Time to consign pre-match yawnathons to scrap yard
Who honestly listened to build-up to this big sporting weekend expecting illumination?
Did anyone really expect Joe Schmidt to come out before the French game and tell us he reckoned Gallic flair to be a thing of the past and Saint-André a clown? Photograph: Eric Luke
It was the legendary driver Stirling Moss who proclaimed there are two things no man will ever admit to being – a bad driver or a bad lover. But there’s something else no one, man or woman, will ever admit to being – a bullshitter. Amazing then how the world is so full of the stuff.
It circulates through most every aspect of life, a deception fan-dance, simultaneously passing the buck and covering the arse, so systemic you suspect everything might grind to a halt without it.
This has been on my mind lately due to a fascinating conversation with a racehorse trainer who, remarkably, seems chronically allergic to bullshit, which, seeing as he’s in the horse game, means he basically goes around covered in calamine all the time.
And obviously I’ve a cheek talking like this, charged as I am with the task of filling this space on cue with self-righteous indignation: but away from the keyboard, honestly, hell-on-wheels, baby.
Anyway, if the world’s engine might indeed grind to a halt without this unfortunate lubricant, I reckon sport could continue to moisture itself just fine without one of its own peculiar variants, the pre-game talk-shop.
These are the quote-littered press conference-type interviews before major events which 99.9 per cent of the time – there’s the toilet-duck, germ-killing, arse-covering bit – are a total waste of time and energy, mere mind-numbing exercises in carefully saying nothing.
Now, there was once a function for these “yawnathons”. They provided hard copy: usefully interminable quotes about how difficult it was going to be getting even close to such good opposition, how they merited total respect, not to mention the enormous gradient of the mountain that needed to be climbed in order to beat them, all of it helpfully padding out space.
Did anyone really expect Joe Schmidt to come out before the French game and tell us he reckoned Gallic flair to be a thing of the past and Saint-André a clown? Or Martin O’Neill to use anything but platitudes? Of course not: instead they both dutifully concentrated on avoiding saying anything even the teeniest bit provocative while employing lots of jargon.
The GAA boys don’t even bother with the jargon anymore. Media nights have famously become fretful exercises in wariness, a ballroom of romance face-off between players and press, where the whole aim is to on no account get any kind of a real feel.
Rafa Nadal’s summer was a classic example. Shorn of form and confidence, and with limbs aching after a decade of pounding the world’s tennis courts, the 14-time grand slam winner dolefully confessed that he wasn’t feeling particularly great about either his game or himself.
Nadal repeatedly and straight-forwardly expressed what was obvious to anyone with a working set of eyes, treating both the public and media to the sort of honesty we constantly implore our sporting heroes to exhibit instead of hiding behind glib soundbites.
And for his trouble he got flak for providing encouragement to his opponents, not being “paaasitive” enough, or not exhibiting the right sort of body-language which is always the shinola of choice for the true tea leaf-staring punditry chancer.
“It seems like if I’m being honest, it is bad,” an exasperated Nadal finally cracked at a press conference. “If I’m being honest with you guys and I explain what happened to me, the people say ‘Why you say that? Why you are that honest? You give confidence to the opponent’.”
Cue then some “Rafa – Is He Cracking Up” speculation, which must have quickly left Nadal pondering the benefits of a return to saying damn all, simply in future churning out yet more anodyne rubbish into an already vast heaving ocean of you-know-what.
The result is even the slightest tint of rare colour gets treated hysterically. Roy Keane says “breastfeeding” and its delirium: Bastian Schweinsteiger recently quipped he sometimes can’t understand what Wayne Rooney says because he doesn’t speak Scouse, and it got billed like he’s some Germanic Groucho, helping to dispel national stereotypes through his comic genius.
It has got so the avoidance of inadvertently uttering something like Babs Keating’s “racehorse and donkey” bit – which he never actually said but nevertheless has become enshrined as an example of what can happen when, God forbid, you come close to saying what you actually think – overrides everything.
So enough already: what is theoretically supposed to be about information has become an exercise in disinformation and there’s enough of that in the world already.
Talk all you like afterwards, when the heat of the moment might actually illuminate. But it’s time to admit this pre-match ritual is ripe for the scrap yard. Everyone can get along just fine without such a creaky engine leaking all over the place, mocking us with its weary resignation.
Oops, have I said too much?