When the banter bites on the behind

Here we are, back again to those regular bedfellows, the bantz and the ‘controvassy’.

When the banter bites on the behind

Back to that intoxicating urge to cause amusement that may eventually sink all the football men.

This morning, we think of the men who have fallen foul of the bantz, or who have been brought down by the bantz. Men like Richard Keys, Andy Gray, Rodney Marsh, Malky Mackay.

To Keysy, it may have been “just banter”; in Malky’s case, it was only “friendly text message banter”, but we are slowly beginning to understand the power of this compulsion, among football men, to say crude, unnecessary things in an effort to amuse their brethren.

It’s at times like this, too, we marvel that more haven’t been taken from us. We think of men like Merse and Sav and even Lawro, men who trade heavily in the bantz, and not for the first time we must consider that these are men with a lot more smarts than they are given credit for, to have survived this long in that precarious game. To have bantered responsibly.

We remember, also, the exile of Big Ron, a slightly different case, since his bantz mainly stayed just about the right side of the line, until the day he was caught talking to himself. And Glenn Hoddle, who has no time for banter at all, but simply paid the price for his devout faith in the Word of Hod.

And then we come to Martin O’Neill, who got a new two-year contract the day after he begged forgiveness for a fresh lapse as the wicked lure of the LOLs proved too strong.

A very different dynamic, to what we are used to. Trumpian, almost. There is a sense, out there, that the Trump may just be redefining the whole business of controvassy. That controvassy may never be quite the same again once Trump is finished. In saying terrible, ridiculous, offensive things, and subsequently growing ever more popular with his flock, Trump is making us reconsider the merits of pure nonsense.

And maybe making it harder to get worked up about the gaffes of football men.

And on a local level, I suppose we have become somewhat attuned to there not being any consequences for the words of our representatives, in various arenas.

So this curious episode might be down to Trumpian forces, though it is more likely to be down to FAI forces.

To put this one in context, we probably have to imagine Roy Hodgson confiding in Gary Lineker that he wouldn’t like the impression to get out that he and Gary Neville are a pair of ‘queers’. And then try to picture Roy striding out in Marseille this evening, emboldened by a fresh two-year deal.

This is a man, we recall, whose rare foray into the bantz saw him persecuted for telling a joke about a monkey when there was a black man in the dressing room.

No, I don’t think we’d be seeing much of Roy for the foreseeable.

Which is not to say we must always yield to the demands of controvassy. Should the uncontrollable urge to pun tsunami with Toon Army have meant the end of Rodney Marsh? Or should Rod have been given help for his reliance on banter, his destructive relationship with the bantz?

In this case, we must remember too that Martin has taken the hardest step and admitted he has a problem. And has vowed that there will be no more jokes. He is finished with bantz. Though that will be a daily struggle.

But if we are to consider the victim here: the gay man or woman, perhaps more specifically the vulnerable gay youngster who has had his fears deepened about the welcome that might await in a football dressing room; ought he be more dismayed at O’Neill, who offered a genuine, mortified apology?

Or at his employer, the Irish football establishment, which offered no comment on the episode save the swift rubberstamp of a new contract?

Bantz policing aside, have the FAI got the right result, with their 11th-hour contractual swoop? From a purely tactical point of view, on the negotiation front, O’Neill’s hand may not have been strongest at a time when the English broadsheets were carrying word of his ‘homophobic episode’.

But somehow the extensions look a touch riskier than they did a few short weeks ago.

It has been an oddly sour build-up. Needless bad feeling with lads like Kevin Doyle. Roy Keane essentially mocked the entire career of a player who contributed significantly to getting us there and questioned the professionalism of several more.

O’Neill, carrying on his pointless feud with Dunphy, implied half his squad are “failed players”.

It would be easy now, if it all goes south, for a narrative to emerge involving a dressing room being lost.

Failure might be a little harder to laugh off.

Ali’s brief moments of respite

Earliest sporting memory; the telly packing up in ‘78 and walking the few hundred yards with the oul lad to a neighbour’s to catch the last of Kempes dancing through the ticker tape.

Around the same time, a vigil. A fight between a man called Spinks and the hero. It must have been the rematch, which Ali won, because I recall no gloom.

The oul lad had great regard for Ali. Had him up there with Jimmy Doyle, Eamonn Coghlan, Dennis Taylor and Alex Higgins.

A man who probably never got a box in the head, certainly never earned it, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s around the same age as Ali was.

In some ways, Ali offered hope. That everything would now be done to find a cure.

But to see how it ravaged a man who was the epitome of strength and power and grace...

I remember a beautiful day when he ran down the road, sprinted nearly, like Coghlan on a kick. Thought he was cured.

They understand more about that nowadays. Kinesia paradoxa. Even in his last years, we heard how Ali could sometimes visit the gym, pull on the trunks, and pound the bag. Find a brief miracle escape from the disease’s iron grip through movements he’d learned and practised to perfection.

Hopefully, in those releases, he was able to relive some of his great days, to float and sting.

They understand more all the time. But not nearly enough. When Ali came to Ireland in 2009, he accepted the invitation to become honorary president of the Parkinson’s Association of Ireland.

They do fine work, in education and care and support. A donation might be a nice tribute to an icon who gave us many beautiful memories.

Heroes & Villains


Eva Carneiro: We heard the Mourinho to Old Trafford negotiations were briefly held up over image rights.

We pondered then just how much the club should charge him for damage to their image.

Eva, through her perseverance, has given us some idea where the calculations should start.

Sky Sports: Away from the Euros glare, order has been restored.

SS1 will soon return to Ch 401, and, what do you know, SS2 will be back on Ch 402. Telly feng shui.


The England band: The tease landed Thursday morning that the FA had neglected to secure stadium passes for these musical terrorists. But hope was soon dashed. There is to be no great escape. Or rather there will be many.

More in this section

Home Delivery


Have the Irish Examiner delivered to your door. No delivery charge. Just pay the cover price.


Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox


Saturday, March 6, 2021

  • 3
  • 14
  • 17
  • 18
  • 38
  • 47
  • 46

Full Lotto draw results »