MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: A coarsening challenge to find real Ireland

OCTOBER on the horizon.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness shortly to arrive.

And self-examination, occasioned by a short piece which caught our eye in one of the quality English broadsheets over the weekend.

Written by novelist Will Self, it came with a pretty provocative title: Is there something inherently coarsening about sport?

Self has always been a favourite around these parts – not just for his use of words like ‘valences’ in common discourse, but his loudly stated preference for exotically dressed holy men to surround modern airports, casting spells on the aircraft and commanding them to fly (“What goes on in airports is extraordinary...”).

His examination of the coarsening effects of sport came with a Montaigne quote, “Mistrust a man who takes games too seriously; it means he doesn’t take life seriously enough,” and name-checked hardcore thinkers such as Claude Levi-Strauss and highbrow novelists like Richard Ford.

Self mentioned Ford’s classic American novel The Sportswriter in particular, a fine book even though, despite your expectations from the title, it carries nary a match report or a player rating.

In fairness to Self, he didn’t buy in automatically to the notion that sport coarsens; noting that for many people, men in particular, sport serves as a means of discussing not just a particular game or player but can “stand... as a proxy for misgivings about anything,” and that it dulls rather than coarsens.

Then he got into Levi-Strauss’s The Savage Mind and we lost our way a little bit. Maybe it was the heat that made us nod off. Or the Chips Ahoy chocolate biscuits we brought back on holidays.

If Self was on the lookout for prima facie evidence of the coarsening effects of sport, though, he wouldn’t have had to look too far over the weekend for a fairly glaring example.

We refer to latest media kerfuffle over Aston Villa player Stephen Ireland, whose enormous fish tank and oddly-coloured car tyres caused apoplexy among the arbiters of taste at the Daily Mail in recent days (“the tackiest house in Britain” was the phrase used, with little apparent sense of irony).

That said, the decor in Ireland’s house – which featured in a celebrity magazine – is bright enough to cause retinal scarring, and wouldn’t be the first choice of many people, to put it mildly.

On the evidence of the interior design on offer chez Ireland then whatever about sport in general being inherently coarsening, you could say some sports in particular do nothing for your sense of the best options for your soft furnishings.

Even in general commentary Ireland doesn’t do himself many favours. In a Sunday paper interview yesterday, for instance, he gave an insight into his odd sense of what is and isn’t appropriate when it comes to timepieces.

“And to the teenagers with the ten-grand watches,” Ireland’s quote runs, “I would say, ‘You’ve played a quarter of a season with the reserves; I’d played four seasons in the Premier League when I bought the car’.”

‘The car’ being a £260,000 Bentley.

And yet... elsewhere Ireland pointed out that he had been looking after his two children on his own as a teenager when earning very little money and trying to break into the Man City first team. Now he has more money and spends it as he wishes. What more need be said?

(Apart from asking Ireland to belt up whenever he feels the need to discuss his international future or otherwise).

Everyone enjoys a snigger at the taste shown by the likes of Ireland, with the pastel-leather car seats and well-lit aquarium, and everyone manages a doleful headshake at how it points to the decline of civilisation.

But there may be something inherently coarsening not so much about sport as about our interest in ancillary activities of our sportsmen. Even if they go to sleep in a bedroom of uncompromising aubergine.

* contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie; Twitter: MikeMoynihanEx


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