Sitting in the sunshine, in the back garden, on a Saturday afternoon. Listening to Leinster, on the radio, win another European championship. And, as a Munster man, wondering what emotions I feel about that.
Looking forward too, to watching Liverpool in a Champions’ League Final against Real Madrid, this evening. Well, not looking forward, in case they win the bloody thing. Me, being a proud Manchester United supporter since the heady days of one skinny Irishman, George Best, back in the 1960s – himself later to play for Cork Celtic, not so skinny.
It’s what I do. When faced with a sporting occasion or experience, I think about emotions, about what people feel. Emotions are what sport is for, it’s what it does to us. And it’s complex, and rigorous, and its variety and scale are vast and I don’t understand it.
But, you know what? I feel okay about Leinster’s win. I don’t have some Munster fans’ antipathy to our eastern neighbours. Perhaps because rugby isn’t as deep in the blood as soccer is, for me. I never played it. And, of course, most of that Leinster team play for Ireland, so it’s hard to begrudge them their glory day of days.
Now, though. Liverpool? That’s a different story. Their hegemony of the football universe in the 1970s and 80s was a brutal dictatorship and cultural dominance during some of my most formative years. Especially when I was in boarding school, when United were actually relegated. I’m scarred for life, basically. Brrrr.
And did my friends and enemies ever rub it in to me that when Liverpool were astride the European football world, United were struggling with one post-Busby manager after another, failing? Of course they didn’t, they wouldn’t dream of it.
And then, when United had their glory years later, the whole ABU culture kicked in, which also embittered me, I’m sure. Poor me, boo hoo hoo.
Of course, this emotion isn’t limited to United fans.
I remember that glorious night when United won the Champions League on this very date, May 26, in 1999 – 18 years ago, now. I watched it with family and friends in Crowley’s Pub in Bridge Street. After the final whistle, when, still glowing after the stunning, impossible, ending, I was in the loo, and a lad walked in, a big puss up on him.
‘Worst team ever to win the European Cup,’ says he, disgruntled.
‘Are you a Liverpool fan?’ says I.
‘How did you know that?’ says he.
So it goes.
But you know, when Liverpool won their last Champions’ League Final, in the most unlikely circumstance in Istanbul in 2005, I was working in Bratislava and I was able to overcome my post 80s/90s hegemony bitterness. I cheered away with the Scouse Slovaks and texted congratulations to my LFC pals (of whom there are quite a few). I’m not sure why; maybe it was that the greatness and unlikeliness of the sporting comeback overcame my antipathy, or that the Slovakian beer and the strangeness of the locale overcame my usual glee at an LFC defeat.
But I’m not too hard on myself about all of this. It’s not unusual, as that old Welsh rugby supporter sings. I’m sure that Clare fans, trudging out of Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Sunday took some solace that Limerick had turned over Tipperary earlier in the day.
It’s part of life.
It’s part of the writing world that I’ve just entered into. Gore Vidal famously said: ‘It’s not enough to succeed. Others must fail.’ And the great Australian (who knows a lot about sport) Clive James wrote: The book of my enemy has been remaindered / And I am pleased.
Look it up.
So, the game begins, and Benzema nabs a sneaky one. In fairness, the Liverpool former great, Jim Beglin gives him credit. I’m not broken-hearted at Mané’s equaliser. And then there’s the Bale goal. Ah, now, Ted.
A dark haired girl cries with joy in the stands. Her emotions have overcome her.
I tell myself it’s a goal worthy of winning any championship, whereas in reality I’m just happy Liverpool are being beaten. If United were there against Madrid, my good LFC friends would feel the same.
If only there was some word for getting pleasure from the sorrow of others. If only the Germans or some other smart linguistic contortionists could come up with such a word. It would have to be long, and with four syllables at least. Surely there must be one out there.
But that’s not what I’m feeling now, at the end. I’m thinking of a young German professional goalkeeper and his family, on the worst day of his life. I’m thinking of a young Muslim immigrant in the hateful land of BREXIT, who had to go off early on the biggest day of his life. I’m thinking of a young Welshman, on the best day of his life, having scored a goal that is immortal.
Am I happy at the Karius disaster on the 82nd minute? No. That’s cruel, which is what sport is. A boy cries in the stands. Then another. Then the Liverpool keeper at the end. He will cry a river over tonight. He will think about this night on dark German winter pre-dawn awakenings, fifty years from now.
It’s sport. I’m looking for a word for this emotion. It’s not bitterness, anger, loss. It’s not gloating, satisfaction, smugness. There’s no need for a fancy German word. I find myself taking no satisfaction in Karius’ error.
Sport is cruel. It is about losing and creating loss. Most teams lose, that’s just it.
Sport is glorious, it’s about winning and creating joy, and exquisite beauty. And everything in between these two magnificent extremes.
That’s why sport is so compelling. And I do take satisfaction in that. Oh, I do.