Category Archives: Sporty Stuff

Taylor Maid

Think of women fighting and you think of a pub car-park, a misunderstanding over a bloke, a lot of hair-pulling and the phrase “leave her, Marian, she’s not worth it”.

(I was well aware while writing the above sentence that whatever name I chose could cause trouble, as it would imply that holders of that name are less than ladylike, so I decided to use whatever girl’s name I saw next from the bus. So if your name is Marian and you’re feeling a bit miffed don’t blame me, it’s all the fault of the Marian Gale boutique in Donnybrook Village.)

It’s not an edifying spectacle. Yet for eight minutes yesterday the entire country of Ireland shouted encouragement at their televisions as an Irish girl repeatedly punched a Russian one.

This is the first time that Women’s Boxing has featured in the Olympics, and our Katie Taylor, four-times World and five-times European Champion, has won the Lightweight Gold Medal.

We now have five medals- a Bronze in Show-jumping, three that will be at least Bronze in Men’s Boxing, and Katie’s Gold. We’re not quite in the same league as our neighbours from Britain, who are currently winning just about anything they enter. If fishing through a hole in the ice was made an Olympic sport in the morning Britain would win the Gold Medal, beating the Eskimos on the final.

While our tiny country regularly produces football teams that get far further in major championships than our size suggests we should, and while our golfers are currently winning events every second week, we do not historically win a lot of Olympic medals. Activities like running, lepping or dancing on a mat with a piece of ribbon seem to be beyond us.

We don’t even win the Dressage, which is essentially Irish Dancing for horses.

So it is not surprising that we have all got behind this young girl, made her our flag-bearer at the Opening Ceremony, and all cheered wildly yesterday. She is from the town of Bray, five miles north of where I live, and for each of her bouts they have had giant screens in the town, and huge crowds have turned up to watch her, and to throw themselves joyously into the sea each time she has won.

For someone in a sport so fierce she is a remarkably shy, quiet girl. She is Ireland’s heroine.

And a real lady.

Only A Game

The ball rolled towards the last defender. Matt roared at his son Jamie to chase and pressure him, and his son obliged, running straight at his opponent who, since he was only eight years old, took his eye off the ball and let it run past him, as did Jamie. He raced towards the goal, controlling the ball as any eight-year old would, by kicking it five feet in front of him, chasing it and kicking it five feet forward again.

The team were roaring him on, the other parents were roaring him on, yet Matt, though he knew he was roaring too, could barely hear them.

It was the team’s first season in the league, and they weren’t exactly challenging for the title. The league had started in September, it was now February, and they hadn’t yet won a game.

They hadn’t scored their first goal until November.

They had let in eight goals in matches, nine, sometimes double-figures. They had lost a game fifteen-nil and their goalkeeper had won Man of the Match, making a string of saves to keep the score under thirty.

Every week they would nod their solemn little faces when asked had they enjoyed the game, every week they would turn up yet again for training, every week they would get thumped again.

Or not. The scale of the defeats grew smaller. They would lose by just four goals, then by just three. In an astonishing game in which they almost never left their own half they were beaten by a single goal, thanks to some heroic defending and some amazing misses by the other team.

And now, in the crisp early-morning February sunshine, Jamie was racing towards the other team’s goal. It seemed to take forever for him to get near enough to shoot, then a longer forever for the ball to reach the goal and cross the line.

Matt let out a yell so visceral that his very lungs felt raw. The other parents, the wonderful people who he had come to know over the past months as they endured heartbreak after heartbreak together, yelled and jumped about too. The team were in front, for the very first time.

There were still four minutes to go, four minutes that passed like four hours, four weeks, four decades. Every time the team kicked the ball away from the goal the parents cheered wildly, every time it was kicked back towards it they clapped both hands to their mouths.

With just seconds to go their goalkeeper, the young hero of game after game, including this one, dropped the ball right in front of an opponent, just two yards from goal. Oh, the poor kid, thought Matt, after all he’s done for us, he’s blown it.

The opponent kicked the ball wide.

The final whistle went. Dads hugged Dads, Mums hugged Mums, Dads hugged Mums, anyone’s Mum, everyone’s Mum, they’d all been in this together. The team came off the field to huge cheers, and finally with smiles on those beloved solemn little faces.

They say sport hurts. It doesn’t always.

Simply The (Second) Best

Mrs Tin arrived home yesterday proudly wearing the medal that she and all of the other participants received for running in the Women’s Mini Marathon. This started a discussion as to who in the family has most medals. Someone would boast of a medal from the Three-Legged Race at the School Sports Day, someone else would see their medal and raise them an Egg-and-Spoon Race medal from two years earlier, Mrs Tin was forced to play the card of her Cup-Winner’s medal from the days when she played cricket.

