Colin Sheridan: Sporting nostalgia and its ability to make us forget

We love the past, not because our ideals were purer then, nor our needs more fulfilled, but because of how it makes us feel
Colin Sheridan: Sporting nostalgia and its ability to make us forget

NOSTALGIA: Former international soccer rivals Ray Houghton and Toto Schillaci come face to face for the first time since Italia ‘90 at the 2022 National Ploughing Championships. Pic: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

There is a dichotomy in nostalgia that is often hard to reconcile. When it comes to sport, we - I - demand romance, crave beauty in poverty, poetry in conflict. It’s an imperfect and very human reaction to the bias of recency; today, after all, is shit. We have never been as corrupt, never as obese, never as angry, or as obsessed with coffee beans and tik tok and self-image. 

We blame Society as if it is some nefarious government think tank, forcing us to do things against our purist principles. This perpetual discontent causes us to look rearward, wistfully longing for a time that may not have been that great either, but it’s not “now”, so we believe it better. Retro jerseys have never been as popular. Vinyl is the new crypto. 

It's November, so every second man you pass is sporting a mustache worthy of a Tom Selleck homage. We love the past, not because our ideals were purer then, nor our needs more fulfilled, but because of how it makes us feel. Italia ‘90 was great because of its novel significance, and, in its remembrance, what it meant to us as a nation, so deeply deprived of joy (we think) and suddenly infatuated with the possibilities and escape of sport.

What our nostalgia ignores, however, is that “back then” may not have been a great time to be a gay man in Ireland or a woman in an abusive relationship wanting a divorce, or a teenager destroyed from the violence of institutional abuse. But, when Niall Quinn slid in on Hans Van Breukelen none of those things mattered, not in our sepia tinted recollections anyway. That was and remains the transcendent beauty of sport, I guess. A trick of the brain. Its ability to make us forget, especially as we try so hard to remember.

In reality, the football at Italia ‘90 was astonishingly abysmal, not just from Ireland and Egypt, but from everybody. Rewatching it was the “never meet your heroes” of World Cups. There’s the perception - the glorious arrival of us as a youthful nation - and the reality - the defending champions Argentina, through their nihilistic football, trying to prove the philosophical theory of anti-natalism (that all life is pointless, so don’t have kids).

Sometimes though, things really were better before. It’s forty years since Espana 82. You can’t be nostalgic for something you don’t remember, right? I was only a couple of summers old when it happened, but somehow recall more of that tournament than if I bloody played in it. Having three older brothers will do that. To them, football never got better than Spain ‘82. Having had recent cause to revisit it (for the brilliant podcast Espana 82 - One Day at a Time), I think they might be right.

This was a tournament of legitimately beautiful teams with legitimately beautiful stories. And beautiful hair. And beautiful jerseys. And beautiful boots. Spain was only seven years removed from the scourge of Franco. England and Argentina were at war in the Falklands. America was secretly at war in El Salvador. The world was scarcely a better place then than now, but the stories were better, believe me.

Take Rachid Mekhloufi, the manager of a brilliant Algerian team, who, in April 1958, left a brilliant career in his prime at St Etienne to join the FLN (Algerian Liberation Front) soccer team between 1958 and 1962.

Based in Tunis, the team had been formed with the aim of increasing international awareness of the Algerian War of Independence against France. In Spain, his team were deprived by a scandal involving West Germany that resulted in the rules of the tournament being changed.

This was the World Cup of Zico and arguably the greatest Brazilian team of them all. It was also the World Cup of a French team, led by Platini and Trésor, who, like Algeria, suffered an injustice against the Germans so profound it left the most beloved in France, even more than the champions of ‘98 and 2018.

I know I should be happy that Harry Kane didn’t have to fight for freedom (as many of the Salvadoran squad did) before coming to the World Cup. It’s not Neymar's fault his story is more polished than Gianna Infantino's head. I just hope that, against all odds, this World Cup captures some of the magic of forty years ago.

White concussion debate sparks another existential crisis in rugby

Rugby’s existential crisis reached another tipping point on Saturday night as Australian half back Nic White disappeared down the tunnel after taking two heavy knocks in quick succession, only to reappear again, much to the bemusement and genuine alarm of most paying attention. 

I say most, because paying more attention than anyone else was surely the entire Australian backroom team, for whom Whites duty of care should have been a priority. In order to return to the field of play, as White did, he would’ve had to pass a HIA (head injury assessment) administered by an impartial physician appointed by international rugby. Assuming he did so, his reappearance was still genuinely disconcerting. 

The incident prompted debate in the Virgin Media Sports studio where Joe Molloy tried to moderate contrasting viewpoints amongst his guests. Aghast at White's reappearance were Rob Kearney and Andrew Trimble. Even more aghast at them being aghast was Mattie Williams who took the very unpopular view that if everyone was doing their job correctly, then White was exactly where he should have been - on the field of play. You could never accuse Williams of being populist. His views drew harsh criticism across social media, but, did he have a point? 

"Do you think he's not concussed?" Kearney asked the Australian.

"I'm not a doctor” was Williams’ succinct reply, going on to say he wasn't in a position to prosecute the case from afar, unqualified and insufficiently informed to do so. 

Both points of view can be correct. It may be that there was nothing wrong with White (let’s hope), and what we slowed down and rewatched frame by frame was misleading. If so, his return to the field was nothing improper. If the opposite is true, though. If White was even suspected of being concussed, then rugby is learning nothing, and playing Russian Roulette with players lives. That’s a position from which it can never recover.

Ageless Murphy seemed destined to go on forever

It’s strange and sad to think we will never see Michael Murphy play football for Donegal again. His retirement was something never contemplated by those of us who considered him ageless, thus making it harder to comprehend. The eulogies have justifiably poured in. 

He was more than a player. A totem, rather. A man mountain with the footballing touch of a God. It was always fitting he was from Donegal, a county that defies cliche and stereotype. I, for one, thought he would be around forever.

Ronaldo's 360-feedback should be encouraged

Why anyone was surprised or disappointed at Ronaldo doing an interview with Piers Morgan, in which he took aim at his employers and former teammates, is beyond me. Quite the opposite, this type of behavior should be actively encouraged. 

The 360-feedback model is one that has been used by many big Corps and militaries down through the decades, usually to hilarious effect. Sometimes it’s performed in a controlled environment, with confidential questionnaires, other times at the bar during a Christmas party. It has honestly been the most human and relatable Ronaldo has ever been. More please!!

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