15 things I heard, read or reflected on in the days following the Euros.
1. Billy Jean is not my lover…
This I heard former World Number 1 tennis player Billy Jean King say on a Desert Island Discs podcast and I like it.
‘Three of my principles in life are: 1. Relationships are everything. 2. Keep learning and keep learning how to learn. 3. Be a problem-solver.’
I’m good on the first two of those principles I think. Number 3… hmm. If I think about the things I had issues with in the preparation of Irish Touch for this tournament – let’s use the fiasco of the playing kit not arriving as shorthand for everything – I think I’m good at identifying where the problems lie but sometimes my sense of frustration, my emotion gets too much for me to work constructively with other people to fix things. Other people are better at that than me.
2. Every Cloud
This I quoted to myself.
These shorts I wore.
So, I’m trying hard to find one positive from the kit situation. Ok. One. I got to wear the borrowed shorts of a legend of Irish Touch. I got to channel my inner Eddie Devitt. I even washed them for you. 🙂
3. What’s your manifesto? Let’s put it to the testo.
Ok, deep breath.
This emotion I felt. Disgust.
‘Where’s me Jumper?’ – Sultans of Ping FC
Where’s me Ireland shirt? Where’s me Ireland shorts?
It’s useful to look at the values that an organisation professes to have in its mission statement or manifesto. Then you look at how well these values are upheld in each and every different aspect of its operations. For example, a small company might state that ‘treating our customers well is central to what we are about’. The company may be full of caring, diligent people with good personal relationships with many of those clients. However, there are structural inefficiencies which mean that no one person is accountable for a certain company email. This results in it being hit or miss whether client inquiries are answered or not. The client has to email three times to get an answer. That’s not treating the client well. It’s not reflective of the company value system nor of the people in the organisation. And yet it is the real client experience.
Taking this into consideration, how did ‘Team Ireland’ and its values fare?
I’m sort of used to some aspects of the ineptitude. The kit situation was bad for the last Euros two years ago. It was so much worse this time.
What was new for me though was the ‘real’ experience of a sense of being treated with disdain. I was not aware of anybody at any point coming to our team to apologise or to explain why kit we paid for to represent our country was not there. Why we only had 2nd-hand borrowed shorts. Why playing in the ‘green’ of lreland for their first cap never happened for our debutants because we just had white shirts. Why we had no second jersey. There was not one word of acknowledgement so far as I’m aware of.
Why did some Irish teams get all their kit, two playing shirts and playing shorts, while others, my team, were missing two parts? Who decided that? That doesn’t seem to be fair, does it? Maybe there is an explanation. Nobody thought it was necessary to give one to us as a team as far as I am aware.
People joked about our chances of a refund as if we shouldn’t 100% be refunded for stuff we never received. Over two weeks have passed since the end of the tournament and I still haven’t been informed if we are being refunded.
Based on this experience, if Team Ireland was a client you worked with, you never would again. Worse than that. If Team Ireland was a company you worked for, you’d leave at the earliest opportunity because you’d be thinking, not only are they crap, they also don’t even seem to have any respect for their employees.
‘It’s alright to say that things can only get better, you haven’t just lost your brand new sweater. Oh no.’
As other teams came around looking to swap kit at the end of the tournament I was embarrassed. My white shirt I kept. I shrugged and shook my head when they asked if I had a green shirt to swap. Every other bit of non-playing gear, I just gave away for nothing to anyone who came around because at least it put a smile on their face to get it. And that made me happy.
While in Nottingham, I was a representative of this manifestation of ‘Team Ireland’, this shambles. When I got back home after the tournament late on the Sunday night and showered, it felt like washing a layer of dirt off me.
4. From Australia
This message I received from my friend who’s never played Touch in his life.
‘F*** that sounds extremely disappointing. Infuriating. Where does that breakdown begin? What f***er lets some other f***er get away with it so the whole heart is ripped out of the thing? Leadership. It’s always about leadership. Who fills those roles and if they’re shit, who lets them stay there? It would break your heart.’
That’s the perfect description – heartbreaking.