I sat listening, unwilling to blow my own trumpet, because I don’t own a trumpet. But rivalry is a fundamental part of Tinhouse life, and eventually I felt obliged to mention all of my soccer trophies.

For someone who was a fairly average footballer I have an array of these that make me look like an Irish Ronaldo (O’Ronald, perhaps). A couple were won in those five-or-six-a-side competitions that they play in resorts in Ibiza or Majorca on blazingly hot afternoons, where simply being less hungover than the other teams will generally get you at least as far as the semi-final. Back in Ireland I seemed to be lucky in that every team I ever played for had at least one truly outstanding player who would single-handedly drag us through game after game.

The biggest and most impressive of my trophies, though, is one a massively gaudy thing about two feet tall, which I bloody well can’t find just when I wanted to show it to you all. I remember the day well, and am horrified by the fact that it was in 1982, thirty years ago. I remember that I was captain of our team, which is why I still have the trophy. I remember that Mrs Tin and the other girlfriends (WAGs I suppose you’d call them now, though I wouldn’t dare, since I still know quite a lot of them) made pom-poms, learned songs, wore short skirts and acted as cheerleaders (the Tinkids will one day realise that battiness runs deep in their genes, and not just from their father’s side). I remember that the final score was one-nil.

To the others.

Many of our team blamed our goalkeeper for our defeat, reckoning that if only he’d found time to run the length of the field and score a couple of goals in between diving around saving thirty-nine of the forty attempts at goal that the opposition rained in at him from all angles then we’d have won.

There was a booze-up for both teams in a pub afterwards, and the winners displayed the trophy proudly on a table in the middle of the room. Someone on our team suggested it would be funny to take it and hide it, my car was nearest, so trophy was put in my boot.

And funny it might have been if we’d given it back after an hour. Or even two. Even after I’d driven home with it the situation could still have been rescued if I’d returned it the following day, but I chickened out, and by the time the team met again the following Thursday we all agreed that it was now too late. So we kept it, the other team simply believed they’d left it behind in the pub and the incident faded into ancient history.

There is a plaintive phrase often heard in sport. England came out with it after Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal in the 1986 World Cup. The US basketball team came out with it after their last-second defeat to the USSR in the 1972 Olympics. We Irish came out when it when Thierry Henry handled the ball twice on the way to setting up the French goal that put us out of the last World Cup. But no-one can say it as truthfully as the football team of Dublin North can.

They wuz robbed.

Tough Game, Tough Job

I watched the Rugby World Cup Final this morning (or last night, or maybe tomorrow, depending on where you are reading this) and really enjoyed it, it was a really terrific, hard-fought game.

I had only one disappointment. Throughout the tournament New Zealand out-half after out-half got injured, and today their third choice player had to go off and their fourth choice came on instead.

And fair play to Stephen Donald, he played very well and I’d hate to wish injury upon anybody, but I kept thinking “it’s not a very big country. How many more out-halves have to get injured before they have to bring Laughykate on?”

Anyway, my abiding memory of this tournament will be this guy, who greeted the teams onto the pitch before each game with the Maori version of a vuvuzela:

Whenever you think your job is really tough just remember that someone, sometime had to stare at that guy’s arse for about nineteen hours while he put on that tattoo.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Faces

For this week’s effort I am telling the story of the last half-an-hour of yesterday’s All-Ireland Football Final between Kerry and Dublin. For this I am indebted (as always) to the camera in my mobile phone, and to a guest appearance by the Pause button on my Sky box.

A brief explanation of the game is necessary. Gaelic Football is our national sport, a tough, high-speed game which occasionally features tackles such as this ->

<- or this

or occasionally tackles like the one below:

Our other national sport is hurling, a game with similar rules but in which the players carry sticks. We Irish are tough.

Kerry are to Gaelic Football what Manchester United are to soccer or the Yankees are to baseball. They are the most successful team in the history of the sport, they have won four of the last seven All-Irelands and been beaten in the final of two of the others. Dublin were the star team of the 70s but have since won in just 1983 and 1995. Their rivalry goes back decades, though, and a win over Dublin is still one of Kerry’s greatest pleasures.

The only other thing you need to now is that kicking the ball over the crossbar earns you a point, and into the goal earns you a goal (well, it would, wouldn’t it) which is worth three points, so that a score of 1-06 to 0-08 means the first team is leading by nine points to eight. Oh, and Kerry are the team in green, Dublin are in blue.

