Larry Ryan - Treating the week’s sport like scum
As usual, it all began with that seductive menace, the bantz. “I thought I would just have a bit of banter about the result.”
When he rolled down his car window on the motorway and cranked up his camera phone, no doubt Andy Hughes wore the giddiness of Leo Varadkar glancing towards Donald Trump in advance of some totes joshing about influencing the planning process. What could go wrong?
“2-1,” roared Hughesy from his banterbus, triggering a chain of events that brought shame and suspension for Jamie Carragher; notoriety, death threats, and a police visit for Andy himself; and an early bath for Hughes’ 14-year-old daughter.
This sad story features many other familiar themes.
Carragher is the man who plays Carra. And the modern rise of the football pundit, as well as the enduring appetite for controvassy, was plain in the rolling coverage of Carra’s fall from grace. His exhaustive apology circuit befitted someone who had besmirched a position of great power and influence.
There is bitter irony too that it is Carra’s brethren who made his offence a mortal sin.
In the three decades since Eamon Dunphy staged a ‘stop it there’ pantomime out of Frank Rijkaard’s glug into Rudi Völler’s mullet, it is the pundits who have cast spitting as the “lowest of the low”.
It is thanks to the pundits we know Andy Hughes would rather have had his leg broken than be spat at, something his devil-may-care attitude to road safety also suggests.
In this unpromising scenario, there was much to admire in the textbook crisis management of Carra’s handlers and the expert way they rode the frenetic pace of modern outrage.
Rather than allow a vacuum develop amid the ravenous hunger for absolute disgrace, they stuffed us full of Carra remorse.
A highly visible train journey from Liverpool to face the music, a 15-minute Sky News grilling, a few contrite tweets, then a tour of sackcloth duty round the other news desks.
Within 24 hours, we had overdosed and it was Hughesy under the cosh and Carra virtually the victim. Or certainly rehumanised sufficiently to allow Sky kick the can to the end of an already dead season rather than wield the axe.
Ticking the final box on the redemption checklist, Sky also vowed to get Carragher all the help he needs, so he can resume the role of Carra.
A reckless impulsive streak that kept him on Richard Dunne’s tail in the Premier League own-goal chart has also surfaced in unorthodox ways over the years.
There was a coin chucked back at the Highbury crowd, a phonecall to Talksport to tackle a presenter who called him a bottler, and a split-second costume change from joy to rage after Liverpool’s 2012 League Cup win when Sky’s Andy Burton suggested it might be a suitable farewell.
“You were lucky to keep your job at Sky after that Wolves stuff,” Carragher spat back, meaning Burton’s involvement in the Sian Massey bantz that began the end for Andy Gray and Richard Keys.
Sky didn’t roll out the machinery of redemption for those two. But then Carra’s popularity and avoidance of sexism aren’t the only things that make him more eligible for forgiveness.
Rather overlooked this week was the true red rag to Carra’s red mist. A great hatred of Manchester United has undone many a good man before him. So in Carra’s disintegration following his beloved Liverpool’s defeat by Manchester United, it is possible to see a helpless sufferer buckling under the weight of a known condition.
They walk in their droves among us, sufferers of this incurable sickness, gratefully gulping down Pep Guardiola’s medicine; thankful a financially doped power grab by a despotic regime is acting as a merciful buttress against the real tyranny that came before.
At least, this time of year, it is a sickness that tends to bring waves of euphoria as much as nausea. The gleeful midweek inquest into a Manchester United Champions League exit remains one of the great traditions to unite the football world, as sufferers relax and vow to finally enjoy the rest of the competition.
We should probably investigate the failings of human nature that spread this wicked disease. But we shouldn’t rule out either the possibility that the fault might lie entirely with Manchester United and its charmlessness.
Of course an antidote was almost within their grasp, thanks chiefly to Moyesy. Persevere and they might have, one day, laid claim to some of the sympathy and curiosity Carra’s old boys attract.
But perhaps a grandiose institution’s sense of entitlement was so great, it felt it was owed our revulsion as well as everything else.
So it turned to Mourinho.
Things haven’t yet worked out entirely as planned. But at least people will never tire of seeing them lose, on Jose’s watch, which might be just as important to them.
Sometimes, in weeks like this, it is even tempting to wonder if Mourinho himself has contracted the terrible old disease. Maybe he hates Manchester United as much as the best of them.
Maybe he’s reached the Groucho Marx stage, where he holds in contempt any club that would have him, especially while they still bang on about ‘the United way’.
Whatever it is, it was an unusual reaction to a Manchester United defeat from the Manchester United manager, to remind Manchester United of all the other times he’d knocked them out of the Champions League. And to follow it up by outlining in great detail where they’ve gone so badly wrong, in general, over the years.
It was almost the kind of thing Carra might do, having got a little lift in the middle of a rough week.
Nemo bottling the Corkness
There’s a bullishness on the streets. An unmistakable sense of enormous well-being. Yes, Corkness is on rise again.
It might be the Young Offenders.
Or maybe ‘Ask Audrey’ has finally got them to face up to all of all their insecurities, if they ever had any. I could, in partnership with the government, say it is the National Development Plan, inspiring them.
But more likely it’s Nemo.
Even in fallow times on Leeside, there has generally been a working well of Corkness off the South Douglas Road and, in the run to today’s All-Ireland final, the vibes out of Trabeg have been pure Cork.
Before the semi-final, they let it be known they’d go up for the final alright, if they won, but getting an ould run out at Croker was no big deal to them. They wouldn’t be making a film out of it.
And they had all the signs of a crowd travelling with light baggage in a semi they had to win twice.
Now, they are there, at Croker, there’s no playing it down, or talking anyone up, or deflecting the pressure.
They are saying it is high time they won another one and more or less telling us they should be winning one every few years and what about it.
There are no mind games, though some will tell you Corkness is a mind game where you start with an unfair advantage.
But even in Cork, they could sell bottles of whatever these lads have.
Heroes & villains
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN#
It suited Conte’s purposes to underline the genius of Chelsea’s opponents, yet his awe at full-time in the Nou Camp seemed genuine enough. Hopefully, Gilesy is right about the wisdom of 30 and we have a few of the great man’s best years still in store.
HELL IN A HANDCART
Quicker off the mark onto Twitter than he was moving his feet to deal with Ben Yedder, as he prolonged the ludicrous new trend of footballers issuing public apologies after defeat.
For once, The Guardian pipped the Daily Mail to the post in the race of overreact to Carra’s spit-spat: “Football as the beautiful game is dead, Jamie Carragher spat on its grave.”
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