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.

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