”Ruairí!! ….Don’t kick the furniture”, is not a sentence that my fiancée expected to ever have to say in our home, but such is the fervour that Liverpool F.C bring out in me, it was a sentence that had to be said all the same. Today is my birthday (turning 36, ahem), but more than that, it is the anniversary of that game at Anfield this time twelve months ago. Liverpool 4, Barcelona 0.
What a night, my long suffering fiancée’s reaction was following my full descent into feral being. It was an evening of high drama that surpassed even my eternally optimistic expectations. As every minute ticked by, and as every goal chipped away at what seemed like an insurmountable lead following a first leg collapse, my motor functions became less my own. Certainly the disbelief at the manner of the fourth goal put paid to any sense of decorum I had left. I lost it, euphoria of such velocity overran me, I was a mere spectator (of a spectator ironically). Raw emotion ensued.
Building up to that evening my expectations were low: finishing another day in the classroom, although with the added stress of a department inspection (went great, thank God). Calmly heading home with the inner peace one feels on one’s birthday, I could feel something starting to simmer. My nerves began to jangle. I was subconsciously rubbing my hands together, like a cheesy seventies Bond villain, as I am want to do. I am reminded by the late, great Eavan Boland’s charming poem This Moment; “Things are getting ready/ to happen/out of sight”.
Was there any chance Liverpool could do the unthinkable? How much of a fool am I to get swept up by blind optimism every time? Yet there it was, that tingle of hope and excitement that only the unpredictability of sport can seem to bring. The blind optimism, it turned out, was not without foundation…this time.
A year on from that memorable night and the world is much changed, for obvious reasons. Yet if anything, the raw emotion and passion that sport evokes in those of us under its spell, is now more conspicuously felt by its absence. The absence of sport is keenly felt in these times.
A lot has happened for Liverpool since; European and World Champions, whilst also responding to the disappointment of being second best on 97 points with a season like no domestic team ever. Unbelievable. Yet here we are, wondering when the day will come for them to finally get the full recognition they deserve? Whilst also thinking, what does sport matter or a team’s achievements in these times of severe uncertainty and loss?
However, with governments trying to balance our health with the health of their economies, it is clear sport, like the arts (see earlier post), is at the fulcrum of this. It not only allows one to lose all grip on their senses, like myself, it also provides a hell of a lot of employment. We are all salivating at the idea of the sporting world returning to normal as hastily as possible. Talk of the imminent return of the Bundesliga shows this. I suspect there will be a new found love of German domestic football like never before.
To have friends of mine, staunch united fans, disgusted by Liverpool’s new found renewal of success, wish for a return of football even at the cost of Liverpool being back at the top table, suggests sport has a far bigger role in our lives than any of us imagined. We are all crying out for the distraction, the relief, and the connection that sport offers, given how disparate we all are at the minute.
Reflecting on the role of sport in our lives I often struggle to define exactly what it does for us. Yet these times mean I simply must confront this question.
Teaching Wordsworth to my sixth years at the moment actually helps. His obsession with nature, the imagination, memory and the past, and the human psyche are very insightful here. Wordsworth liked to go walking and recollect his experience when back home, and allow his wondrous interactions with the scenery of the day manifest itself in his verse; much like a match report. He believed in removing himself from the emotions he encountered on his discovery of the natural world, and then composing. I can’t imagine writing a match report on that match for at least a week after, if I was to follow his example.
Wordsworth not only recreated moments, he became them and immersed us in them through his words. I would argue that sport, moreover specific moments in sport, have a similar power. We all remember acutely the key events in the sports that we love. Whether it be key phrases from the dry commentary that accompanies it, like; ‘Timofte against Bonner’, or our own birthday, we can instantly be brought back to that moment.
Sometimes people like to question this love by saying ‘it’s only a game’. However with love, sometimes you only realise what you have when it’s gone. For me, it is clear sport may have gone unnoticed to some, but it’s ability to transcend class, ethnicity and sex, to bind us all together, has never been as acutely needed.
It is not only in spectating that sport enslaves us. Being a keen marathoner, this loss of my hobby is picking away at me also. The suffering, commitment, and discipline required for us to undertake our hobbies is often rewarded with the euphoria of these things paying off. This is also felt in the world of GAA.
GAA is often the thread that binds whole communities together, and many memories akin to those described above, have been had over a summer. All over Ireland communities are dying for the lights be turned back on in the clubhouse. However, given our athletes in this world are unlike their professional counterparts in other sports, being amateur, it is clearly unfair to expect them to put themselves and their loved at risk for our entertainment. I’m not sure many will miss watching us marathoners suffer and stumble along the road nearly as much.
Is it fair to ask professionals to do likewise? I mean they are people too, that is for sure. To ensure their safety and minimise their risk, I believe that committing to testing and all the provisions needed to help professional sports get back off the ground safely is sound economically and worth the expenditure. It is also worth the effort in helping all of our psyches at the moment, and could well be the uplifting shot in the arm required until there is a vaccine.
Sport takes us out of ourselves and helps us, on that rare sublime occasion like a year ago, to tap into the inner beings unknown to ourselves. I am ravenous for sport to return when safe to do so, it can’t come quick enough.