COLM O'REGAN: Five-a-side soccer mailing list is a unique social history

The 10,000 emails of “who’s playing today” and the millions of replies may seem, on the face of it, dull, but they are a social history of their own, writes Colm O’Regan

Slowly we assemble. In through the clanking gate together, one by one, summoned by a mailing list.

It’s a five-a-side soccer mailing list. In a thousand years’ time when digital archeologists try to get a picture of life in the 21st century, I firmly believe they’ll be looking at five-a-side emails.

The 10,000 emails of “who’s playing today” and the millions of replies may seem, on the face of it, dull, but they are a social history of their own. Who was on it for a while but moved away? Who should go and keeps meaning to go and sees the email and … FECK IT decides to go?

We see the progression of someone who was out last night and only got home half an hour before kick-off, to someone who was up all night with a vomiting toddler.

Whose children are growing up and they have a bit more time and doin’ a bit of cycling, get a bit fit because they got a bit of a scare there from the doctor? Who did their knee and may never be back? Who’s moved jobs so “can you use my gmail one there Phil, would you?”

The five-a-side mailing list sprawls over the years. Maybe there are one or two who were there at the start, the Ken Barlows of this little soap opera. Everyone else has been added over the years. They arrived one day, tentatively introducing themselves as “Pat, a friend of Mick’s”.

Now they are regulars or even organisers. Every so often, just like a soap, an old figure from the past will turn up — although not as dramatically as in EastEnders.

He doesn’t arrive to burn down the pitch and stand across the road drinking from a bottle of whiskey and crying. He just slots in, a bit greyer and heavier than before.

I joined a new game recently. It can be a bit daunting as you want to let people picking the teams know that you are shite.

Luckily, during the initial warmup kick-around I made enough of a balls of it to let people know I wasn’t a Decent Player and therefore that I wouldn’t be distorting the game too much. That I would take on the role of He Tries, Bless Him.

A Decent Player is someone who has Played A Bit. They can hit the ball with the outside of their foot.

Now, football on a small artificial pitch with a cage can make anyone look good. Balls that would have gone sailing out of play rebound to their target in a manner Ger Canning might describe as an enterprising ball. Even in this great levelling, a Decent Player stands out a mile.

One sure sign is the presence of an actual muscle above the knee which provides evidence of a career spent kicking a football on an actual pitch.

Another sign is the obvious gulf in class, but the easiest way to spot him is the way he speaks.

He brings with him the language of the grass and is constantly encouraging and cajoling: “That’s good closing down.” “Man each lads.” “THINK about it!” “Who’s moving lads?” “I’m GONE Barry GivehGivehGivehGIVEH! Ah c’mon lads we’re killing ourselves here.”

A Decent Player lets the ball do the work for him. I, on the other hand, have a testy relationship with my co-worker, Ball. Sometimes we’re fine but neither of us knows what the other is going to do. Ball is on the verge of complaining to HR.

‘As a He Tries, Bless Him’ player, I sometimes will make dramatic interventions to try and top up my credit with the Decent Player. Which is why I am currently walking around like Edgar the Farmer from Men In Black.

I have a week to recover. The archaeologists will read my reply to next week’s email with interest.


It came as quite a surprise to learn that I had been writing my Weekend column in the Irish Examiner for 21 years — how the years have flown by and how the food scene has changed in Ireland over those two decades.A letter from Darina Allen, celebrating 21 years writing for The Irish Examiner

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