South African party will be fine without us


LOCKER ROOM: We’re not going to South Africa and as such we won’t have to suffer the sight of our botoxed, ruined selves in the mirror

SO, LISTEN. We ain’t going to South Africa. All through the qualifier series we rode our luck like hobos on a freight train to the sun. Giovanni’s side got tighter and more organised and we all came to believe in miracles. And then the ball plinked into the Irish net on Saturday night from a deflection off Sean St Ledger’s derriere. Ah well.

We stand today with our feet in a cold and deep puddle of reality. There is sadness attached to staying at home next summer. It feels like further punishment for our economic fecklessness. No nation with a NAMA can be allowed enjoy the global party. Them’s the rules.

Let’s face it though. It would not have been like Italia 90! No way. No how. Somewhere over the past couple of weeks we have developed and entertained the notion that if the soccer team could make it to South Africa we would all go to the credit union and borrow enough cash to shut the country down for a month and then when we came back a twinkle -toed fairy from the EU or somewhere would have left little pots of gold under all our beds and the bad times would be over and we would be on the foothills of prosperity.

We may be just as destitute as we were in 1990 but we will never be as innocent again. We are flat busted broke now but we retain a sense of the jaded irony and deluded frippery which marked the Celtic Tiger era. Were Eamo to fling away his biro on air in frustration at watching a scoreless draw against Egypt, half of us would put down our glasses of Chianti and say that he isn’t the showman he once was and the other half of us would argue that yes, they could see his point.

There would be no fatwah.

In 1990 we were fabulously entertained by the sight of bunting and flags. Those things and cardboard cut-outs of the entire panel with little suction devices which enabled you to stick Packie Bonner or Kevin Sheedy onto the back window of your car or the front window of your house. Correctly placed these worked well as an anti-theft device.

We loved the sight of ourselves, fans and team together at a World Cup finals. We believed we had taken our place among the nations of the earth and that all those nations were dead chuffed for us.

We thought it was a divine endorsement of our faith in putting ’em under pressure when the Pope and Big Jack and the lads convened in Rome. We have changed. Players have changed. Most of them wouldn’t be bothered wandering away from their playstation games to walk downstairs to see Nelson Mandela if Nelson were to turn up at the Irish team hotel with a green jersey and a marker hoping to get a few autographs.

We are not going to South Africa and as such we won’t have to suffer the sight of our botoxed, ruined selves in the mirror! It’s not all bad. Sure, we traditionally feel that, as the greatest fans in the world, our absence diminishes any tournament. The mere fact that we tend towards the “you’re my bestest friend” school of mass inebriation rather than the “all foreigners are muck” type of drunkenness as practised by every man women and child in England reassures us in this belief.

However the theft of Trevelyan’s corn is a crime for which many innocent people around the world have been punished over and over again. The South African nation has been through enough over the years without having to run and hide every time a sun-ripened face opens its mouth to warble those chilling words “ By a lonely prison wall…..” By not being in South Africa we do the decent thing. We don’t oppress an emerging nation with our singing and bleching. One other thing, many of the warblers dress as leprechauns. A lot of us find this scary. We may make more friends this time by just staying away. Anyway in the wake of Jedward, the Department of Foreign Affairs advises all Irish people to exercise caution when travelling abroad.

There are other benefits to not being at the party.

The national morale needs a break from being blanket-bombed by Stephen Ireland interviews in which Stephen protests endlessly that he doesn’t care about not caring for his country. He is rich and happy and living abroad. In 1990 we all had relations like that and it was just about tolerable. Now we all need a little holiday from that sort of thing. Those chaps who are actually on the Irish team speak less and less these days and one wonders if, in generations to come, footballers will have evolved so that their tongues actually atrophy and programmes on the Discovery Channel will explore why footballers ever had tongues in the first place.

For now the silence around every big match is filled with “exclusive” Stephen Ireland interviews in which Master Ireland explains how he will be out potholing or at ceramics classes when the game is going on. He finds that this is actually very fulfilling and, providing they are spared the sort of grandparent-related tragedy which he himself suffered, he will be proud to tell his grandchildren all this. And the stuff about the hair weave. Gas.

What does he regret? Rien. We get it. Thanks Stephen.

Also were we to go to South Africa we would be going, in all likelihood, without Andy Reid. There would be several disadvantages to Reid’s absence. Firstly Giovanni’s head would most likely explode after a month of being asked questions about Andy. Nobody wants that on their conscience.

Secondly, Andy Reid is a throwback to the 1990 team and his absence, concealed under a blizzard of Stephen Ireland interviews, would remind us of how much we had changed and how much we have lost.

In 1990 when the team and the media and half the fans all lived cheek by jowl for a month, the moments not spent training or playing were spent in song, a happy communion of tunelessness which causes us to remember that summer more as a musical than a football tournament.

Andy, with his guitar or his banjo and his love of company would be the star of a World Cup if Giovanni could just overlook his tendency to make creative passes. His absence from South Africa would be a sore vexation. Hearing which of the panel is the best at playing Grand Theft Autojust isn’t the same as hearing them murder popular ballads which deserve their fate.

And you know what else? We have no capacity anymore for dreaming or romance. We are too wised up. We know the points spread and how to shave it and we can factor in the vigorish. We wouldn’t travel either in hope or expectation. We wouldn’t sleep in railway stations. No romance. We would speak of combining a break with the chance to see a few matches. And we no longer believe that Fifa loves us above all others. We used to think that. We felt they were looking out for us and would always be looking to put us in the nicest spot they could find for the World Cup.

Anybody remember how our self-obsession kept telling us in the run-up to the 1994 finals that Fifa placing us with our kinfolk in Boston was ahem, more than a feeling? (Geddit?). The long-term effects of the sunstroke which Steve Staunton eventually suffered in the kiln of Orlando would hurt Irish soccer for many years afterwards.

Lets not even speak of places like Chiba and Izumo in Japan.

We’re not going to the World Cup. We won’t be missed. Once more that great tournament is something which we will watch on television, like kids with our noses pressed against the festooned window of an immense store at Christmas.

We have to suffer some more mortification of the soul before our innocence returns.

So, Stephen, any regrets?