Politicians should be wary of football fever

If you thought there was a chance of Enda Kenny calling a snap election in the euphoria that followed Shane Long’s goal last Thursday evening, you weren’t alone.
Politicians should be wary of football fever

It was striking to meet, hear from or talk to otherwise rational people who expected the Tipperary man’s strike to usher in a few weeks of party political broadcasts, canvassing and earnest discussion of what the mystical art of tallying actually entails.

The logic ran thus — a government increasingly at odds with itself and the electorate sees a rising tide of optimism in the country and decides to surf that to re-election.

The only problem with that as a theory is everything, though.

First of all there isn’t a huge body of evidence to consult on the uplifted national mood when it comes to international sporting excellence: Up to 1988’s European Football Championships the 1956 Olympics were probably the high point of Ireland’s competitiveness, witness Ronnie Delany’s gold medal.

The next general election in the fifties was the following year, when presumably any national buzz had evaporated.

On the occasions the country’s soccer team made it to either the Euros or the World Cup, from 1988 to 2012, no Taoiseach — not even the man who joined Stephen Roche on the Tour de France podium in 1987 — felt the masses had been uplifted to the point that they’d automatically endorse those in power in a snap general election.

Looking abroad, the usual corollary advanced in support of the government riding the coat-tails of sports success is the victory of the British Labour Party in the 1966 general election; Bobby Moore’s England defeated West Germany in extra-time in the World Cup final and Harold Wilson was assured of victory when Geoff Hurst completed his hat-trick with that famous late strike.

Pity that the British election of 1966 took place at the end of March, and the World Cup final at the end of July that year.

Maybe the voters were psychic.

Yet history may have a warning for Enda Kenny as he mulls over dates for going to the polls while Irish sports teams are riding high. Consider that same Harold Wilson four years after taking office: He fixed polling day to fall during the 1970 World Cup — four days after England played West Germany in the semi-final, as it happened, when the Germans took revenge for ‘66 and knocked England out. Sub goalkeeper Peter Bonetti and manager Alf Ramsey weren’t the only fall guys, it turned out.

Denis Howell was Harold Wilson’s Minister for Sport in 1970 and would write in his memoirs: “The moment goalkeeper Bonetti made his third and final hash of it on the Sunday, everything simultaneously began to go wrong for Labour for the following Thursday.”

Howell added that he and Home Secretary Roy Jenkins — not a sports fan — attended a mass meeting the morning after the England defeat: “Roy was totally bemused that no question concerned either trade figures nor immigration, but solely the football and whether Ramsey or Bonetti was the major culprit. I tried to be good-humoured about my answers, but for the first time I had real doubts and knew the mood was changing fast – and afterwards my wife Brenda came back from canvassing and said: ‘I don’t like the smell of it at all; it’s just like 1959 all over again’.”

That was a Conservative landslide, and 1970 was equally bleak for Labour.

I wouldn’t be in any rush if I were Enda Kenny.

Ref-cam may not be welcome in other codes

I’ve enjoyed the referee-cam being used in the Rugby World Cup, even though there’s something a little odd about all those players looking not at the camera but above it: I know they’re making eye contact with the official, but it makes a lot of them look like meaty Rain Men

While the respect that players have for the referee is an aspect of the game that rugby fans are (justifiably) proud of, how does that square with such famous ‘referees’ such as Lawrence Dallaglio et al, influential players whose ongoing dialogue with the (appointed) referee was an acknowledged issue that opponents had to get on with?

It did catch my eye (and ear) that Stephen Moore of Australia wasn’t shy about telling referee Craig Joubert of repeated Welsh infringements .

I thought it worth pointing out to those who advocate a rugby-like approach in other codes whether referees would care for a non-stop barrage of chat from the appointed captain in any utopian new dispensation?

Rouse produces a sports history masterpiece

Kudos here this week to Paul Rouse of UCD, who published Sport & Ireland — A History last week. Full disclosure: Paul has helped this column out more than once with various matters, not least with a chapter of a book, but that shouldn’t contaminate this recommendation one bit.

Sport, more than many areas, suffers from a huge amount of perceived wisdom, unchallenged myth, and long-standing presumption.

This is done this way because it’s always been done this way, or the reason for that is lost in time but it must have been a good reason in the first place.

Rouse’s book douses many of the sacred cows with a... I was going to say necessary laxative, but you don’t douse animals with laxative, you dose them, right? By nailing down dates he’s done the State some service, but by going beyond that to identify motivations and objectives among some of the driving personalities of sports over the centuries he’s gone above and beyond the call of duty (altogether).

This book is destined to be the benchmark and reference tool, so you might as well get a copy now. A masterpiece.

No tears for Sepp and company

I wish I had something constructive to offer on the latest Sepp Blatter news — he and Michel Platini were recently suspended for 90 days — but space is against me.

As are my baser instincts: So, Sepp, don’t let the door catch you on that well-padded backside as you go out.

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