We watch sport, and we participate in sport, because of emotions. Because we want to feel and to show emotions and sport facilitates that – it permits that. Which is no mean feat, especially when it comes to men showing their emotions.
Where else do you see people gasp and shout and scream and laugh and cry themselves hoarse and not a person around them bats an eyelid? The Irish people, before they entered the Stade de France in the commune of Saint-Denis, Paris, last Saturday were grandmothers, judges, solemn and self-conscious teenagers, introverts, and so on.
But now they are gasping as a man in a green shirt whom they will never meet catches a long pass, drops an oval ball to his feel, allows the ball to bounce slightly and then kicks it in a long lazy arc towards two vertical and one horizontal posts forty-two metres away.
Now they are shouting as the ball rises and drives towards the posts, in a game that should have been won and then was lost, but now (when the ball touches the ground the game is over), now in the last action of a long, riveting drama could possibly be redeemed.
Now they are screaming as the ball goes on and on and on – could it, could it really? really? REALLY? – and over the crossbar and between the posts, and lands on the ground and the referee blows his whistle and raises his arm and all bloody hell breaks loose.
Why are these judges and teenagers and grandmothers and introverts gasping and shouting and screaming?
Well, for one thing, these people (the ones in the stadium, let’s stay with those, though people in pubs and living rooms won’t feel much different) have witnessed the act of a god. Not a putative god, but a literal god (I’ll come back to this at a later time). They are entering the realm of the divine and they are worshipping. They are adoring. Worship and adoration are emotions. Very deep ones, at the heart of religions.
Secondly, and this is obvious, they are experiencing an ecstatic joy, a relief, a pride and a sense of great justification – their faith (religion again) has been vindicated. They feel validation – a powerful and very attractive emotion.
Release, relief, pleasure, success, glory – it’s all there and where else do we get that in our lives? Gratitude to what those men did for their country and awe and wonder at the preposterous beauty of that number ten.
They are feeling communion and fellowship and collegiality and a shared sense of purpose and a bond with those around them. An emotion shared is an emotion doubled.
Pride, pride in the tribe, belonging, a sense of being, purpose, possibility – so many emotions are being transmitted in the swirling rush of millions of endorphins released within us all by that dark haired Dubliner and his team-mates who are piling on top of each other now, in their muddied bloodied green shirts, on that cold wet piece of grass in the heart of Paris. They know what they’ve done.
In this one, single, brief moment. In the three seconds it takes for the ball to go from that boot to between the posts and over the crossbar, we have experienced a rainbow of emotions.
Just one moment in one match, amid all the matches we’ve seen down through the years and all the matches ahead of us; not even a final, on a cold winter’s day, in a city far away, the action of one thirty-two year old man, a man most of us will never know, can do that.
Then, in the calm that follows, in la petite mort known so well by Parisians – more emotions. This isn’t happening in a vacuum – we have lives. A man reaches for his phone to ring his father, until he remembers that he buried his father in October. A woman who used to go to games with her ex-boyfriend closes her eyes and winces at what she’s lost. A boy grabs his rugby ball and runs outside to his friends to practice drop-goals. A girl grabs her rugby ball and runs outside to her friends to practice drop-goals.
Beforehand and during the game there were all the usual emotions. Some tension, not much, it’s just the first game of the championship. Expectation – our team had been hyped. Remembrance of past seasons, other years good and bad. Hope of glory and renewal. Frustration with the referee for not giving a penalty when Earls was fouled. Disappointment that we weren’t further ahead. Horror when Thomas ran through to score. Disgust when the French cheated and faked a HIA ruling.
And yes, this was an exceptional moment, and we don’t get too many like it. But we get more than you’d think – you’d be surprised: look what Liverpool and Tottenham offered up on Sunday. As did the immortals of Kanturk and Ardmore and Ballyragget and Fethard in Croke Park on the same day.
And lastly, why do we want to feel all these emotions? Isn’t it all a bit too much? Wouldn’t a quiet life be better? Listening to music? No, it isn’t and no it wouldn’t. Even if we had lost – and we know that there’s a very good change of losing in matches in Paris – we will still make that emotional investment, we will still put our heart out there on our sleeves. The good people of Ballyragget and Fethard are dreaming of next year already.
We want these feelings, good bad or indifferent, because it proves to us that we’re alive. Being alive means being able to feel. Being dead means that feelings have gone.
We want to be alive.
And sport brings us to life.
Featured images: www.sportsjoe.ie and www.irishtimes.com