Getting a handle on the world of sporting websites
DO YOU remember the CB radio; that small rectangular portal to another world, another realm of communication?
What a piece of equipment it was? It offered people a chance to become someone else for a time, to hide their real identity and to pass themselves off as total strangers. Names like Black Hawk and Wibbly Wobbler spring to mind as just some of the characters I can remember holding long and meaningful conversations with when I was a young man growing up in the wilds of Wicklow.
Whether the CB radio was installed in the family home or in the vehicle, it was always ready to be flicked on at a moment's notice and for the sound of the crackling interference to filter through from the other side to signal that you had opened the portal to the other side.
The button on the handheld mouthpiece could be pressed and that usual question put to the audio abyss, ‘is there anyone on the box?’ or depending on where you were from, ‘is there anybody out there?’
Heavy moments loaded with anticipation and possibility would pass as the open channel (usually 11 in my case) crackled and then a voice would answer back through the opened portal and your heart would jump with surprise.
Soon after contact was made an identity for each speaker would be required, names to fit with the voices. ‘ What's your handle?’ meant what title or name would you be using to identify yourself with. Nobody ever used their own identity. What craic would there have been in talking to John from Baltinglass or Paddy from Kilcullen or Mick driving through the area in his articulated lorry?
It was always so much better talking to exotic figures such as 'Lamping Larry' and 'Hopskotch Harry'.
That was the beauty of the CB, it offered complete anonymity. A person could become almost anybody or anything and nobody could ever prove you wrong (unless you were extremely unlucky or made a fatal error of some kind).
Nowadays the CB has become slightly diminished in popularity and seems to be utilised by truckers and taxi drivers. That desire for anonymity and a ' handle' has moved on to another sphere, another portal as it were, the world of the website. And nowhere on the web do emotions and controversy run riot more than on sporting websites where fans cut loose with their opinions and angry outbursts about everything and anything from their chosen sports.
There are numerous such sites that exist in the sporting world. There are rugby sites where 'posters' or 'contributors' as they are known post comments about a particular subject.
For example in recent weeks that cringe-inducing moment during the after-match interview by RTE's Hugh Cahill with Declan Kidney when Ireland lost to Wales was hotly debated on various sites.
Cahill had queried the seemingly early introduction of Sexton and blamed the Leinster player for the ensuing try that came from the illegal line-out. Kidney snapped back in defence of Sexton and the websites went into overdrive with comments about the interview.
Likewise after a hard-hitting article in a national paper last Sunday concerning pundit George Hook, individuals with handles like ' Tickettout' and 'Hibernian' offered their own frank and brutal assessments of the former American manager and now radio presenter.
Similarly in soccer there are such message boards but the portals that I am more concerned about are those within the world of the GAA.
Inside these angst-ridden, punctuation-famished pages of opinions and regular witty ripostes, the competitive nature of the sports fan manifests itself with an often unruly passion.
On the average day in the world of one of these pages, subjects such as the performances of teams the weekend previous, unfolding news stories, injury concerns and general GAA subjects are discussed and dissected.
Players are lambasted for their errors or bad games while the tactics employed by the management teams are given the lofty benefit of hindsight.
In Carlow for example there are those with handles such as Onion Breath, a controversial figure whose one intention seems to be to stir everybody else up and who is generally successful in this ambition.
A factually persuasive character by the handle of 1944 usually extols the possibility and potential of Carlow GAA while Scallionater and Old Yellar lob in the odd complaint and typed attack as often as they see fit or perhaps as often as they can get quality internet coverage.
This week Carlow sites are overrun with comments concerning the county hurlers' brave showing against Limerick and the defeat of the county's U-21 footballers to Wexford.
Usually there are constructive debates but oftentimes contributors will take aim with swiping and sweeping statements until someone touches a nerve and then the barrage will take on a life of its own.
In Wicklow there are superstars of the sites such as AN Other and Squareball who joust with the likes of Sponger and Overthebar with cheeky interjec- tions by the likes of The Maestro and Supersizeme.
For Wexford Yellabally and Bogstandard lead the charge while on a national level there exists an individual purporting to be from Mayo by the Handle of Ballboy and he assumes a similar position in the eyes of his fellow contributors as Salman Rushdie does in the eyes of Muslims.
A rigorous and cheeky chap called Horse regularly posts from Laois with Jimbobdub and Hag_ and_ Cheese two more likely lads, while a Liam from Walkinstown seems to rule the roost in the world of the anonymous warriors.
These mighty men fly the flag for their counties on dull Monday mornings and sleepy Wednesday afternoons when players are out selling insurance or counting money in the bank.
These keyboard athletes take hits far worse than a late shoulder or a lethal clothes hanger.
These warriors face more daunting challenges than ‘ 45s into the stiff breeze or Francie Bellews breathing down their necks.
With words and wit they must open up their opponent's defences. With witty retorts they must hit back after their enemy has rattled the back of their nets.
I want to pay tribute to these warriors and to praise them for their exploits on the sporting websites.
Across the spectrum of sports they never fail to entertain and enlighten on a daily basis even if their discussions or points of view are based as far away from fact or sense as is humanly possible.
At times they are humorous, hilarious and laced with razor-sharp wit such as the recent comment from Wicklow's ' Sponger' on the subject of Kieran McGeeney getting up close and personal with Meath manager Seamus McEnaney.
Sponger wrote that ' Paul Galvin will get an eightweek ban for this'.
But wouldn't an actual football game between these mighty soldiers of the sporting sites be something to behold.
Or an actual league where the posters or contributors from the various counties could get to wear their county colours and take to the field to attempt to show how it should be done in real life, in the heat of the action.
Specially printed county jerseys with their handles on the backs could be made for the competition.
For Carlow I'd imagine Onion Breath would cause no end of trouble in the midfield. 1944 would fit in at centre half back while Scallionater has the sound of a nippy corner-forward.
Sponger would probably be a very efficient sweeper while ' Hag and Cheese' sounds like a goalkeeper to me.
All identities could be kept hidden through the wearing of disguises or helmets or masks of some kind.
For the thousands of people who peruse these websites and enjoy the banter and heated discussions it would be a superb sporting event.
I call on these men to come forward out of the ethereal abyss, leave aside the keyboard, rise from that swivel chair and take to the GAA fields of this country in a one-off championship of their very own. We'll call it the Contributors’ Cup. Over……………..
From a time when only truckers and lonely youngsters in rural Ireland had handles there are now a plethora of websites where sports fans can assume a handle of their choice and vent spleen from the safety of their keyboards.