A person known to me was counting down the days for quite a while until the moment arrived last week: Stranger Things 2 was released.
This Netflix series caused quite a stir last year with its Stephen King-type ’80s-soaked nostalgia, and the second series looks cut from the same cloth, right down to the Reagan-Bush ’84 Presidential election campaign posters.
We all know about this kind of appeal to a rosy view of the past, no matter how bad the actuality was. When the Berlin Wall came down, freeing the millions of East Germans who’d been spied upon by the secret police for decades, who’d have thought people would develop a fondness for those not-so-good old days? Hence ostalgie, the nostalgia for Ost, or East, Germany.
There’s been quite a journey here, too, since 1984, and the changes in sport are as good an illustration as any. For one thing, the availability of sport as a consumer product is far higher, and sport is much more integrated in Irish society. In 1984 there was little enough live sport on television; as Dave Hannigan points out in his excellent new book Boy Wonder, about growing up in ’70s and ’80s Ireland, the live events most commonly featured on Sports Stadium tended to be horse-racing.
The major field sports were at different stages of development in 1984. Though Gaelic games celebrated its centenary, the landscape then is practically unrecognisable to us now — the players’ body shapes, protective gear, sponsorship packages and age profiles have all changed. Every championship game of consequence is available on television, and the vast increase in those games would shock a time-traveller from 1984: you can now win an All-Ireland senior title even if you lose in the first round.
In 1984 rugby occupied the national consciousness for a few weekends every spring, but now it’s a year-round sport, with highly paid professional athletes. The sport’s popularity and visibility couldn’t have been anticipated in ’84, though the shamateurism in places like France then was a sign of what was coming.
Soccer’s popularity also exploded across the pond in the intervening period. Newer converts may not remember a time — again, around the mid-’80s — when the beautiful game was played in dank, old-fashioned stadia, with hooligan activity a sad reality. The year after 1984 we had deaths in the Heysel stadium.
At that point, the lucrative Sky TV deals and Nick Hornby’s legitimisation of soccer obsession were years in the future, and would have been dismissed as science fiction in Orwell’s favourite year.
Another huge development since those long-ago days is the growth in women’s participation in school, and the visibility of sportswomen. The crowd at this year’s All-Ireland ladies football final is just the most obvious example - the crowd of 46,286 was the highest attendance at a women’s sports event this year in Europe.
No, it’s not perfect. Far from it, though the awareness of sexism in sport generally, and not just in women’s sports, is another aspect of modern sports life that makes 1984 seem even more distant. Take sportswriter Cliona Foley’s valid question last week — what would female members of Ballyragget GAA club make of the male players’ much-publicised carry-on?
There was a time when a question like that wouldn’t even have been asked.
The ’80s might be nice to visit, but it wasn’t as fun as we like to remember. At least in Stranger Things, they only have inter-dimensional monsters to deal with.
Great to hear last week from Liam Hayes, who’s worn many hats in his time, Meath midfield star and outstanding sportswriter among them.
In one of his latest incarnations, he runs sports publishing imprint Hero Books, and he sent along one of their new releases, The Master: Declan Kidney, A Biography.
No issues with the fair trade description act there, nor with another tome which is soon to arrive — Tony Doran: A Land of Men and Giants.
If you grew up in the ’70s and ’80s like your columnist (how nostalgic is today’s offering, eh?) then Tony Doran was a name you knew well.
Looking forward to that one, too.
Apparently Simon Zebo is off to France, and therefore out of the reckoning for Ireland teams while he is playing outside the country.
So much for a level playing field.
The Cork native is only doing what professional sportspeople have always done, which is to seek out the best possible deal he can, but the result is that he was not named in the Ireland squad for the upcoming internationals against South Africa, Fiji, and Argentina.
The reason I refer to a level playing field is the allowance made for another player who went to France, namely Jonathan Sexton.
Whether or not the move worked out for the player himself is beside the point; what is significant is that the rule about foreign-based players was waived in Sexton’s case but looks like it’s being enforced in Zebo’s.
I’m not sure if that conveys a great message to adventurous Irish players seeking a change of scenery. It suggests that you’re out of the picture if you move overseas . . . unless, of course, management hold you in higher regard than your team-mates.
It’s naive to think that players on any team in any sport don’t realise some of their colleagues are more expendable than others. In any walk of life that kind of double standard exists.
But its existence means other standards can prove hard to enforce.
A new offering from a long-time hero of this column is also on the must-buy list: The Man From The Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery by Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James.
Bill is the man credited with the revolution that led to data in sports, and baseball in particular, but he also wrote Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence, which is well worth your time.
Rachel is his daughter. Her middle name? Yes, not only did Bill help invent Moneyball, he had the good sense to marry a lady named McCarthy.
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