To everyone’s surprise Dublin were leading by 8 points to 5 with 30 minutes to go. Their goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton was relaxed,

and their fans were relaxed, though unable to keep their hat on their head:

But Kerry are not Kerry for nothing (an apparently meaningless sentence which actually makes sense). They scored some points

and they scored some more

giving Tinman the opportunity to show pictures of pretty girls, an opportunity he rarely turns down.

With eight minutes to go Kerry led by four points to now it was the the Dubs fans who looked worried:

Very worried:

But suddenly, a Dublin goal!

The Dublin crowd went wild.

Both teams got to one goal and eleven points and with seconds to go (a match lasts 70 minutes and the ref had added two minutes of injury time) Dublin were awarded a free. Their long distance frees are taken by their goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton, who calmly placed the ball. The crowd watched anxiously

He ran up to the ball

And though this is not actually a picture of faces, sometimes a sea of raised hands can be just as expressive:

Seconds later the final whistle blew. Stephen Cluxton, now the hero who won the All-Ireland, celebrated wildly:

Formerly-Worried-Man couldn’t take it all in

and it was just too much for some Dublin fans:

The cup was lifted

The Dubs players celebrated

And Stephen Cluxton continued to celebrate too.

For every winner there has to be a loser. Even as a Dubliner I take no pleasure from the photo on the right. Colm Cooper, the Kerry captain, is the greatest player of this generation and I felt for him at the end.

And finally, as Alan Brogan celebrates on the field with his daughter, well you just can’t beat this:

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Or You Could Go To The Pub

In the English soccer league, Queens Park Rangers have just won the second division, and will spend next season in the Premier League, playing against world famous clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool (ok, Tilly and Speccy, also Manchester City and Spurs. Oh, and Wigan, Jmg).

Their manager, Neil Warnock, was quite laid back about the whole thing. When asked how he celebrated, he said “with a cheese sandwich in my pyjamas”.

Of course I know what he meant, but he has created an image in my head that I just can’t get rid of.

In Absentia

I was all but absent from my blog during the week. Because it was the first week of the month and therefore my busiest time I wrote something each day on the bus, pasted it into my blog when I got home, nicked a few pictures from Google Images and then more or less fell into bed.

To my shame I haven’t had time to read what you’ve all been up to, and I look forward to spending tomorrow catching up.

But not today. Because today I am more absent than ever.

WordPress claim that you can set a post to publish at some selected time in the future, and if they are right then I’m not actually here at all. It’s like one of those Christmas Night versions of popular panel shows that you know were actually recorded in October.

At the time this publishes I will be on a boat to the UK, and depending on what time you read it at I might be in a car heading from Wales to Manchester, might be in a bar in Manchester, might be at Manchester United v Fulham, might be in a bar in Manchester, might be in a car heading from Manchester to Wales, or might be on a boat from the UK.

There is a very small chance that you will read it at a time when I am eating something, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

A group of people I know undertake this trip regularly, travelling for about fourteen hours to watch 90 minutes of football that is on TV in our local. Every now and then one of them will drop out, possibly to have their liver replaced, and they will look for a volunteer to fill the vacancy.

I volunteered once, about 17 months ago, and I think that I wrote at the time that I would never do it again, since it took me about a week to recover.

I am doing it again, I think on the same basis that women go through childbirth for a second time, in that it can’t possibly have been as gruelling as we remember it being.

Women generally find out that in fact it is, if not more so.

I will, as I said, be here tomorrow. I might just be typing very quietly.

Pantomime Horse

Somewhere I saw England’s World Cup campaign described as “a pantomime”. While fully mindful of the fact that we weren’t there at all and therefore have no right to mock, what is a blog for if not to mock things you have no right to, so I would venture to suggest that it was in fact a series of pantomimes, as the scenes below will illustrate…

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Cinderella

Cinders (Wayne Rooney): Why can’t I get to the ball?

Buttons (David Beckham, in that suit): Because the coach is a pumpkin.

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Mother Goose

Mother Goose (one of the WAGs, don’t ask me which one, they all look the same): We’re rich! Our goose has laid a golden egg! Show the boys and girls, Jack!

Jack (Rob Green); Er, sorry Mum, I’ve dropped it.

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Little Red Riding Hood

Red Riding Hood (Alan Hansen): oh Granny, what big ears you have!

The Wolf (Gary Lineker): Fuck off.

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Whatever Panto Widow Twankey is in

Widow Twankey (John Terry): I’m going to tell Baron Hardup what I think of him.

Rest of Team: We’re behind you!

Widow Twankey: Right, Baron, I’m not happy with the way you’re running things, and the lads here said they agree with me.

Rest of Team: Oh no we didn’t!

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Aladdin

The Wizard (Fabio Capello): New Lamps for old!

Aladdin (England’s fans): We bloody wish.

