Larry Ryan: Can sport ever again conquer all that space in our lives?

Anyone else bouncing and crashing in these strange days like Skippy on rollerskates? Tell me that’s normal.

Larry Ryan: Can sport ever again conquer all that space in our lives?

Anyone else bouncing and crashing in these strange days like Skippy on rollerskates? Tell me that’s normal.

It could be the sugar highs, with Lent abandoned, but some days you get that shot of adrenaline.

You see the daisies. Notice stuff. When did we get that lamp, you ask ‘er indoors. Six months ago, seemingly.

Freed of the need to go anywhere, you clean out your desk. Sort the bookshelves. Turn into Marie Kondo on a folding spree.

There’s energy around.

The twins are inspired by artist Will Sliney’s #wewilldraw movement. Freed from his contractual obligation to talk shite about football, Stuart Pearce was picking his favourite punk records on Talksport.

There’s a certain rush in national solidarity. And a little truth in that joke doing the Facebook rounds: “You got a once in a lifetime chance to stay at home, watch TV, and drink beer to save the world. Don’t screw this up!”

You go for a walk around that vast headspace sport usually takes up. Now empty.

And even if you’re contractually obliged to scratch around that space for ideas, at least the view is different.

On the Examiner podcast this week, skills coach Dr Ed Coughlan talked about using this pause to reset and re-educate. He encouraged sportspeople to write to their pre-shutdown selves.

To think about ways they can change behaviours. To come back better. He was full of energy.

Like Thom Yorke on The Bends, many of us were waiting for something to happen. And now it has.


Then the scratching around starts to irritate.

You keep tripping over the laptop cable that runs from the kitchen table to the nearest socket.

The twins are stuck on fractions. You put off starting the back garden circuit training ‘til tomorrow. Again.

You put off starting on the back garden ‘til next week.

Words like ‘indefinite’ weigh heavy. And images from Italy are heartbreaking and frightening.

You’ve no stomach for celebs singing Imagine and fantasising about having no possessions from isolation in their mansions.

Or for Sean Penn as an expert on pandemic response.

You notice things more, such as the many and varying shades of social inequality. Or the way market forces have let us down.

And much about sport seems implausibly self-important and grotesque.

Like the Utah Jazz reportedly testing 58 employees for Covid-19, using, by one count, 20% of the available testing kits in a state with a population of three million.

Several NBA teams have had their whole rosters tested, as a precaution. While sick people across America wait.

“Perhaps that’s been the story of life,” said Trump. Maybe even he’s starting to notice things.

You can’t help wonder how significantly Mikel Arteta’s positive test altered the course of UK history.

Without him and Callum Hudson-Odoi catching the virus, would the Premier League have forged ahead that weekend? Would Boris Johnson have felt the same pressure to wind things down? How many extra lives lost?

From any angle, the pedestal on which sport sits suddenly looks obscene.

And for what?

In the Sydney Morning Herald, Malcolm Knox walked around the space in our daily conversation.

In an alternative world, sports watchers would today be arguing about what some player said about gay people, what abuse some spectators ladled out to a player of colour, what official was about to get the sack, what betting company had compromised what code, whose hamstring made them a doubtful starter, and which referee or umpire stuffed up.

Some mornings it seems impossible that we’ll ever again be locked into that cycle of work-ons and learnings. Of speculation and controvassy.

Of hitting out and firing back.

Will VAR ever again muster the interest to draw a dotted line from a player’s armpit? Will we muster the outrage if it doesn’t?

Have the National Leagues ever looked more futile, now that nobody seems the slightest bit panicked about finishing them?

Has the bantz around Liverpool ever been less funny? Just give them it.

You’d have put your house on football producing a show of self-interest. And Karren Brady duly obliged.

At least Thursday’s Premier League meeting drew a line under that.

And you’d have been tempted to applaud the unity shown until you heard it would have cost them £762m (€842.6m) in lost broadcast revenue to wrap up the season early.

Sky and BT are now ramping up the demand for ‘content’, we learn. Expect more players to be interviewed in their homes. Hopefully, they won’t be singing Imagine.

You click on the website to cancel Sky Sports. But the message says you must phone them. You haven’t the energy for that today.


Of course, whenever you think you’re out, sport has a remarkable ability to suck you back in.

In these stark times all we want is a sign. And sure enough it came. On one of those tidying missions, there they were. Behind those bookshelves. My old Subbuteo team. The originals.

Dating to ‘83, maybe ‘84. Presumed long lost in a move.

Still in remarkably mint condition, considering my sister’s lack of respect for their fragility, back in the day.

So the iPad is out of fashion as the twins flick to kick.

And so much floods back.

The visits to play Gary Ryan and his brothers, who, in my memory at least, owned the much coveted grandstand and floodlights.

Before it rained we would play Superstars. And there was no swifter way of disabusing a youngster of athletic ambition than playing Superstars with a lad who would one day lead Frankie Fredericks round the bend in the Olympic 200m.

Wouldn’t it be great to watch Superstars again? And get Pat Spillane to stage a Phoenix from the Flames reenactment to promote it.

Sure enough, Declan McBennett tells Michael Moynihan that RTÉ is looking into their treasure trove of archive content. TG4 too. And the reveries begin.

John Fogarty wants the ‘91 Munster finals first.

And you can almost feel the energy down in that corner of the Páirc where Nicky’s kick was waved wide. And ducks nearly drowned.

We can all draw a map, plot the route sport took to its hold over us.

You think of Gary Ryan’s mother Joan and the energy she invested in making us into a soccer team.

You think of all the coaches and volunteers and the seeds they sowed. You want this to end and get back to today’s under-nines.

And you want sport to survive, along with all the mothers and fathers and grandparents who gave us our love for it.

Even if it never quite reclaims all that space it once conquered.


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