Paul Kim­mage

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - PAUL KIM­MAGE

There’s a no­table difference be­tween shov­el­ling shit and writ­ing it. And here’s what I’d like to know: What is the difference be­tween cheat­ing and cyn­i­cal play?

Cheat: v. 1 act dis­hon­estly or un­fairly in or­der to gain an ad­van­tage. > de­prive of some­thing by de­ceit­ful or un­fair means 2 avoid (some­thing un­de­sir­able) by luck or skill n. 1 a per­son who cheats. 2 an act of cheat­ing Cyn­i­cal: adj. 1 be­liev­ing that peo­ple are mo­ti­vated purely by self-interest > scep­ti­cal > con­temp­tu­ous; mock­ing. 2 (of be­hav­iour or ac­tions) pro­ceed­ing from a con­cern only with one’s own in­ter­ests, re­gard­less of ac­cepted stan­dards: a cyn­i­cal foul Con­cise Ox­ford English Dic­tio­nary

THIRTY-FIVE years ago, dur­ing my heady days as an ap­pren­tice plumber at Dublin Air­port, the short­est straw in the main­te­nance de­part­ment was to be sent into the cav­ern un­der the ter­mi­nal build­ing. As sep­tic tanks go, this was the Ti­tanic — the in­nards of ev­ery man, wo­man and child caught short in the air­port drained into this thing — and we were tasked with the job of break­ing-up the crud.

The stench was so bad it would singe the hair of your nos­trils, and here’s what I know:

There’s a no­table difference be­tween shov­el­ling shit and writ­ing it. And here’s what I’d like to know: What is the difference be­tween cheat­ing and cyn­i­cal play?

There’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary clip on YouTube of a game be­tween Arse­nal and Liver­pool at High­bury. The month is March 1997, the teams are head-to-head for the Pre­mier League ti­tle, and the vis­i­tors lead 1-0 early in the sec­ond half. “Seven years re­mem­ber, since Liver­pool won the ti­tle,” the com­men­ta­tor, Alan Parry, an­nounces, as a ball is pumped over the top for Rob­bie Fowler to chase.

David Sea­man, the Arse­nal goal­keeper, rushes from his line. Fowler jinks and tries to skip around him but tum­bles in the box. “That’s got to be a penalty,” Parry shouts. “It is!” And you can feel the rage of the Arse­nal fans as the sta­dium erupts:

“You f**king ***t Fowler!

“You cheat­ing Scouse bas­tard!” Then some­thing re­mark­able hap­pens. Fowler gets to his feet and ges­tures with his arm to the ref­eree: “No, No.” He looks at Sea­man and apol­o­gises: “Sorry, Dave.” He’s trying to be hon­est. He’s in­sist­ing the goal­keeper hasn’t touched him, and the world that formed him can­not be­lieve it.

His team-mates are shout­ing at him: “Rob­bie! Shut the fuck up!” His coach, Ron­nie Mo­ran, is scream­ing on the touch­line: “What’s he do­ing? Ian Wright wouldn’t have fuck­ing done that!” Trevor Fran­cis, the co-com­men­ta­tor, can’t be­lieve it: “That’s amaz­ing! Rob­bie Fowler is say­ing ‘No.’” And two days later, he is still mak­ing head­lines: ‘Football hero in hon­esty shock’.

David Lis­ter, the Arts Cor­re­spon­dent and a founder mem­ber of The In­de­pen­dent, captured the mo­ment bril­liantly: “I was re­minded of Tom Stop­pard’s com­edy Pro­fes­sional Foul, which mixes football and phi­los­o­phy. A philoso­pher asks a pro­fes­sional foot­baller why play­ers from op­pos­ing teams al­ways ap­peal for a throw-in when ‘ev­ery bloody time’ the player who actually kicked it out of play knows that he did. What are the moral and philo­soph­i­cal bound­aries be­tween loutish­ness, dis­hon­esty and sim­ply want­ing to gain an ad­van­tage for your team?

“With penal­ties, soc­cer eti­quette — or lack of it — has been even clearer. You al­ways con­test a penalty award against you. You never dis­pute a penalty award in your favour. Crick­eters may walk but foot­ballers never, never talk. Yet Fowler did, or tried to. And then the action be­came real enough to give philoso­phers an en­tire sem­i­nar. So un­prece­dented was Fowler’s hon­esty that no one knew how to han­dle it.

