Both of these are from Monday's papers (sorry I'm a day late). THe first is by Kevin O'Shaughnessy in the indo (www.independent.ie
) and is a vitriolic rant against the top brass in the FAI. The second is more light-hearted from the ever entertaining Tom Humphries in the times (www.ireland.com
) about being a journalist at the World Cup.
FAI stands for fools and incompetence?
A LITTLE morsel of mildly interesting World Cup trivia for you to mull over this morning: Of all the squads, from all over the globe, travelling to Japan and Korea, only the Irish one is comprised entirely of players who play their club football in the one country.
With Phil Babb out of sight, out of mind and out of favour despite amazingly rediscovering how to kick a football and starring on the Sporting Lisbon side that won the Portuguese League, and with Ronnie O'Brien not so amazingly failing to live up to his billing as Time Magazine's 'Most Influential Man of the Century' as he warmed a bench in Dundee where he was on loan from Juventus, the 23-man squad announced by Mick McCarthy last week consisted completely of players in the employ of English clubs.
Er, it's not exactly an earth-shattering revelation, is it?
Actually to claim it is mildly interesting is probably a bit of an exaggeration.
Mention it in company and you'd be doing well to raise a single murmur, let alone an eyebrow.
But from such seemingly insignificant tit-bits do enthralling, erudite, profound and well-reasoned Monday morning rants sometimes grow, so bear with me.
However, first let us expand on the one thing that makes the Irish squad stand out from all the others that qualified for the World Cup.
The vast majority of other competing nations, from the best to the worst, draw their players from a diverse spread of national leagues, while only three England, Italy and Spain come close to matching Ireland's unique uniformity of origin.
Sven Goran Eriksson may have bizarrely omitted Real Madrid midfielder Steve McManaman, a player who will surely, before the week is out, have two European Cup medals jangling in his pocket.
But the England boss did, at least, have a little peep outside of England in his search for talent and included young Owen Hargreaves of Bayern Munich in his chosen 23.
Italy also have a token bit of diversity in the shape of Barcelona's Franceso Coco who joins 22 Serie A players in the blue corner, while the Spanish line-up will feature Gaizka Mendieta, the straggly-haired former Valencia midfielder who now plays no, 'turns up' would be a more accurate description of what he does for Lazio.
So, no matter what happens in the Asian sweltering pot next month, the Irish squad will be a little bit special, different from the common herd.
It may not be much of a distinction, buy hey, any sort of distinction is hard earned in the World Cup when you go into battle with a team like McCarthy's.
Actually, if that distinction is not enough to be going on with, you'll be delighted to hear that Ireland are unique on another score.
Not only are all the players based in one country, but of all the teams competing, we're the only one with no squad members playing for a home club.
Well, knock me down with a feather, I hear you gasp sarcastically.
True, there's nothing particularly surprising about that either, at least not at first glance.
We all know what a sorry state the eircom League is in, but just think about that absence of home-based players for a moment.
Every other country that qualified for the World Cup in fact, almost every country in the entire world has a domestic league capable of supplying at least a few players to their national teams. Every country, that is, except Ireland.
Why are we so special? What makes little 'ol Ireland so unique? It's all because of the incompetence of the Football Association of Ireland, the blazer brigade who are supposed to act as the guardians of the garrison game in this country.
They'll be over in Japan in a couple of weeks' time, a squad of them so big that it will easily out-number the players, some on all expenses paid trips, many more availing of the FAI's generous €3,000 travel allowance which was made available to the 50 or so members of the FAI's Senior Council.
You'll probably see some of them on television, hovering in the background on match days, clapping themselves on the back and basking in the reflected glory of the Irish team, just as they have been doing since Euro '88, 14 years ago.
Somehow, they have managed to delude themselves into believing that they have contributed in some way to Ireland's success on the international stage. But, what have they actually done to help the cause? Made the travel arrangements? A travel agent can and does do that for them.
Sort out ticket sales? A ticket agency helps them out with that.
Rent a ramshackle old stadium from the IRFU for home games and pay the stars? Any mediocre concert promoter could do that for them.
In reality, the FAI have done nothing to help Irish soccer over the last one and a half decades.
All they have done is preside over the continuing demise of the national league, fail to build eircom Park, and indulge in continuous in-fighting.
But their most serious failing and the reason behind why the Irish squad will be so unique in Japan has been their lack of action to stop the annual exodus of starstruck Irish kids to the big English clubs, a practice that inflicts unnecessary sacrifices on children. It is nothing short of a scandal that hundreds of 15 and 16-year-old Irish children have no option but to leave their native country, their families, friends and schools if they are to chase their dream of soccer stardom.
Because the FAI have stood idly by, and failed to set up a school of excellence to match what's available at the big English clubs, Irish soccer has had, for years, its brightest young talent plundered from under the FAI's nose.
What's worse is the ordeal the kids have to go through, the loneliness, the homesickness, the inadequate education, the bullying, the constant mortal fear of rejection.
It is an immense sacrifice, even for the lucky few who make the grade, not to mention the vast majority who are cut adrift and left, scarred and disillusioned, to pick up the pieces.
Until such day as the FAI set up a proper school of excellence and halt this scandalous trade, Ireland will continue to be unique among the soccer nations of the earth - unique for the incompetence of its governing body.
