Funny old games: The sporting year in a year like no other

Mary Hannigan runs the rule over the weird and sometimes wonderful in 2020

Armagh v Roscommon in the National League in October: Armagh had "home advantage", courtesy of self-portraits from over 3,000 primary school children across the county in the stands. Photograph: Inpho/Ryan Byrne

Armagh v Roscommon in the National League in October: Armagh had "home advantage", courtesy of self-portraits from over 3,000 primary school children across the county in the stands. Photograph: Inpho/Ryan Byrne

 

Crowds

There weren’t any. And it took our pundits some time to adjust to the new normal. Eg Before Armagh played Roscommon at the Athletic Grounds:
Colm Cooper: “Playing at home is a big boost for Armagh.”
Kevin McStay: “I’m not so sure – there’s nobody here.”

Fan in the Stand

That was the initiative introduced by Australian rugby league once spectators weren’t allowed attend games. To help them feel like they were actually there, fans were invited to send in photos of themselves or loved ones, and for AU$22 their face would be put on a cardboard cut-out and placed in the stands.

How did it go? Glitchy at first, especially that moment when serial killer Harold Shipman was spotted in the stands at the Penrith Panthers v Newcastle Knights game. And Dominic Cummings was seen at the clash of Sydney Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs, although presumably his eyesight issues made it hard for him to see the game.

But they weren’t alone in having issues, Leeds United’s similar ‘crowdie’ innovation suffering from some hiccups too. One fan who paid £25 to have his face in the stand tweeted his dismay to the club: “Thanks @LUFC, I’m next to Bin bloody Laden!!!” He was too.

Meanwhile, faces spotted in the stands at Cheltenham Town’s League Two play-off semi-final against Northampton included Piers Morgan, Cilla Black, Spider-Man, Eastenders’ Phil Mitchell, Only Fools and Horses’ Del Boy, Rodney, Grandad and Boycie and Donald Trump. For once, Donald would have been justified in howling ‘FAKE NEWS’ at the notion he attended the play-off.

Cocooning

***REPRO FREE***PRESS RELEASE NO REPRODUCTION FEE*** EDITORIAL USE ONLYThe Lawlors of Naas Grade 1 Novice Hurdle Launch, Goffs Owners & Trainers Lounge, Naas Racecourse, Co. Kildare 18/12/2019Trainers Ted WalshMandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy
 Ted Walsh. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

We’d hazard a guess that Ted Walsh didn’t enjoy the experience, not least because it prevented him from attending

We could be underestimating Ted Walsh’s interest in computery things, and apologies if that is the case, but you’d have half a notion that before this period in his life he, like most of us, would have thought Zoom was just a 1980s tune by Fat Larry’s Band. But there he was on Saturday, appearing at the Curragh via Zoom, his son-in-law Killian having set it up for him, warning him “not to touch any buttons”.

For sport-on-telly watchers, there have been quite a few peak Lockdown moments in recent weeks, but this was, perhaps, the peakiest of them all. It’d have made your heart go boom, too, Ted having been absent from our screens for far too long.

“Ted, you’re looking great,” said Hugh Cahill.

“I’m surviving any way,” he replied. “If Leo Varadkar had his way, I’d be in a six by four.”

Diego

Diego Maradona In Pictures 25/11/20201990 FIFA World Cup, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy 8/7/1990FinalWest Germany vs Argentina Argentina’s Diego Maradona during the National AnthemsMandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland
West Germany v Argentina in 1990.  Diego Maradona during the national anthems. Photo: Inpho/Billy Stickland

When Maradona celebrated his 60th birthday on October 30th, he was asked what would be his perfect present. “I dream of being able to score another goal against England,” he said, “this time with the right hand.”

Rascal. Within a month he had died. “I lost a great friend and the world lost a legend. ..... one day, I hope we can play ball together in the sky,” said Pele in his tribute.

Humility

When Pele turned 80 in October, he had this very lovely tribute paid to him: “In Pele’s 80 years, the only thing that’s missing is to land on the moon.”

Who said it? Eh, Pele.

And later: “My father and mother closed the factory... there is only one Pele. Maybe because God loves me.”

