Fifty-four Questions on Ireland v. Denmark

  1. Are you watching the game with the sound turned down so low that you can hear only some background noise and the voice of the commentators, but not what they are saying?
  2. Can you remember when you started doing that?
  3. Can you remember why?
  4. Is it because words are worthless in describing sport when it is happening?
  5. And worthless afterwards, when it is over?
  6. Or do you resent the commentator telling you what you are watching, when you know what you are watching?
  7. Is it because of what Joyce Carol Oates said about boxing taking place in a place beyond words?
  8. Is it because, since you began writing that bloody book about sport, that you are concentrating more on what you are feeling than on what is actually happening inside the four white lines?
  9. Do you like the Irish jerseys’ particular shade of green?
  10. If you knew the name of that colour, would you use it?
  11. What is your exact relationship with the Irish football team?
  12. What is your relationship with each of the players?
  13. I mean, individually, with Darren Randolph, and Matt Doherty, and Shane Duffy, and John Egan, and Enda Stevens, and Glen Whelan, and Jeff Hendrick, and Conor Hourihane, and Alan Browne, and David McGoldrick, and James McLean?
  14. Do you have a relationship with any of these men, or with all of them?
  15. Does that even matter –­ isn’t it all just about the game anyway?
  16. When I say game, I mean sport, I mean, football: isn’t that all that matters?
  17. After 18 minutes, while Ireland are dominating possession and passing the ball with terse accuracy, do you resist the urge for optimism?
  18. Why don’t you want to feel optimistic?
  19. Are you thinking of that night in The Glenanaar, ten years ago, watching the game in Paris, when Henri handled the ball?
  20. Can you prevent a frisson of hope when Hourihane and Browne come close before half time?
  21. When you notice it, in a kind of shudder, do you tamp it straight back down?
  22. Why do you do that?
  23. And why do you open your book again at half time and turn the sound down fully?
  24. Does the very word ‘pundit’ make your teeth grate?
  25. Do you resent their agendas and egos, and certainties?
  26. Do you resent the vapid commentary on the vapid commentary that follows every game?
  27. Is it like watching masturbation so that you can masturbate?
  28. And yet, are you not excited, yourself, when the 2nd half begins?
  29. Are you surprised at your excitement?
  30. Your arousal?
  31. When you check your pulse rate at 61 minutes, is it 83bmp?
  32. Did you think it would be higher, your level of engagement growing, pulsing?
  33. Are you inside the game now?
  34. Are you caught up in the flowing and the ebbing and the waning?
  35. Can you remember again the ball at your feet as a child and a boy and a young man?
  36. Can you feel the rightness of it again?
  37. Can you remember when you were really inside games, passing and going, passing and going?
  38. Scoring, can you remember scoring?
  39. Can you remember your lungs bursting, but still making that run back?
  40. Can you remember that feeling, that you – you of all people – could influence a game?
  41. Can you remember when you did?
  42. Did you feel like somebody then?
  43. And do these memories bring you back inside your childhood love of football, your first love and your strongest?
  44. And then do you feel joy to be part of this game, too, when Ireland are passing the ball and are making the Danes question themselves?
  45. Is it the same old joy you’ve known since you were seven and saw what was possible and impossible in the otherworldly grace of George Best?
  46. When Denmark score, is it with a sense of inevitability?
  47. Is that being unfaithful, or unpatriotic, or pessimistic?
  48. Or is it right and proper – what you sensed would happen, all game long?
  49. And is the equaliser just as inevitable?
  50. And the following minutes of frenzy and outrageous possibilities?
  51. And, with five minutes left in the game, are you a boy again, playing with your football again, in innocence and hope again?
  52. Is anything possible again?
  53. And doesn’t that make it all worthwhile, again?
  54. Well, doesn’t it?


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