5. Like Clockwork Chocolate Orange
This I wondered. Are other countries like us?
This I was grateful for. When I was having an utter meltdown of frustration the night before the tournament, I escaped and spent time in the Swiss camp. It felt safe and happy there. Everything was organised and kind and calm and friendly.
This is not just cultural stereotyping here. You know what the Swiss camp reminded me most of? The Ireland camp at the Euros in 2012. We’ve gone a hundred miles backwards in six years. How does that happen?
Their kit arrived on time by the way. But that’s not even the start of it, it’s… anyway. Thank you Switzerland.
6. The Fable of the Scorpion and the Frog (See Appendix A)
This I read in an interview with Floyd Landis, the cyclist who won the Tour de France in 2006 but was immediately stripped of it for doping. He was the key cyclist in exposing ex-teammate Lance Armstrong.
‘”For me it was a matter of principle to fight my case.” His wife, not unreasonably, said “Can’t we move on and be happy?” He couldn’t do it.’
It was his nature.
‘Even though Floyd knew he’d doped. Even though the case bankrupted him… And his marriage ended. And he ended up drinking a bottle of whiskey a day…
What Floyd hated – what his soul raged against – was the unfairness. The abuse of power. All he wanted was the opportunity to compete fairly and he knew he wasn’t being treated the same as Armstrong.’
I could empathise with Floyd’s sense of torment at unfairness.
Floyd talked about dealing with Armstrong.
‘”Was your case against him about revenge?” “It wasn’t purely that but he didn’t help himself by being such an arsehole, let’s put it that way. People think of him as being calculating but he almost can’t help himself being an arsehole.”‘
It’s his nature.
I struggled badly to deal with a person who I see like that in Irish Touch. I’m starting to finally understand why I struggled – they’re a lot like Lance.
Floyd also said, which I liked, ‘People are principled in different ways.’
I already know that. My disgust at some of the things that happened as part of Ireland’s tournament was not a negative judgement on others whose reaction was different to mine.
He also said something his parents tried to teach him,
‘At some point, whatever life you live, you have to accept things before you can be happy.’
I suppose I know that too. You maybe have to go through whatever your process is first though.
7. The Team What I Got Dropped From
This I wished to the people I like on the team I was on for the last three tournaments and this year won. My sister. My friends. Congratulations. It’s a long time coming and thoroughly deserved.
Other things my soul raged against a bit I have to admit.
A coach can select or not select. I’ve always respected that. When you’re dropped from an Irish squad for players who haven’t attended one training session over a period of five months… not one. Have the decency to say five months earlier you’re not going to pick me and don’t make me waste my time, working constantly to improve, making myself available weekend after weekend for training sessions which were invariably cancelled at the last minute. How am I supposed to respect that from a coach? I don’t.
All you ask for is the opportunity to compete fairly.
This feeds into my feelings about the ‘values’ of Team Ireland. How did it allow a squad to be run against so many principles that it as an organisation claims to uphold? If those values have changed, inform your members please. Otherwise uphold them. It cheapens what representing your country means.
I was so disappointed not to play at Senior Mixed level. I was sort of relieved to be dropped from the squad and to stop caring about how it was being run.
If I’d known for sure they’d win, I’d probably have tried harder to plámás and stay in it. I have to be honest and admit that. But it mightn’t have worked anyway. It’s a complicated emotion, but overall, I’ll take the consequences and benefits of the path I trod.
8. The Tournament
This I watched.
How the tournament was run was wonderful by England Touch. This was my favourite game to watch, live and then back online. I’ve played against a lot of the players here. The quality of online footage and the commentary. It all feels like a real sport all of a sudden, doesn’t it? It was a privilege to be part of.
Bonus point for spotting me watching on in the crowd.
9. ‘The Noble Adversary’
This I read which was written to me about someone in Touch who a lot of people apparently don’t like and I sort of like. It intrigued me.
‘Seriously, you are the first person who said something nice about him… I think of him as one of those geniuses who aren’t popular cos people hate driven people. Every time I hear someone talking about him, it’s something bad and that makes me think he must have done something good, if people hate him so bad. Overall he’s a good enemy. I respect him.’
