A world away from a ball and a yard of grass

IT WAS said by Napoleon — Bonaparte, not Dynamite — that one should never watch a sausage or a law being made if “you want to keep your stomach about you”.

The same is probably true of picking World Cup hosts.

First though, let’s begin with some real football, a world away from the joyless world of sports administration.

The Dublin Devils train on Friday nights under lights in north Dublin. They play games in an astro league during the winter on Tuesday nights. They win, they lose, they draw.

The side — formed in 2005 — are also the country’s first male gay football team. Originally called Men United, the Devils are now well known and respected in their league. During the summer they train in the Phoenix Park, not far from the Papal Cross. And they can play a bit.

The team invited me — in a spirit of inclusivity, I suppose — to train with them and come along to their matches. It’s real football. Sepp Blatter would not be interested.

Like a lot of others, I watched a live feed from Zurich a few Fridays ago.

The ins-and-outs of the horse-trading that concluded in a blinged-out patch of desert in the Middle East being awarded the 2022 Coupe de Monde has been fully explored at this stage.

And perhaps nothing should surprise us when we’re talking about the suits in FIFA. But Blatter is really doing his best to shock.

I saw him roll by in a convoy of dark cars at the 2006 World Cup — I think in Hanover — as I waited to get into a group game.

The man from the Irish Examiner at that stage had a €15 Dunnes Stores tent strapped to his back, a first-name relationship with every tout on both sides of the Berlin Wall and little self-respect left.

As a group of us stragglers were stopped by security guards on the street to allow the FIFA president to freewheel past, we might have stolen a glimpse behind the velvet rope — into the air-conditioned, comfortable world he inhabited.

The same way the Queen of England probably thinks that the world smells of drying emulsion because of the preparations her subjects make before her visits, so too Blatter must not realise the world is not one huge buffet.

As he rolled past, I clutched an ill-gotten ticket with the name of the Trinidad & Tobago FA emblazoned across it.

Statistics are sometimes said to be like a lamp-post to a drunken man — more for leaning on than illumination; and certainly this Weissbier-stained stat might be more redundant than most.

But by the end of my time in Germany I had seen over half a dozen games thanks to Jack Warner and his policy of flogging his association’s tickets.

Essentially, over an area that stretched beneath the glare of the Reeperbahn’s neon signage to the shadows of Nuremburg’s cathedral, more than half the tickets I bought, from touts and fans alike, came from Trinidad and Tobago.

It later transpired Blatter’s lieutenant Warner made £1m personally, from the World Cup in 2006 as he oversaw the sale of this four-yearly commodity. He said he’d pay it back.

When Warner pulled the rug from under England’s 2018 bid a fortnight ago then, no one thought it was out of character.

When he took his ball — and crucial votes — away from those he pledged in Britain, the words of Seamus Brennan to the Greens during government negotiations sprung to mind: ye’re playing senior hurling now lads. Welcome to FIFA HQ.

And all the while Blatter watched as this mucky ritual unfolded. A man who, the former NBA basketball player John Amaechi said this week: ‘wields the power to summon kings, princes, presidents and prime ministers to bid at their pleasure’. And he added, ‘uses that power not to foster positive change but to further entrench bigotry’.

Amaechi, of course, was not particularly exercised by FIFA’s decision to award the tournament to a country other than his native England. But as a gay man, he wasn’t impressed when Blatter said this week that gay people should not have sex if they plan to visit Qatar for the tournament.

In 2007 Amaechi became the first NBA star to come out as gay. He doesn’t believe FIFA will take the problem seriously. “I sent a letter and email raising my objections and requesting an apology,” he added. “I haven’t received anything back, and am not expecting to.”

He’s right not to worry about a reply. Real football is played on park pitches — not conference rooms and air-conditioned stadiums.

mail: adrianjrussell@gmail.com Twitter: @adrianrussell

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