These are strange times indeed for a young Daniel Doherty and his aul boy Steve.
‘Arscáth a chéile a mhaireannnadaoine’
(In the shelter of other the people we live)
“Not another match?!” It would be the almost nightly, exasperated refrain from an unsuspecting wife and mother as she’d unwittingly glide into the living room with her post-dinner cuppa only to find husband and son oxtered on the sofa.
Care of our low cost, and mildly illegal, digital streaming service IPTV, Daniel Doherty and his daddy made no apologies about their love of football and indeed anything sport related. As James Brown told us first – it’s a man’s world.
Well, that was the case up until last week when sport widows across the world finally and unexpectedly found the TVs off and the sofa now empty. Careful what you wish for.
One by one sport toppled like a sickening game of dominos. (A board game now which you can only play now if each individual domino is cattle-dipped in hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer itself now a more valuable and unavailable commodity than uncut diamonds.)
What strange times we live in. Scary times. The age of paranoia, of fear, of foreboding as we await the worst of the coronavirus. Dread hangs over us all like the sword of Damocles. And all this without our beloved sport to lift our minds and spirits.
The loss of sport, more than anything else, has been the harbinger of darkness. The canary was sent down the mineshaft and didn’t return.
It was a shockingly sudden and complete disappearance.
PICTURED: Daniel and King Henry
We’re all now sat six feet apart at the sporting wake if not quite at the funeral yet. Sport, all sports, build strong social bonds. Friendships, networks. Shared interests, hopes, dreams, disappointments. Togetherness.
None of us are getting out of here alive. And the ability to enjoy the triviality of sport is often a welcome distraction from life’s deathly inevitability.
The Doherty males are very much traditional men. We still ask for a bar of Marathon, never Snickers. Muhammad Ali will always be Cassius Clay. And, to a man, we still refer to the Waterfoot Hotel as the Blue Tit. And other than running around the house wearing Seagate outfits these days, the skin near washed off our hands, we’re taking things very much in our stride. But we’re simple folk, and we love sport.
The first confirmed sighting of cabin fever in Derry arrived at Doherty Towers approximately 17 seconds after the self-imposed lockdown. Like most parents across the country and beyond we’ve faced the same quandary all week, and will continue to do so in the weeks to come. Our days seem to fall into broadly the same routine.
Wake up, remove their Ipads and attempt to stop the kids killing each other. Watch some news and get the beJesus scared out of me. Stop the kids trying to kill each other. Watch some more news and get the beJesus scared out of me. Stop the kids trying to kill each other.
Give them their Ipads back. Watch some more news and empty the last of my entrails into my now soggy togs. Put kids to bed. (Oh, we feed them at regular intervals too.) Breathe. Open the bottle of wine. Rinse and repeat.
Those returning clowns from Cheltenham to these shores will have certainly cost lives. Shame on them. Panic buying at the supermarket can be put down to fear. But it’s greedy and wrong, and should still be called out. There’s plenty for everyone if we all keep cool.
PICTURED: Monkey Magic
It’s a team game, and we’re all playing for the same team now. Not one amongst is without an elderly relative. Dozens probably. Or family members not quite as physically strong as us. This thing only works if we all put the shoulder to the wheel.
Facing the sporting abyss, therefore, offers up other options. It’s the perfect opportunity to rewatch some classic television – The Wire, The West Wing, Monkey Magic or Benny Hill. Or better still to relive the summer of love in 1993 on Youtube, when Derry lifted the Sam Maguire. Some outstanding sports documentaries can be found on Netflix. Start with The Dawn Wall.
Why not read that classic book you always meant to? Or retrieve the dusty old box of Razzles from the attic. Or buy a newspaper. It’s no coincidence that the great Paddy Heaney has returned like Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider to enliven your Wednesdays in the Irish News. Buy a copy. And buy the Derry News, for God’s sake.
Or use your solitary exercise allowance to dander down the Bay Road with a big blue bag of cans, keeping a socially isolated distance from your drinking buddy.
In many ways we are the lucky ones. Cast adrift on the far westerly reaches of Europe, and an island nation too, we’re the last to feel the virus’ full force. We are blessed with some of the most magnificent beaches in the world, many of them just a short drive away. A walk, a jog, a cycle down the quay. Anything to take your mind off coronavirus; to dampen the worry.
Bono has written a song about the pandemic, as if we haven’t suffered enough.
Hopefully our scientists and political masters can learn from our fallen fellow Europeans. Find a vaccine or treatment. Soften the blow. Save lives. Hope trumps fear every time.
You almost pine for the days of the great ‘foot and mouth’ epidemic, where getting out of you motor at the border to tramp though a big wet sponge seemed such an inconvenience. (The year 2001, dear God where have the years gone?)
PICTURED: The dastardly coronavirus
My parents, who seem to have life sussed after years of hard work and halyin-rearing, jetted off to the Canary Islands recently. “No concerns about the coronavirus?” says I. “Not at all,” replied my mother.
“Sure I’m taking the Rescue Remedy with me.” Her faith in that small bottle of homeopathic goodness both reassuring and worrying at the same time. While my father studiously checks the obituary section of the paper just to make sure he’s not in it.
It’s not just a matter of life and death, it’s more important than that to paraphrase Bill Shankly. Of all the things that matter in this life, sport might not be too high up everybody’s list. But to many of us that begin reading our newspapers from the back, sport matters most.
What’s it like to live in a world with no sport? Well we’re finding out the hard way and it’s as bleak as we could have imagined. But we have to remain positive, strong and sensible. And kind. And stay home.
Optimists live longer, happier lives. Wine helps. (That’s twice I’ve mentioned wine.)
The words of Paddy’s uncle Seamus seem particularly apposite in these increasingly uncertain times…
“If we winter this one out, we can summer anywhere.”
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