As for the catchy slogan, 'We Care About Irish Football', it's a sick joke.
Kevin O'Shaughnessy, Wild Card
Tom Humphries LockerRoom
13/05/02: Sat down 20 minutes ago full of piety and sacred intentions. Was going to put this matter of the GPA and their silly €127 to rest. Yes, I was going to soften a few coughs on that one and then I was going to mow down the survivors for being big ninnies about a drug testing system that everyone else lives with happily. Outside the window, though, the sun is shining and I'm thinking that what I'd really like to be doing is to be standing down in Marino right now watching St Vincent's and Ballyboden in the camogie féile final rather than writing about people who never seem to do anything these days but moan about their sport and how miserable it is.
I'm thinking that next week this column will be written from a hotel room on the island of Saipan somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, and rather than worrying about whether so and so's knackered knee will be okay for the Cameroon game I'll be secretly fretting over the fortunes of some under-11 teams because that's the best and purest sport I get to see these days. I'm thinking that I'm sick to the teeth of hearing top sports people moaning about how miserable their lives are and what oppressive, unbearable demands are placed upon them. I'm hoping the kids aren't listening.
If you want to hear about truly miserable lives, existences eked out against all odds, well listen to this. Try being a sports hack. We have no dieticians, physios, shrinks, trainers or good vibes people. We never win anything. We never hear cheering. By definition, we are in the trade because we are congenital losers. Next week when we take off for Saipan together in the steerage part of the big airplane I can guarantee you we'll be the epicentre of misery. There were cheerier galley slaves rowing their way from ancient Carthage.
This is my 10th year travelling with the team and one thing can be said, we get more miserable as the years go by.
From just after 10 o'clock next Friday morning we'll be honing our hatred of the players. We'll be ready by then. The last six weeks have set us simmering slowly, what with people coming up to us and saying: "Well for ya sunshine, that's not a job you have that's a non-stop holiday."
Listen, we'd rather be Siberian salt miners. You can get drummed out of the union for uttering the words "ah, this is the life". You might think that the misery and resentment begins when the players are ushered onto the plane and to the left past the cooing, swooning stewardesses into the first-class compartments with the big seats and nice sleeping facilities while we are nudged to the right by the burly steward and shoe-horned into our leather lodgings down the back. You might think it begins there as we get ready to spend 17 hours in the air together, the players delicately sipping bucks fizz, we hacks pleading for just one little plastic cup of warm water.
It doesn't begin there. It begins with the packing. When boarding a plane a player will carry a little purse containing a Gameboy, a passport, a toothbrush, some aftershave and 40 grand in large notes in case he sees a watch he likes. We hacks, terminally uncool, must by rule bring 90 per cent of our personal belongings. Laptop. Transformer. Every type of electrical adaptor known to man. Mobile phone. Tape recorder. Camera. Stopwatch. Batteries (pack of 24). CD player. Earphones. Phrase book. CDs. Novel. Mountain of footie stats for feature which must be finished on plane. Various wires, connectors, screwdrivers, alligator clips, instruction booklets, plugs etc that make us think we won't be helpless when faced with foreign phone systems.
We'll arrive eventually, we hacks muttering to anyone who will listen that this is ridiculous, this is the last time, next time we are going to do something about it, blah blah blah, and having landed we'll be separated from the players as they go into quarantine to check that they didn't pick up anything from us. Usually we are driven to a fine hotel and the players are driven to a slightly better one next door.
Our hotel is always some place we couldn't dream of paying for were we actually on holidays while the players' hotel is someplace they mightn't be seen dead in if they were on holidays. So we both resent the lodgings equally. The players because they find theirs dull. Us because we'll probably never be here again and because if we were we'd prefer to be swanking it with the kids and because we know that we'd be content if we could only just stay in the hotel next door.
In the old days under Jack Charlton players and media used to stay in the same hotel. This was a logical move which gave us all an equal footing and which led to us being less bother to the players. We'd sit in our rooms and phone each other if there was news of a press conference. Occasionally we'd bump into players in the lifts. They'd say hello. We'd pretend not to know them. Sorry, got that the wrong way round.
Now, though, we get up in the morning and go en masse to sit in the lobby of the players' hotel. There'll be up to 50 of us loitering there most of the day like a convention of the world's least attractive hookers and when the lift door opens we'll all look up expectantly. Usually a German tourist will exit. Sometimes it will be a player but one of the surly majority who doesn't like speaking to the press, so we'll all pretend we were looking at something else. Occasionally it will be one of those lovely players who likes chatting with the hacks and we'll all start moving towards him as in a scene from Planet of the Living Dead.
Once in a while it will be a player who has a special arrangement to meet a particular hack, in which case the hack must leap up and walk very quickly towards the player before the living dead scene begins and he is forced to use small fire arms to get them back to their seats.
World Cups are a five-week-long fiesta of indignity. There is no Amnesty web page devoted to us. Mary Robinson never calls. We are not an election issue. We are oppressed and forgotten, the nation's dirty little secret.
I know, I know, it doesn't make much of a column this Monday morning, but look at it this way: Have the GPA no shame, that they could be looking for €127 a week when such conditions exist on or near their doorstep. Thanks for listening.