Róisín Ingle: I wish I had something like soccer in my life

I’m not sporty, unless you count swingball, in which I won a gold medal 40 years ago

Liverpool striker Mo Salah: A great footballer, but can he wield a big, yellow plastic bat? Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images

Liverpool striker Mo Salah: A great footballer, but can he wield a big, yellow plastic bat? Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images

 

We went to a huge sports-themed restaurant in Orlando, Florida while on our holidays. Our friend loves soccer and my partner loves soccer and the two English teams they support were playing a match against each other.

I didn’t mind. The restaurant was my kind of place. It had a “giant” pretzel on the menu, a pretzel so large it was hung from a specially designed contraption at your table, with condiments including jalapeño queso and Bertman ball park mustard whatever that was. To be fair, they had me at “giant”.

The restaurant was booked for 3pm Orlando time which was 8pm English time. It was booked before we left Ireland because my friend knew the game between Manchester United Football Club and Liverpool Football Club would be shown on every screen in the specially chosen venue.

I was sceptical about this but, sure enough, Liverpool and Manchester appeared playing on every screen in the place. Small screens. Big screens. Nearly 100 high-definition screens. I was amazed. Which is ridiculous given the huge popularity of the Premier League all over the world and the amount of money involved. But then I have a football pitch-sized blind spot when it comes to Premiership carry-on and soccer in general. I just don’t get it.

Nobody has ever bested me at swingball including my children because sadly they don’t seem to have inherited my killer swingball gene

I’m not sporty but that’s not the whole story. Because although I’m not sporty I do appreciate a wide range of sports. I can happily spend hours watching some of them. I’ve always loved watching snooker. The cue ball-placing wizardry of seven-world time champion Ronnie O’Sullivan combined with his anti-authoritarian streak makes for sublime television viewing. I’d watch bowls all day long. I’ve a soft spot for badminton, tennis and table tennis. Anything with a racket, basically.

Bowls on ice

I’ll happily watch people throw javelins into the middle distance or watch runners hoof it around an athletics pitch. At one point during the Winter Olympics I got dangerously obsessed with curling, which I suppose is just bowls on ice, and was highly invested in the proceedings.

I’m not sporty at all in a participatory sense. Well, unless you count swingball which, now you mention it, I do. I won a gold medal in that sport at Irish college nearly 40 years ago. The only gold medal I’ve ever won at anything in any arena. I still feel like an unbeaten champion. Nobody has ever bested me at swingball including my children because sadly they don’t seem to have inherited my killer swingball gene.

Anyway, I don’t believe it’s character-building to let children win things just because they are smaller and weaker.

I think, even at 50 with a dodgy knee and fitness issues, if somebody designated swingball as an Olympic sport, I would breeze through the qualification for Ireland, go to the Olympics and bring back a gold, barely breaking a sweat. I’d be the Kellie Harrington of swingball but with a big yellow plastic bat instead of boxing gloves.

And you can laugh, but I know I have the potential for this achievement in me and that’s all that counts.

Raw celery

So, you see, I get sport on some level, but this obsession with soccer exhibited by certain people in my life is not something I will ever understand. I put them in the same box as other groups of people I can’t figure out: people who keep rats as pets or people who enjoy eating raw celery.

I don’t judge the soccer people. I actually feel not appreciating the source of their passion is a failing in me, like the way I try and fail to get into Joanna Newsom’s music. And while I find football boring as a spectator sport, I understand it’s riveting for some.

To distil my soccer-related apathy even further, my lack of appreciation mostly surrounds the cult-like devotion of following a team from childhood. To the point where their success or failure affects your mood and your being. This is what I cannot and will never understand.

For example, I have two ardent, from childhood, Liverpool Football Club fans in my life. They are happier, better adjusted people these days because their team happens to be doing well. (This success, to my untrained eye, is because their team is managed by a man called Jürgen Klopp, who is somebody I can actually get passionate about, but that’s another story.)

I asked one of them to explain the history and the current state of affairs regarding Liverpool Football Club. He said: “We grew up supporting a team that won everything. We thought it would go on forever. And then overnight they were terrible, we spent over 30 years mostly in the wilderness. And Manchester United – our hated rivals – were suddenly great. That went on for nearly 20 years. United fans thought it would last forever. Now they’re terrible and we’re great again.

‘Cynical adult’

“These things shape your personality. I went from being a very optimistic kid to a very cynical adult because of what happened at Liverpool Football Club. All the bad players they bought, you just shrugged and said, ‘Yeah, that’s because the world is s**t.’ But now, because they are doing well, I’m an optimistic middle-aged man.”

I’ve discovered during research for this column that Liverpool Football Club are playing in something called the FA Cup final this weekend

His entire emotional landscape transformed and recast, all because of the current good fortunes of Liverpool Football Club – who, incidentally, trounced Manchester United four-nil as we watched them on nearly 100 high-definition screens in Orlando, Florida.

Nearby, a family of mum, dad and two children – clearly Liverpool supporters – were loudly supportive of their team but in a way that was sneery and mean against United. It’s partly this tribal aspect that puts me off. Or maybe I’m jealous. Maybe I wish I had something like that in my life. Something that drives you to heights of happiness and then drops you to sudden, unexpected depths, like Splash Mountain in Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

Anyway, if it’s helpful, I’ve discovered during research for this column that Liverpool Football Club are playing in something called the FA Cup final this weekend and also that they’ll be in Paris at the end of the month in something else called the Champions League final. Good luck to all involved.

I’ll be sitting on the sidelines trying to solve the puzzle of the people in my life who know the agony of that particular ecstasy, dreaming of giant pretzels and Olympic swingball gold.

roisin@irishtimes.com