One clear eye helps terrace talk to persuade

Terrace talk has been one of Examiner Sport’s more popular features.

One clear eye helps terrace talk to persuade

Since Fergie turned in the keys to the Old Trafford presses, we have become ever more reliant on Richard Kurt’s knowledge of where the knives are kept.

Whether bleak dejection or giddy expectation engulfs Anfield, Steven Kelly’s columns will probably have reached that place at least a week before.

We could never hope to understand the raging paranoia that powers Chelsea, or keep abreast of the clubs’ endless dossier of sworn enemies, without Trizia Fiorellino’s bulletins.

Bernard Azulay has been football’s answer to Coogan and Brydon’s sparkling gastrologue The Trip, with Arsenal Bernard’s main course after every trek across Britain. Fittingly, since many of their seasons have been more about the journey than destination.

The section is in review at the moment, as upstarts such as Man City and Spurs and maybe even Leicester (remember them?) make a case for attention. But the demand for reading someone who shares your perspective has probably never been greater.

There is an argument that fan columns are the more natural way of writing and reading about sport. That it is the dispassionate neutral who is less authentic. Maybe even less reliable. That you can never truly get the measure of a player or a team until they have let you down and broken your heart.

Again.

The more partisan philosophy is employed, to some extent, among notionally neutral rugby writers, who might disagree over the tactical minutiae of when the ball should be hoofed over the sideline or tucked ‘up the jumper’, but are entirely in congress on the conviction that theirs is a superior way of life. That what they see, whenever a team crosses the gain line, is the ultimate validation of man’s unfathomable reserves of bravery. And physicality.

And even an Ireland team with 15 changes this weekend will not rattle their certainly that there is no such thing in rugby as a friendly.

Beyond the sports desks, the clamour for opinion to agree with is being catered for generously.

Positions are taken. Ground is stood. Echoes resound.

On Twitter, the phrase ‘great piece’ has essentially become shorthand for ‘that’s what I think too’.

This week, Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen, baffled at the result of the American presidential election, tweeted: “Can’t believe what I’m seeing. This is so embarrassing. Would love to speak to someone who’s actually pro Trump to see what’s going on in their head but I just can’t find them...”

Had Jan read the first Terrace Talk by Tottenham historian Martin Cloake last Monday, he wouldn’t have found a lengthy dissection of his own penalty box pull on Granit Xhaka during the North London derby. And he would have likewise struggled to gain an understanding, via the sensible media, of why somebody might vote for Donald Trump.

And maybe that’s fair enough, given how tall an order it is to explain Trump’s appeal. But Jan wouldn’t have turned up too many clues either as to why so many people weren’t able to vote for Hillary Clinton, had no reason to. He would find those people dismissed as fools and racists and misogynists. And that is what he will still find, for the foreseeable, as great piece after great piece explains what drove the other crowd to the bad.

As Thomas Frank put it, in The Guardian, of the editorial and opinion pages of America’s papers: “They chose insulting the other side over trying to understand what motivated them. They transformed opinion writing into a vehicle for high moral boasting.” The unsuccessfulness of this policy caused Catherine Rampell, of the Washington Post, to wonder is there any use writing another word.

“As a writer, I have always believed in the power of words. This election, and the parallel media echo chambers that have encased it, have shaken that belief. We writers can preach to the choir, but our chances of converting anyone outside our house of worship have narrowed.” Now that media, on each side, has essentially boxed itself in as Terrace Talk, maybe it can relax and deliver the kind of insight the Terrace Talkers manage with one eye closed, which, while rightly converting nobody, broadens their relevance to fans of all clubs.

Kurt will nail political manoeuvring at United. Kelly is first to puncture Scouse presumption. Azulay teases out all strands of The Arsene Question, while Trizia, whether blinded by a beautiful love of Jose Mourinho or not, is capable of accusing Chelsea’s own fans and players of treachery.

Prescribed reading then, but at a time when clear eyes and full hearts are needed more than ever, first on everyone’s schedule should be another spin of TV show Friday Night Lights.

It has been lauded many times here before, but as much as FNL captured the power of sport and dreams, in this case via high school football, it also sketched the bleakness when hope slips away in rural, red state America.

In Slate magazine this week, Willa Paskin admitted that a Clinton voter in a non-swing state might conceivably know absolutely no one who voted for Trump.

But she knows Buddy Garrity, the garrulous, traditional, Texan small business owner of FNL’s Dillon, who she reckons would certainly have voted Trump. And that made her feel better. It gave her some means of identifying with her fellow Americans, the idea that Buddy didn’t seem that bad a guy, behind it all. And she found it odd that fictional television should be the only thing to bring her that understanding.

I don’t know if Buddy would be a Trump man — that might be one more presumption on top of all the others. A resilient sort, he never entirely lost hope, even when the car dealership was on the ropes and his family was gone.

FNL didn’t dwell too much on politics, having enough to get on with in real life.

But when Republican candidate Mitt Romney twisted the show’s catchphrase in 2012 for his ‘Clear eyes, full hearts, America can’t lose’ slogan, show writer-director Peter Berg wrote to Romney to tell him: “Your politics and campaign are clearly not aligned with the themes we portrayed in our series.”

At heart, the show was democratic. But it aired the fears of the struggling, the beliefs of the religious, the concerns of the disenfranchised.

From that foundation of fairness, it could also call out the ignorant and the racist. And while the great Coach Taylor was the star, the central pillar was undoubtedly his teacher wife Tami; the compassionate, broadminded, tolerant, often conflicted woman anybody could live with as their president.

Heroes & Villains

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

The Planet Earth iguana:

Setting the benchmark for Savage Hunger in a GAA dressing room next summer. Surely an emergency seminar was held at every performance coaching college, instructing practitioners how to work this little hero into their keynote addresses.

Mark McNulty:

Made Bubbles look like a dignified effing ambassador, but encouraging signs of reawakening Corkness in the familiar conviction that Cork have never ever got enough credit.

HELL IN A HANDCART

Rugby Country:

Claim a friendly win as the country’s greatest sporting achievement, if you must, but the airbrushing from history of Ireland’s hat-trick of snooker World Cup wins has been a scandal.

John Lewis:

Their exposure of the vulnerability of open-air trampolines to animal excrement the biggest setback to the sport since Gerry Loftus’s retirement.

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