Lousers

The people who responded to Brighton’s generous announcement that they would give 1,000 free tickets to NHS workers for future matches, as thanks for their frontline work, with: “Haven’t they suffered enough?”

Trust

When The Late Late Show assembled a panel for their St Valentine’s Day special to discuss love and stuff, they, naturally enough, invited Pat Spillane. When asked what was the secret to a successful marriage, he replied: “Trust.” And then he gave us an example.

“If I went to America and I went in to a big room and there was a thousand super models inside in that room, naked, all trying to seduce me, and if there was a pint of beer at the end of the room, I would go for the pint of beer. That’s trust,” he said.

Pat using a blanket defence to thwart the thousand naked super models’ efforts to woo him is an image that will live long in the mind.

Nuptials

REPRO FREE***PRESS RELEASE NO REPRODUCTION FEE*** EDITORIAL USE ONLYLiberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship Semi-Final, Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Cork 28/11/2020Cork vs KilkennyKilkenny’s Collette DormerMandatory Credit ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Kilkenny’s Collette Dormer. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Ahead of the camogie All-Ireland final, Kilkenny’s Collette Dormer talked about having to postpone her wedding in November. Everyone offered her their sympathy, the pandemic having played havoc with her plans. At which point she clarified the matter. “It’s funny, people think it was Covid that I had to postpone for .... it was because of the camogie!”

That’s what you call getting your priorities right.

Supermarket deliveries

Most of us struggled to secure a slot that wasn’t at least 12 weeks away, but back in May, BT Sport’s Paul Dempsey struck gold, managing to book himself one with Tesco. The only problem? The delivery man arrived at Paul’s front door while he was in the middle of commentating live, from his home in Northern Ireland, on the Borussia Dortmund v Schalke game that marked the return of the Bundesliga.

Viewers might have wondered why Paul, usually a highly talkative chap, fell silent for a couple of minutes, but it turned out that he had to mute himself because the delivery man was pounding on his door. Once Paul let his groceries in, he resumed his commentary. The show, after all, must always go on, even with Tesco at the door.

Perspective

When the University of Massachusetts cancelled the upcoming football season due to Covid, their football coach Walt Bell took the news rather badly. How badly? “I’ll tell you guys the same way I told my players. You know, my dad passed away in 2008, my biological mom OD’d in 2012. And to be honest with you, this is probably a tougher day than both of those days.”

Always look on the bright side of life

Which is what Kerry legend Tomas Ó Sé tried to do after his county was beaten in the Munster football semi-final by a goal in the dying seconds from Cork’s Mark Keane.

“Plenty of time to find Fungie now,” he tweeted. Mind you, they’re still looking.

Vodka, tractors and saunas

While the rest of the planet was shutting down its sport, Belarus carried on merrily, ice hockey, football and the like remaining uninterrupted. Indeed, the country was the only one of Uefa’s 55 members not to suspend its league. This caused no end of puzzlement, but President Alexander Lukashenko insisted there was no need at all for a lockdown so long as his people (a) drank 50ml of vodka a day, (b) had breakfast on time, (c) took regular saunas and (d) worked on farms (“The tractor will heal everyone! The fields heal everyone!”). And to think we were frantically looking for a vaccine. (How did it work out? He tested positive in July).

Big Jack

We lost him in July when he died at the age of 85. “I did speak to him very briefly, but it was difficult due to his health,” said Mick McCarthy. “I told him I loved the bones of him that day, and I always will.”

Youth

In snooker terms, Ronnie O’Sullivan doesn’t think much of it. Asked by the BBC, ahead of winning his sixth World Championship, why he was still going strong, he said: “If you look at the younger players coming through, they’re not that good really. Most of them would do well as half-decent amateurs – or not even amateurs, they’re so bad a lot of them. I’ve probably got to lose an arm and a leg to fall outside the top 50. So that’s why I’m hovering around – because of how poor it is down that end.”

Farce

When Galway were given just seven minutes to warm up for their All-Ireland semi-final against Cork after a late venue switch from Parnell Park to Croke Park. “We were treated like something you’d find on the bottom of a shoe,” said Galway manager Tim Rabbitt of his county’s experience.