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Carry On Pant(o)ing

Bored Housewife (Barbara Windsor): Can you fix my washing machine? It’s a 4-5-1.

Washing Machine Repairman (Ashley Cole, played by Sid James): A 4-5-1, eh? Can I play in the hole?

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The Frog Prince

The Prince (Thierry Henry): quick, kiss me, or I will turn into a frog!

Young Girl (Gabby Roslin): er, too late.

(I know, nothing to do with England, and very naughty, but the handball still hurts)

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Cinderella, Act 2

Prince (Sepp Blatter, entering to a fanfare of horns, trumpets and bloody vuvuzelas): I have here the Golden Boot. It will fit only the highest scorer in the World Cup.

Ugly Sister (Emile Heskey): Can I try it on?

Prince: Don’t be ridiculous.

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Three Blind Mice

The Farmer’s wife (Frank Lampard): That was a goal, wasn’t it?

The Mice (the ref, the linesman & Sepp Blatter): Listen mate, we’re not called the Three Blind Mice for nothing.

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The Final Scene (of all of the above)

A. Reporter (a reporter): So, Dame, now that it’s all over, what are your plans?

The Dame: (Fabio Capello, again): Well, either I will stay on as England manager, and get pots and pots of gold, or they will sack me, and I will get pots and pots of gold. Either way (all together, boys and girls) I will live HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

Sporting Heroes

The post I was almost finished will have to wait until tomorrow.

I flicked on to the tennis while I was waiting for Germany v Ghana to start, and while I was just writing the last few sentences. It’s now 9.20, the sentences are unwritten and the football is over, without me having seen a single second.

Nicolas Mahut from France and John Isner from the US have just stopped their final set, because of darkness, at 59 games all. Tomorrow one of them will win, but if ever the meaningless cliché “they are both winners” did mean anything, then this is the time. They are both part of history now. 

And while they were both magnificent, my heart warmed especially to Mahut. In a week when the French football team exited the World Cup as a laughing stock this young man, over the course of an incredible ten hours, will have restored France’s pride as a sporting nation. I hope many, many French people saw it, they deserve a lift after what the footballers have put them through.

Imagine the pressure on him when he served at 4-5 down in the fifth set, needing to hold his serve to stay in the match. Then imagine the pressure each of the 55 times he had to do it again after that.

I won’t ever forget Isner either, a man who kept producing astonishing shots while looking as if he could barely stand. 

People will say (indeed they’ve already started on the BBC) that enough’s enough, that Wimbledon should follow the rest of tennis in having a fifth-set tie-break. They will point out that the winner has very little chance of winning their second-round tie now (especially since their opponent won at what now seems like a canter, at a mere 16-14 in the final set).

But neither of them were ever going to win the whole event. Had the game ended at 7-6 whoever won would have gone out in a round or two, beaten out of sight of the camera on some far-flung court. Instead they’ve taken part in something truly remarkable, something that will never be forgotten by either of them, by the crowd lucky enough to be there, by those like me lucky enough to see it.

They’re part of history now, sporting legends. Would either of them swap it?

Tumbling Down

I’m watching a lot of the Winter Olympics at the moment. I love it, because the sports are so varied, and raise so many questions. Such as “what do the middle two guys in the four-man bob actually do?”,  or “has there ever been an ice-hockey game without a punch-up?”, or “how does anyone get to be good at ski-jumping?”. This last one is especially intriguing, since surely the landing after your very first effort, when you haven’t a clue what you’re doing and leave the ramp with your left ski pointing up your right nostril and the other one pointing over your left ear, must hurt, jar and stretch bits of you badly enough to ensure that you never try it again.

I love the snowboarding, which is strange because I’m not young, am not a computer games designer and have never called anyone “dude”. Nonetheless, I think it’s great, a sort of antidote to the dullness of some of the other sports,  like that one where they ski for miles and stop every now and then to shoot at something, like a Dalek on a winter holiday.

The inclusion of snowboarding is the Winter Olympics showing that it’s moving with the times and doesn’t take itself totally seriously. The Summer Games equivalent would be to include, say, frisbee throwing, or perhaps some made-up sport where girls wore bikinis and hurled themselves about on sand.

Anyway, Rose commented on yesterday’s post here about how words mean different things in different parts of the world, and this is certainly true here. Eurosport use a Canadian commentator for the snowboarding, and whenever a lady competitor flies off in the opposite direction to her board in an explosion of snow, bobble-hat and massively expensive sunglasses the commentator will exclaim “and Lyndsey/Juliette/Stephanie (none of them are ever called Mary, or Ann) has fallen flat on her fanny”.

The Winter Olympics are also on the BBC. I’m betting they don’t say that.