Idon’t know about you, but on nights like Tuesday I’m feeling bad enough about the Republic of Ireland’s lurch down the Euro divisions without having to read bantery tweets from that popular bookmaker (you know the one).
“A member of Uefa’s committee has warned that Ireland may be forced to play games behind closed doors if they continue to be this shite,” went one tweet.
Another slammed the team while also satirising the Nations League’s labyrinthine structure: “Ireland now need to win away in Denmark to try and avoid relegation. Relegation to where I’ve no idea. Maybe down a f*cking black hole. Might be for the best.”
Yeah okay, ha ha.
A degree of gallows humour is required at times like this.
The whole circus around our national football team seems to demand it. And rather than the “constantly exploding clown car,” as the writer Michael Nugent once described the FAI, things currently feel blacker, like something scripted by Armando Iannucci or Office-era Ricky Gervais.
There is a sense of omni-shambles, an inability to avoid bizarre media banana skins like the Stephen Ward WhatsApp story, or the recent occasion when Martin O’Neill was confronted by a gaggle of journalists about a Sky Sports News report that Declan Rice was declaring for England.
It felt like a scene from The Thick of It, with O’Neill the embattled minister assaulted by crises on all sides. The exchange ended with O’Neill faux-jauntily cross-examining a bewildered looking Sky reporter who had no idea what was going on and mumbled about having to “ring the office”, while an FAI press officer ground his teeth nervously in the background.
Then there’s Roy Keane, roaming the corridors of the team hotel like a demented aunt, swearing profusely at anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path.
“You! Why aren’t you training you c***?!”
“Excuse me sir, I was just wondering if you wanted fresh towels.”
And there’s the little bleak touches, like the photo that emerged on Tuesday night of some balloons hung up in the FAI Suite at the Aviva Stadium to mark John Delaney’s 51st birthday, and the sad thought that it was someone’s job on a match day to make sure they were there.
But a lot of people don’t really want to take the piss.
Most aren’t even that angry. There were some boos at full-time on Tuesday but not the fusillade of hate that usually forces managers’ heads onto the chopping block.
Mostly people shuffled away to their cars, trains or alehouses, shrugging their shoulders at it all. There was acknowledgement that the lads had tried their best, followed by the usual circular arguments about changing the manager and the quality of players and sure who would you get in — Big Mick? Stephen Kenny? Chris Hughton? He’d never come! — and would they do any better with what’s there, but sure how could they do any worse, etc, etc, etc?
It was a sense of resignation that whatever happens now is beyond our power to affect. They say that the FAI top brass reach for the axe when they see the attendances for internationals dwindling, but this team, wandering aimlessly through its barren tactical desert, still attracted 38,000-odd for a Nations League game with Wales on a Tuesday evening, albeit there was anecdotal evidence of avalanches of free tickets being dumped on miscellaneous junior clubs.
Brian Kerr recently pointed out that the FAI are fond of “sending out letters in October,” a rueful reminder of his own inelegant dismissal but also that it is the time of year when Abbotstown top brass like to tie up loose ends, as if managerial uncertainty hampers digestion of a top football executive’s seasonal turkey and sprouts.
So, the rest of us must wait while the calculation is made: What it would cost to sack the current management team, minus what it would cost not to sack them. Will the punters turn up anyway, even if the team continues to resemble a poorly rehearsed am-dram production in which nobody knows their lines and Cyrus Christie has been forced centre stage in a wig and ballgown to play the leading lady?
Or is Martin right, and the heartiness of Coleman, Brady, McCarthy, and Walters will add beef to the watery stew that has sustained us recently?
What will be will be. We are suffering what psychologists call ‘learned helplessness’. This is the condition observed in laboratory animals who have been subjected to repeated painful stimuli and who develop an acceptance of their inability to avoid it.
We are the rats, the Aviva Stadium is our lab, and we’re going to get our arses electrocuted no matter what happens.
It’s no coincidence that James McClean has become the most popular Republic of Ireland player of the current era. For his crucial goals against Austria and Wales in the last campaign, yes; also, for his unreconstructed Republicanism which has a lingering dog-whistle appeal to many Irish ears.
But he’s also the man who chases lost causes, acts on emotion and seems not to really think much about what he’s doing; who, he says, would need a gun put to his head not to turn up for Ireland. The cannon fodder soldier unquestioningly devoted to a futile cause. We all need a little bit of James McClean to keep us going right now.
Forgive me if I don’t laugh.