MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Camus provided share of sporting existential angst

Last week was the centenary of the birth of Albert Camus. The great man grew up to become the second-youngest winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1957 (can you guess the youngest?) for works such as The Outsider and The Myth of Sisyphus.

Camus was born in Algeria, which you may recall, distantly, from Leaving Cert French, but what I never knew until recently was the journey he travelled from there to winning the ultimate prize in world literature. For instance, I only read last week in a piece by Geoff Dyer that when the telegram arrived in Algeria to tell Camus’ mother that her son had won the Nobel, she had to have it read out to her: she had never learned to read or write.

What’s he doing here, you may ask? Camus is also famous, in a narrower way, for facilitating an awful lot of pretentious talk about sport and philosophy.

His throwaway line about football adorns T-shirts and mugs and is often trotted out by people seeking to build a solid foundation for their sporting obsessions.

The line? You know it from its usual incarnation, “All I know about morality I learned from football,” though interestingly enough, the actual quote is good deal vaguer: “After many years during which I saw many things, what I know most surely about morality and the duty of man I owe to sport and learned it in the RUA [his college in Algeria].”

Perhaps not as interesting as I made out, but still, a bit different to the usual slogan.

I mention the great man here for a couple of reasons.

One, last year he figured in a great, great book by Jonathan Wilson titled The Outsider, a deliberate nod to Camus’ novel. Wilson mentioned the fact that when French media wanted to talk to Camus about his Nobel Prize win, they eventually tracked him down to a game being played by Racing Club de Paris and smuggled away a few quotes when the writer could tear himself away from the action.

Incidentally, Camus’ behaviour generally during the ’50s outshone the other writer with whom his name is usually linked, Jean-Paul Sartre: Camus broke with the Communists early rather than remaining as an apologist for Stalin, which Sartre did: the two men are contrasted in a recent book by Andy Martin called The Boxer and The Goalkeeper. (You can guess which is which).

Also, he — well, specifically his interest in sport — was the subject of the first piece I ever wrote for a national newspaper. I imagined what would have happened if the goalkeeper had stayed with soccer instead of scribbling and took it from there.

So there: if you can’t stand this corner of the paper, blame the existentialists, though they’ll probably shrug their shoulders, light another Gauloise and say, ‘eh rien . . .’

All Star picks always good for talking points

So there I was, minding my own business in the supermarket car park, tapping my fingers along to Marty Whelan’s musical selections, when the car door opened and a large gentleman hopped in.

No pleasantries, no preamble.

‘What the hell are they at with the All Star selection?’

Happily, this man was known to me and the conversation improved from there on in; there were no more surprises.

I was unable to help him with his exact query about the omission of a player from the 15, as I have not been a judge for this august award.

As a consequence, I am not privy to the arcane selection procedures involved, though rumours of the entrails of a chicken and the precise consultation of tea leaves in the bottom of a cup persist stubbornly.

The importance you ascribe to the annual All Star awards relates directly to your level of involvement, unsurprisingly. There are uncorroborated tales of players consulting journalists ahead of and after the announcement of the 15, and there are equally unproven stories of players’ disdain for the bauble.

I must declare an interest here: a couple of years ago I was invited on the All Star hurling trip to San Francisco and after consulting my scruples for about 0.52 seconds I accepted. And a great trip it was, too.

However, that does not stop me from visiting a cold eye on the selections every year: it takes more than an all-expenses paid jaunt to the west coast of America to buy me off, je t’assure.

As a result, I put up a reasonably robust defence of the scheme in the car park (‘Well, you know, it’s a hard job . . .’) The chat ended with a good dash of common sense, though.

Before hopping out and going on his way, the man in the passenger seat said: ‘Look, we’re talking about it, I suppose that’s the whole point of the thing.’

You never said a truer word.

A fight to decipher Mailer’s scribble

While I’m at it with the books... I see there’s a new biography of Norman Mailer out. I was alerted to this by a piece in the online magazine Salon, which asked a very pertinent question: why did Mailer ever write novels when journalism was his best work?

The sport Mailer is closely associated with is boxing, of course, and his masterwork is The Fight, the account of Muhammad Ali’s win over George Foreman in Zaire 39 years ago (39 years!).

I won’t revisit this in its entirety as I’ve touched on The Fight here before, but I did come across a little gem last week on the interweb: a glimpse of Mailer’s handwritten draft of The Fight, ( complete with press accreditation for the contest).

It’s all very well saying that Ali was the greatest boxer in the world, but whoever found a way to decipher that scrawl deserves some kind of championship belt all of their own.

Money talks at Kilkenny festival

Saturday evening: Kilkenny.

Yours truly is on stage at the Kilkenomics festival, a smorgasbord of economists and comedians (I’m neither, I know, don’t all shout at once).

The company was good: Simon Kuper, author of Football Against the Enemy and Soccernomics; Denis Hickie, formerly of Ireland and Leinster and sports agent Fintan Drury, all of us in a panel discussion chaired by comedian Karl Spain.

It was informative, too: Kuper revealed that Real Madrid, for all that it’s the most successful soccer club in the world, would be merely the 131st biggest company in Finland, based on turnover, while Drury spoke about the page in the Barcelona FC annual report which called for cost-cutting measures across the board — except to player wages.

Denis Hickie referred to the mythical BT rugby deal, the mystery figure so attractive to English rugby clubs in the European Cup stand-off.

Among other things I mentioned the attractions of pandas tickling each other at half-time during matches.

What else did I say? As in, tell you for free? I’m afraid you’ll have to read my book to find out, folks. Hey, you don’t hang around with all those economists without learning something.


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