Back in June, when Martin O’Neill agreed a new Ireland contract immediately after running into trouble over a little homophobic banter, I wondered if Donald Trump was renewing the licenses of football men, in the arena of the bantz.
I wrote: “There is a sense, out there, that 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.”
This movement might have encouraged Big Ron enough to get a new book out for Christmas. But, in the end, it turned out to be another big call gone badly wrong.
Instead, the Donald has now surely buried the bantz once and for all.
Because, when Trump ploughed so far over the line he wound up in Row Z, he thought he was just being one of the lads. He told us it was just “locker room banter”. In the days since, locker rooms of the sporting world have rushed to distance themselves.
LeBron James, Sean Doolittle, Chris Conley, Kendall Marshall, Lee Dixon, Graeme Le Saux assure us they have never heard anything like it. And we must believe them, because in truth it is hard to imagine that particular arrangement of words tumbling out of anyone else’s mouth. Even those lads who would put on their shirt before their underpants and stand drying their hair on a bench, detailing their plans for a region that swung in your direct eyeline.
But, it is forever tainted now, the bantz. Will we hear it again, from the old pro, that the one thing he misses is the dressing room banter? How many autobiographies have been hastily recalled from the printers this week for the deletion of that single line?
But before we leave banter behind, forever, a last word for its most celebrated practitioners, the public face of bantz: Keysy, Gray, Malky Mackay and co, plus the Twitter accounts of leading bookmakers. And whoever the counterparts are, of all these characters, in the United States.
Even those men who stayed the right side of the line, but devoted their lives that bit too enthusiastically to the bantz; Tubes, Fenners, Ally McCoist, Matt Dawson, Sav, James Corden.
If anyone asks, from now on, Donald is with you.
Banter was also on trial in Australia this week. As was its stablemate, sledging, at the inquest of Phillip Hughes, the Aussie cricketer killed by a ball in November, 2014.
The inquest’s brief expanded beyond medical cause and effect when Hughes’ family expressed their concerns to the cornerer that “the nature of play” and alleged sledging targeting Hughes might have exacerbated his risk of injury.
Hughes’ father contended that unsettling comments combined with short intimidatory bowling made Sydney Cricket Ground an “unsafe workplace” on that fateful day.
Former Australian captain Steve Waugh favoured the term “mental disintegration”, when he gloried in the art of sledging and banter. The goal to get in the batsman’s head and force a mistake.
In court this week, it was alleged that Doug Bollinger, one of the New South Wales bowlers who faced Hughes, said “I’m going to kill you” some time before the fatal delivery, bowled by colleague Sean Abbott.
Under oath, Bollinger protested that “in his heart of hearts” he couldn’t have said that. And fielder David Warner, a friend of Hughes, backed that defence.
“Sledging is common practice in cricket, but I do not recall anyone sledging Phil on the day of the incident.
“I cannot recall any banter or sledging.”
Tim Cooper, Hughes’ final batting partner, backed Bollinger. “I don’t remember him (Hughes) saying anything to me on the day about being sledged. In fact, my recollection is that the game was reasonably quiet in terms of sledging.”
And the statement of another NSW player, Brad Haddin, confirmed there had been “no real banter” on the day.
On the final day of the inquest, counsel assisting the inquiry, Kristina Stern, advised coroner Michael Barnes not to make recommendations on sledging or style of play, causing Hughes’ family to walk out of proceedings.
So banter won’t, it seems, be convicted. Down Under, at least, it walks free.
Bowlers will continue to explore the batsman’s head. But after a sobering week, will certain things ever be said, with quite the same relish, on Sydney Cricket Ground or any other track?
Rewinding the festival of goading and malevolence that was the All-Ireland football final, you’d wonder too, if the worst happened, and any of the trash talkers were called to an inquest; would they really be happy to stand by their bantz?
Life all Wright after bantz
It’s only right to offer hope and succour to football men, now trying to kick the habit of a lifetime. Once, all Ian Wright knew was the bantz.
“Ok, they’re coming to me last, I’ve got time to come up with a quip,” he writes, in his new autobiography, of his approach to Match of the Day punditry.
“I’m pretty sure I thought I had to impress... and the way to do it was with a joke or a crack.”
In 2008, Wright lashed out at MOTD, accusing the BBC of treating him like a court jester and not taking him seriously. But he admits now, he should have just looked at himself.
Not that he has gone cold turkey since his return to the job he calls his ‘Graceland’.
“I know there’s space for banter and having a laugh, as I do with Gary and Shearer and anyone else who’s on. But you’re there to talk football… and impart what you know.”
“I’ve always held my hands up when I’m wrong,” Wrighty concluded, proving he’s not quite yet ready for high office.
Heroes & villains
Deserves the cash, but wouldn’t you hate to see it go wrong? Can’t Chelsea buy him, give him 20 grand a week, and send him back to Oriel Park on loan?
Whoever branded World Cup qualification the ‘European Qualifiers’ has condemned TV stations to two years of endless complaints.
Already started cribbing about the ‘festive’ programme. Try on Stephen Kenny’s shoes.
In 2010, a poll of 2,000 people found Britain’s Worst Boss would be a mix of Margaret Thatcher, Alan Sugar, Katie Price and Gordon Brown. Pep would surely come into the reckoning now, having turned off the Wifi at City’s training ground — leaving Zabaleta and the lads relying on “a little bit of 3G upstairs.”