“The ref who had blown his whis­tle and pointed to the spot was ex­pect­ing the usual clam­our of protests from the Arse­nal play­ers. But a protest from the player about to take the penalty? He hadn’t been taught about that at ref­eree school. The next day he said sim­ply that he hadn’t heard Fowler say any­thing. ‘He ob­vi­ously didn’t hear him wav­ing then,’ noted one com­men­ta­tor.”

Okay, so call me an arts cor­re­spon­dent, but two weeks ago I sat in the press box in Croke Park watch­ing some­thing that made no sense to me. A thrilling All-Ire­land final — the most ex­cit­ing sport I’ve watched this year — was tick­ing to­wards conclusion. Dean Rock had just con­verted a bril­liant pres­sure kick and the game had reached its final act.

David Clarke has the ball but he can’t put it into play. Cor­mac Costello is mess­ing with his kick­ing tee; al­most ev­ery Mayo shirt is be­ing pulled by a Dublin arm or has been wres­tled to the ground. Clarke has no op­tions. He can’t get the ball away. It’s like watch­ing Amer­i­can football as the quar­ter­back re­treats.

Costello gets a yel­low card; Ciaran Kilkenny is sent to the side­line with a black card but the pun­ish­ment does not fit the crime and when the final whis­tle sounds it’s the ug­li­ness that lingers. Dublin are cham­pi­ons but it’s no way to win an All-Ire­land. But then, it’s true, I have never un­der­stood the game.

I don’t un­der­stand the drag­ging and the wrestling and how win­ning be­came the only thing:

Paul Geaney: “It is part and par­cel of the game. It is the na­ture of the sport and I would not have ex­pected any­thing less from the Dubs in that sit­u­a­tion. And they got their just re­ward for it, if you want to put it that way, in that they slowed the game down.”

Ciaran Kilkenny: “Any man is will­ing to do what he can for his county. If you were there in the last minute of an All-Ire­land final, what would you do? That’s ev­ery player’s thought process.”

Philly McMa­hon: “I am going to do what I can to win. Now, if it af­fects the team neg­a­tively and the re­sult neg­a­tively, then it’s the wrong de­ci­sion. But that’s what you’re plan­ning to do. There’s al­ways the op­por­tu­nity to be neg­a­tive. And that’s why the lads prob­a­bly did it in the last 10 min­utes be­cause they saw the op­por­tu­nity in some­thing neg­a­tive they were do­ing.”

Alan Bro­gan: “It is not the most sport­ing thing we have ever seen on the field, but at that stage of the big­gest game of your life, win­ning is all that mat­ters.”

I don’t un­der­stand the con­ces­sions af­forded to Lee Kee­gan for his con­duct at the end of the game:

Alan Bro­gan: “If I thought I could give Dublin a chance to win an All-Ire­land by throw­ing a GPS unit at the feet of a free-taker I would have done it.”

Philly McMa­hon: “You’re never going to get rid of cyn­i­cal play. A player is going to do ab­so­lutely what­ever they can — I would have taken off my jersey and thrown it at Dean Rock, to put him off.”

Colm O’Rourke: “Lee Kee­gan does not get any sports­man­ship award after throw­ing his GPS at Dean Rock but I could think of plenty of play­ers who would throw a ce­ment block at Rock if it meant putting him off in the same cir­cum­stances.”

I’m cu­ri­ous about some of the head­lines these past two weeks:

The ‘The GAA cyn­i­cism storm means soc­cer no longer stands alone on the moral low ground’

The Ex­am­iner: ‘There’s no ac­cept­able cyn­i­cism. Let’s black­ball the of­fend­ers’ Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent: ‘McMa­hon in­sists cyn­i­cal play is here to stay in GAA’

But what’s the difference be­tween cyn­i­cal play and cheat­ing?

In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, this is how Rob­bie Fowler re­flects on his de­ci­sion not to cheat against Arse­nal in ‘97.

“I don’t re­ally know what was going through my head, al­though I have never been a cheat, never thrown my­self to the floor at any time, and I have never agreed with this idea in the game now that if you can com­mit a de­fender and get him to touch you, then you go down. I’ve al­ways had a dif­fer­ent idea, that if you can com­mit a de­fender, then shoot, even if it is a lit­tle old-fashioned.”

What about sell­ing that to our kids?

‘At that stage of the big­gest game of your life, win­ning is all that mat­ters’

Rob­bie Fowler: ‘I don’t re­ally know what was going through my head, al­though I have never been a cheat, never thrown my­self to the floor at any time’

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