns next week

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