Irish Soccer Pundits. Not Good………..But Great!

Last week during dinner with three of my good Dublin buddies, we were all locked in deep conversation as to whether ISIS might attack our favourite Spanish holiday destinations. This was all fuelled by the fact that one of my fellow diners had recently booked the obligatory two weeks in July at some place called Mijas Costa, which I thought was the villa of some Italian pizza chef!  We did convince him that of course he’d be safe because everybody knows that Spanish beaches in July are so crammed that you’d struggle to get a suicide bomber between the sunbeds. Anyway once his mind was at ease our conversation turned to the thorny subject of football punditry, which I grant you is a bit of a leap from sun-stroked jihadists, because we had just heard the very sad news that the great John Giles was finally hanging up his punditry overcoat at Ireland’s RTE football channel

Now when it comes to this little item let me just say, as someone who knows all there is to know about pundit purgatory, that you enthusiastic Irish followers of sport simply do not realise just how good you have it. Because if medals were awarded to pundits for ‘Telling it how it is,’ they’d be enough gold lying around for John Delaney to pay off all of the FAI’s debts.  And even though the English gifted the world its greatest sports, when it comes to football punditry we simply wouldn’t get out of the Vauxhall Conference League. Put simply we don’t do it properly. One of the reasons I have heard put forward for this is because, as the world knows, the English are in the main, too polite. That’s why we never complain about queuing for twenty seven hours in a Post Office for a stamp, or send back our dinner to the Chef when after looking under our lamb chop we find the shell of a dead tortoise or never complain about the fact that every morning when we rise for a constitutional stroll down to the corner shop for our morning edition of ‘The Sun’ we see another four mosques going up beside the park. It’s just not us.

This is why from David Coleman,to Bob Wilson or Tony Gubba right through to the Valium inducing Gary Lineker and the monosyllabic Alan Shearer we just don’t have it in us to tell the world that Raheem Sterling isn’t in fact a footballer but a very fast pizza delivery man who doesn’t need a moped. And instead of  using their ‘football expertise’ to tell us that John Stones is the most overhyped, overrated hopeless defender since Danny Mills, they scamper to the safe, non-offensive sentence that ‘He’s got potential’ which we all know is a euphemism for ‘he’s totally fecking hopeless and I wouldn’t trust him to cut the half-time oranges.’ But English soccer pundits, particularly ex-player pundits, just will not go in with this two footed tackle because if they said what the rest of us already knew their corporate golf invites would go down quicker than a Katie Price breast reduction! So their views are continuously compromised by fellow players and managers whom they are loathe to upset.

And so as the wine flowed the name ‘Eamon Dunphy’ was raised as well as a few eyebrows. Now let me just say that I have never met said Mr Dunphy but what I do remember was the first time I saw him in full flow back in 1998 during a live televised match and I sat in front of the screen in polite English disbelief as he bemoaned everything from the state of the pitch, the atrocious refereeing, the heartless and cowardly men and even naming ‘hopeless’ players who wouldn’t get a job cleaning the toilets at ‘Stella Maris’ which I later discovered was a well-known Irish football team that can count the great John Giles as one of its favourite sons. At this stage the match was barley ten minutes old!

Indeed John Giles has one of the sharpest and insightful views on football that I’ve ever come across, even though as a player he wouldn’t be averse in trying to remove certain parts of your anatomy. But then again back in the seventies it was kill or be killed. Even the pitches in those heady days looked as if the National Ploughing Championships had only departed the scene twenty minutes before kick-off and by the end of the season the combined amount of sand in every penalty area in the First Division would have been double the amount to be found along the entire length of Curracloe Beach! But there are two main reasons why I warm to Eamon. Firstly, ‘Only a Game’ remains one of the finest books every written from a footballer’s perspective and its unique rawness and authenticity I personally haven’t seen replicated.  Secondly he has played football against Robin Friday! Now for those of you who know who I’m talking about I can already see you nodding your head in quiet admiration. For those of you who thought I was talking about ‘Gavin’ think again because in the history of sport there has never been a ‘Gavin’ worthy of celebration.

Yet although he has drawn many comparisons with George Best, Robin wasn’t quite blessed with George’s silky skills or with the inclination to stop fouling people, to stop taking drugs or getting paralytic the night before and immediately after a game, all of which help conspire against him getting a hundred England caps. Unfortunately Robin passed away at the tender age of just 38. But check out the absolutely blinding biography of him by Paolo Hewitt because loving football and being ignorant of Robin Friday is like professing your love of ‘Taste’ without having a clue who  Rory Gallagher was.

But to those of you who bemoan the Giles’s, the Dunphys, the Brady’s and the Hooks and the Joe Brolly’s, consider yourself lucky that you weren’t raised  on a diet of  Ray Parlour, Ray Wilkins, Alan Smith, Trevor Francis, Clive Allen. Before them we had to endure, Richard, ‘did you smash her?’ Keys and the truly awful Andy Gray. Now we have the sagacity of Jamie Redknapp, famous for having one black and one grey suit, a more famous dad and a tiny popstar missus. We even have ex-footballers I didn’t even know played football who are suddenly appearing on all-new punditry line-ups.. I still have constant unimaginable nightmares where I’m trapped in a lift with Stuart Pearce and Martin Keown which is as bad as it could possibly get for any English soccer fan.  And that’s the truth, Baby!


11th July 2016