There are different types of enemies, and yeah, I agree, some of them are good ones. Your opposition can ennoble each one the other.
I always thought the cartoon ‘He Man’ was crap as a kid. Skeletor was a terrible baddie, basically a coward that He Man could always defeat. Who cares? I have to admit this – 30 years later – I sort of wanted Skeletor to win.
‘Dungeons & Dragons’ on the other hand. ‘Venger – the Force of Evil’ was properly powerful and scary and you genuinely felt that cartoon lives were at stake. I loved it.
10. Anna Pavlova
This I said to one of my heroes of Touch, Frank of the Mens 45s squad, at the after party. ‘You’re a double European champion now!’
He took in the words, that slow smile taking over his face, he just nodded and said ‘Yep’.
He was so humble and appreciative of their win, things that I love in a sportsperson. It wasn’t false humility either, which Irish people are sometimes prone to.
That’s the joy. My aunty talks about watching some of the greatest classical dancers – what set them apart sometimes was their curtain call, how they showed appreciation of the moment, the audience.
11. Statler and Waldorf
This I read about Eamon Dunphy and wondered if it could apply to me. ‘Sensitive people can sometimes be the most scathing.’
This I listened to about Johnny Giles in an interview on Dunphy’s podcast, an interview that filled me with joy.
‘Sometimes it takes years, many years, before integrity is acknowledged John. You were treated badly. I’m so happy that the Irish people see you now for the man you really are.’
For some reason, I tend to associate Johhny Giles with my father. I joke with my dad that Giles was the only real father figure I had when I was growing up. I think the sense of sporting integrity that is in both of them is something I try to emulate.
What also strikes me between Dunphy and Giles is their deep, decades-long friendship, sealed through sport.
12. The Master Builder
I remember seeing Patrick Stewart in an Ibsen play in the West End in London. Watching his curtain call at the end, he seemed so in the moment, not some big star taking the applause for granted, he was taking it all in and genuinely appreciating it, acknowledging his own hard work that he’d put in to get there and also deeply grateful. He just looked happy.
So, this I said to my friend, Mr. Federico Black, take it all in Mr European Champion. Appreciate it.
As the other part of our triumvirate, Jim, said, “I feel like we’re Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta in Goodfellas to your Joe Pesci celebrating you becoming a ‘made man.'”
13. Good fellas. Good lads.
This is what one said, or part thereof.
‘… It was more than that… I always feel quite emotional during those days… I always look up to the sky (you know what I mean)… you are true friends well more like brothers in sports…’
This is what the other said, or part thereof.
‘I believe we did everything we could. I can hang up the hat knowing I had nothing left to give. Fantastic memories that bring immense joy. Will be great fun to chat about in 30 years at the pub. Can’t invite the other lad though. He has Gold, we only have Silver. At least for now!’
I’d listen to everything these lads have to say. All day everyday.
14. Trash Talk
Finally, this made me laugh. My girlfriend was at the tournament as manager of the Swiss Womens team. We played against their Men’s 40s team on Day 2. Divided loyalties for her many people were wondering? She asked me afterwards, ‘Did you hear me cheering you?’
‘Were you supporting me?’ I asked in genuine suprise. ‘No, I was shouting – Drop the ball O’Malley! Where’s your hair – you look ridiculous! Your mother doesn’t love you! Stuff like that.’
The joy on her face as she told me. I almost wished I could have been on the sideline with her to share it. 🙂
15. And now
Where next? Will I lead? Be led. Want to be involved. Will I be part of the solution? End up drinking bottles of whiskey alone?
It’s such a weird feeling after this tournament. The negative stuff mentioned. vs. I loved so much the interaction with other players, on my team, on other squads, opponents.
I was also so satisfied with how I played. Easily my best tournament in an Irish jersey.
Who knows what to make of it all?
I do know writing this blog is part of my process. So thanks for reading it.
Appendix A – The Scorpion and the Frog
A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, "How do I know you won't sting me?" The scorpion says, "Because if I do, I will die too." The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp "Why?" Replies the scorpion: "Its my nature..."