Reconnecting with people on Champions League night

Ecuadorian president watching the drama with Pep & VAR unfold on TV eating lobster in bed with his pet fat cat.

Cork’s Oliver Plunkett Street is 850m metres long. And while business was not brisk on Thursday morning around half-nine, you were still able, on a walk from one end to the other, to eavesdrop on at least seven separate animated conversations about Wednesday night’s Champions League action.

It is not clear exactly how everybody is watching it, because we are certainly not all paying for BT Sport or Virgin Media. But we are getting there somehow, taking our place among the nations of the earth on these great communal nights.

Gathering together, if not to worship, at least to dispute refereeing decisions and pronounce somebody a fraud. Unusually, for one of these great communal nights, the world wasn’t watching Mo Salah.

Mo was doing his business on the other channel, with only the faithful for company. But then, Mo had taken his chance earlier in the day, using his Time magazine cover, and his selection among the world’s most influential people, to urge better treatment of women in his culture.

It seems important, while we are all there together, on these great communal nights, worshipping or disputing, that there should be some sort of homily delivered. Why do we love football, asks Uefa’s #EqualGame campaign during every commercial break.

Because out there on that pitch we are all the same.

On these nights, we are all the same in front of the telly too. On Wednesday night, we heard, via the BBC, Ecuadorian president Lenin Moreno explain that widely-circulated photograph of him lounging in a fine hotel, making quick work of a sizeable platter of lobster.

The photo caused some embarrassment to Moreno, back home, where he is imposing a severe programme of austerity. And perhaps it got Julian Assange kicked out of the Ecuadorian embassy, even if Wikileaks denied responsibility for its circulation.

But now Lenin had an explanation, and a way to reconnect with his people.

“It was my birthday. I was watching soccer in bed. It was a great day.”

And as we gathered together on Wednesday night, with the adrenaline flowing freely, you could almost see the photo from a different angle. You could almost see a football man, just having a great day.

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One of the great football men, Lilian Thuram, is among those wondering about the €1bn already raised to restore Notre Dame Cathedral.

“There are people who are dying trying to cross the Mediterranean and yet the world is not as affected by that as this,” noted Lilian.

“I feel like companies are trying to insert themselves into people’s emotion.”

Of course, a football man would be well placed to recognise companies trying to insert themselves into people’s emotion.

And anyone versed in the business of sportswashing, so prevalent on Champions League nights, would probably notice that Louis Vuitton tycoon Bernard Arnault, who has pledged €200m to Notre Dame, was previously in the news looking into Belgian citizenship amid suspicion he’d like to wriggle out of tax (something he stoutly denied).

This might be a way for Bernie to reconnect with his people.

Still, the fair football man will calculate what has been spent on Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League challenge and see decent value in putting the roof back on the big church.

In Ajax’s second-half display in Turin, he will see the glory in a good rebuilding job, and the worth in preserving the great cultural monuments of our time, to remind us what we are capable of.

And he will hope they can construct something as proud and beautiful and durable as Leo Messi, while looking after the people in the Med too.

Amid the adrenaline flowing this week, he might even recognise football’s role in rebuilding Notre Dame, despite the great footballers’ growing reputation for not paying their taxes.

After all, who else is buying all those Louis Vuitton washbags?

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Even while we admire what others are capable of, there is nothing like a great European night to raise the alarm. To measure how things have got away from some of the famous institutions. To finally notice the frog is dead, since it never jumped out of the slowly boiling water.

So people were noticing that Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Ashley Young are still playing for Manchester United, just as they were in the Champions League loss to Basel in 2011.

And while that simplistic assessment might be a touch unfair on the three lads, who have won the odd pot since, it would seem to indicate a certain slippage, all the same.

Others of us noticed again that Sky Sports don’t have the Champions League any more. And that the new Sky Q platform isn’t a great system for watching the Champions League, as you can no longer flick between two matches and swiftly rewind if you missed something, a facility that was badly needed on Wednesday night.

How has an institution which gave us so much, who delivered Sky+, who first put the score on the screen, got this one so badly wrong?

We don’t have to go back eight years to see where it started to slip, rather we instinctively know it was the moment, four or five years ago, when somebody decided to switch Sky Sports 1 from channel 401 to 402.

That moment of madness is when it started to get away from them.

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‘The present moment is merely a wire between the past and this hope of a future,’ said a woman on Newstalk’s Sean Moncrieff show Thursday afternoon, talking about Easter ceremonies, but perhaps mindful that wire had been cut forever on Wednesday night.

Nobody will ever go full Tardelli again without looking over his shoulder at every screen in the house for an ominous warning that the machines are looking into things.

And yet, until we fully understand space-time wormholes, who is to say that Pep and Raheem won’t always have that 40 seconds of ecstasy available to revisit, whenever they want — 40 seconds when their methods and character and patience had been vindicated, 40 seconds when Poch was the fraud who had thrown away a three-goal advantage in the most Spursy fashion.

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Wasn’t it all a merciful respite from corporate governance, from “poor accounts”, as the Sunday Times beautifully put it, and from marvelling, once more, at the 13th-hour alertness of the auditing sector.

There was word, across the water, that Football Association chief executive Martin Glenn had given up on rebranding that organisation as the ‘English FA’, and had abandoned a plan to put right what he called “the ultimate expression of arrogance”.

Which means we might even beat them to it, with our own rebrand and cull of arrogance.

There have been few great days lately for John Delaney, though you suspect this football man will always find a way to reconnect with at least some of his people, even if the odd lobster platter turns up on those credit card bills.

In the jubilant scenes at Poch’s finest hour, many thought they spotted our one great hope, Troy Parrott, being hugged by Fernando Llorente. But turns out it was another Spurs youth, Jamie Bowden. It was a sad reminder that we had no presence at all on this great

communal night, that out on the pitch we aren’t quite the same as everyone else, that we aren’t really taking our place among the nations of the earth. A reminder that whatever the ledgers say, we have been giving a pretty poor account of ourselves.

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