An Irishman's Diary


The Roy Keane affair continues to fascinate, and for far vaster reasons than sport. And what probably unnerves most of us is the possibility that there might be a Roy Keane in our own lives - someone we trust implicitly, someone upon whom we depend totally, someone we have turned into an icon of personal responsibility and irreproachable loyalty; and who, when we need them most, will betray us; who, at the crunch, will be loyal to their own needs above our own.

Roy Keane, and those disloyalists who argue unequivocally for him, clearly do not know the meaning of loyalty, any more than a colour-blind person can tell red from green, or the tone-deaf can recognise different notes. It is a genetic deficiency, made all the worse by disloyalists' cunning recognition of how the rest of us prize loyalty above almost any other human qualities, and by their consequent mimicry of most of its traits.

Outward signs

They can pretend loyalty, they can imitate its outward signs very convincingly; but they do not feel it, any more than a psychopath feels real emotions. And just as a psychopath is unable to respond properly to an emotionally tragic occasion for which he has had no preparation, such as the first bereavement of his life, so a disloyalist simply cannot understand that loyalty really reveals itself when self-interest is most threatened.

Loyalty is unconditional. It has no qualifications, other than those which bind us all, and command us to obey a higher morality. Loyalty does not bid us to be faithful to a child-abuser; but it does compel us to be faithful to those who need us and to whom we have sworn fidelity, through thick and thin, and against our own needs. Loyalty that is based on terms and conditions is not loyalty at all, but simply a contract.

Loyalty transforms individual duty into a binding personal obligation. Loyalty is what makes lifeboatmen vanish into raging seas on a storm-tossed night. Loyalty is what impels helicopter pilots to make a comparable journey overhead. Loyalty is what keeps the sentry alert during the coldest watches of a winter's night. Loyalty is what keeps a man at his post while the enemy is penetrating the line to the left and the right of him.

It is pre-eminently a military quality, and it is what makes civilians admire soldiers. They are loyal to their country, to one another, and to the army in which they serve. The test of that loyalty is not during mess-nights, nor on the parade ground, nor in ceremonial; but is when the price to be paid for that loyalty is death.

Metaphor for war

We all know that sport is a metaphor for war. What would we make of an army officer who complained to anyone who would listen about the conditions in the front line, while those under his command were enduring those same conditions with stoic good cheer? What would we make of an officer who said the conditions were so bad that he would not return to them in the future, regardless of what happened to his men? This is what Roy Keane did. This is what his apologists defend. And they don't know what they're doing, because they haven't got the loyalty DNA. They don't know what it is. They think that loyalty only really applies when the going is good, and that when the going gets tough, it's time to look for the escape clauses, pleading mitigating circumstances - that the FAI are a shower of wallies, the other players are cowards, that Mick McCarthy is a clown.

True loyalty knows no mitigating circumstances. But disloyalists do not understand that, and cannot be made to understand it, because it is beyond their power to. Disloyalists are utterly blind to the real meaning of loyalty; yet what makes them so dangerous is that their mimicry of loyalty is usually so convincing that we believe it to be authentic.

Therefore we trust them, especially when we need them most; and that is, of course, the time that they are guaranteed to let us down. Our reliance on them at a time of crisis is not seen then as part of a relationship, bound by unspoken but assumed loyalties, but simply as a weakness so irksome that it extinguishes any loyalty on their part towards us.

So far from meriting any loyalty, we thoroughly deserve to be let down by those from whom we have expected to much. How dare we depend upon someone so far above our station? It is simply unjust. A moral inversion is thus created: those who are abandoned are the culprits, and the traitors become the true victims (in their own eyes, of course).

Greatest debt

Roy Keane's elevation of self above the needs of others and his utter inability to see that he had been scandalously disloyal to his manager, his team, his squad and his country, fall into a clear pattern. For disloyalists invariably betray those to whom they owe the greatest debt of loyalty. Moreover, they haven't the least idea they have thrust a dagger into our softest, most vulnerable parts. True loyalty requires an admission of weakness, that we need other people: and by giving loyalty in return, we abase our ego about some greater good.

Disloyalists cannot know what the rest of us intend by such talk, which is as meaningless to them as the hooting of whales. Yet for so much of the time, they so successfully pretend to have the same sense of personal loyalty which binds society: and that's why they are so very, very frightening.