Green jersey

Not only did Sam Bennett become the first Irish man to win the Tour de France green jersey since Seán Kelly 31 years before, he completed his race by winning the final stage in Paris. “All that suffering during the mountains, all the years trying to come up, trying to make it, it took me so long to get here,” he said. “It’s a dream I never really knew I had, because I never thought I’d be good enough to do it, never thought I’d be strong enough to do it.”

Tipp

“I’m very humbled with all the different messages we’re after getting. There’s a couple of 90-year-olds who rang me, they were in tears. They never thought they’d see the day.” So said Tipp manager David Power after his county produced the biggest upset of the football championship, beating Cork in the Munster final to win the title for the first time in 85 years.

This sporting life

“This week made me reflect on how bizarre and paradoxical sport is. The thing that causes you the most amount of grief and suffering is also the biggest outlet for your relief and happiness. I don’t think there are many things in the world that provides such ups and downs.” John Cooney on being dropped by Ireland coach Andy Farrell before posting 14 points in Ulster’s 24-12 win at Ospreys. Rollercoaster.

Virtual grand national

Having never even left his yard in Wales, Potters Corner would have been quite confused when locals gathered to congratulate him on winning the English Grand National back in April. But it was a computer-simulated race brought to us by ITV, CGI technology and special algorithms used to replace the cancelled “race that could never be”.

Not that it being computer-simulated spared jockeys from dog’s abuse on the tweet machine. “Can I just say I would not have gone to the front so soon,” Tony McCoy replied when he got grief for his computer-simulated efforts, “so I want no more abuse about giving him a bad ride.”

Still, folk felt aggrieved. “All those other horses were generated by a top of the line super computer, mine was generated by an Atari 2600,” as one displeased punter put it.

Katie

In 2020, she extended her professional record to 17 fights, 17 wins with victories over Delfine Persoon and Miriam Gutiérrez, the second fight drawing an audience of close to three million between live streaming on Facebook and various Sky platforms. At 34, is she considering retiring? “People still haven’t seen the best of me. I’m going to improve. I’m going to get better and better.” That’s a no, then.

Weirdness

“It’s gas, like putting up a Christmas tree on one hand, and with the other preparing for an All-Ireland Final.”

In the end, Limerick captain Declan Hannon got both hands on Liam MacCarthy.

Reassurance

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro was keen for sport to resume as quickly as possible after his country’s lockdown, and offered some comforting words to the nation’s competitors, lest they have any concerns. “Because of their physical state, because they are athletes, if infected with the virus, they have only a small chance of dying.”

Worries, eh, banished.

Reading

We did a ton of it during lockdown, but according to Roddy Doyle, male preferences were quite narrow. “Men my age don’t want to read fiction generally,” he said, “they just want to read about Hitler, Stalin and Wayne Rooney. ”

Silence

Porto manager Sergio Conceicao couldn’t handle football games without crowds, regarding them as appetising as eating an undressed lettuce leaf. “It will be like being without the condiments to make a good salad,” he said. “Eating a salad without oil, vinegar and salt is not the same.” Spanish coach Luis Enrique had a severe dose of the lockdown blues, too. “Playing matches without supporters is sadder than dancing with your sister. It’s very ugly.”

Breakout

Quite a few sports folk around the world got in to a heap of trouble for breaking lockdown rules, but perhaps the most spectacular example came in Australia where New Zealand football international Tim Payne had enough of self-isolating with the Wellington Phoenix squad at the Sydney Academy of Sport. So, naturally enough, he nicked a golf cart from the Academy and drove it down a busy Sydney road at one in the morning while both topless and drunk.

He was arrested by New South Wales police, breathalysed and charged and subsequently wyas disqualified from driving for six months, fined $700, and suspended for four games. Apart from that, his pandemic went well.

Giantkillers

We’ll go with Saarbrucken after they became the first fourth-tier team to reach the German Cup semi-finals thanks to their penalty shoot-out win over Fortuna Dusseldorf, during which goalkeeper Daniel Batz saved four of Dusseldorf’s efforts to add to another penalty save in normal time.

How happy was Batz? Very. “That’s more than I’d saved together in my whole career!”

But nothing beat the ecstasy Saarbrucken vice-president Dieter Ferner was feeling after the triumph. “This,” he declared, “is the biggest sensation since the birth of Christ.” That’s very big.

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