Tim McGarry: Football can be force for good — I might even now be nice about England
There was so much news this week I didn’t know where to start with this column.
I could have written about our annual 11th Night controversy and addressed the perennial question — is it pronounced bonfire or bonefire?
(Carl Frampton weighed in to the Tiger’s Bay bonfire issue. Unfortunately for Carl his statement was sensible, reasonable and moderate, thus completely ruining whatever chance he ever had of becoming a Northern Ireland politician.)
I could have written about the Tories and their disgraceful decision to cut the international aid budget. Let’s face it, Boris Johnson is basically a reverse Robin Hood.
He steals from the poor and gives to his rich friends. Though a remake of Robin of Sherwood with Boris would be inadvisable. Boris as Robin would ruin the normal plot.
He’d get the Sheriff of Nottingham to pay for the refurbishment of his treehouse, win the heart of Maid Marian and then cheat on her with a Merry Woman pole dancer.
So in the end, I couldn’t avoid writing about the football.
You probably heard about it. England versus Italy. The Queen versus the Pope. On the 11th July.
If you don’t want to know the result— look away now.
It was actually impossible to avoid the result.
There were lots of funny memes and viral jokes, but hats off to the headline writer at the Scottish Sun for “They think it’s all over…it is ciao!”
As a long-suffering football supporter I can genuinely empathise with all the bitterly disappointed England fans. (Although Cliftonville won the Irish Cup in 1979 so I’ve only had 42 years of hurt rather than 55.)
On the other hand, I admit it. I did take a modicum of childish and unpleasant pleasure in England’s loss — “Europe 1 Brexit 0!”
The Irish writer Brendan Behan didn’t like critics. He described them as “like eunuchs in a harem: they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves.”
Football fans are like that — only worse. So it was always likely that England’s players were going to get quite a bit of stick.
Unfortunately, it became painfully clear very quickly the next day that the three players who missed penalties were being subject to a torrent of abuse based, not on their lack of accuracy from 12 yards out, but on the colour of their skin.
Ironically this is potentially a good news story.
The outrage and disgust by the vast majority of fans and the public at the racism faced by these players is a real sign of hope.
It may even be the UK’s George Floyd moment.
Gareth Southgate’s staunch support of all of his players and his support for taking the knee has won widespread acclaim.
At the time of writing, Marcus Rashford’s eloquent and dignified statement on the issue has over a million likes on Twitter.
If there was a public vote tomorrow Tyrone Mings would be given the job of Home Secretary and Priti Patel would be made to clean the boots of the players at Carrick Rangers.
I’m not a dewy-eyed idealist but it is possible that football can become a force for good.
Because of football, all of us are being challenged to examine our own attitude to racism.
Damn it, I might even start being nice about England now.
• Football is not perfect and never will be but it’s only been gone for a few days and already I miss it.
They’ve got golf on TV this week.
It’s just not the same. Comparing golf to football is like comparing Jamie Bryson to Jamie Dornan.
Thinking that the Masters was as good as the Euros is like thinking Edwin Poots was as good as Edward Carson.
It’s the Open this week so we’ll be seeing a lot of Stephen ‘Winker’ Watson.
I wish him well but let’s be honest, the most exciting thing at the Open will be guessing which bunker Rory McIlroy’s Northern Ireland accent has disappeared in to.
• My interview to become editor did not go well
As you know, our esteemed editor Alistair Bushe is leaving the News Letter.
Obviously I was next in line to take over from him but management at the paper made me go through a formal application process and interview — presumably to prevent Ben Lowry suing for discrimination.
I regret to tell you that my interview for the post of editor did not go well. In retrospect I should have worn a suit rather than an Italy top. It was possibly unwise to have Mary-Lou McDonald as my main referee.
And it was definitely unwise to demand that the interview be conducted in Irish. Especially as I can’t speak it.
In my defence the people on the interview panel were a bit humourless. When asked what my vision was for the paper, I suggested that the News Letter should merge with the Irish News to become a newspaper for everyone in Northern Ireland.
I proposed we change the name to incorporate both News Letter and Irish News, and call it The News News.
This suggestion went down as well as Van Morrison at a Robin Swann surprise birthday party.
So no editorship for me.
On the plus side — I take over from Sam McBride next week.
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