By Barry Lord
The realisation that your national football team will not take its place among the cream of the globe’s best hoofers and dribblers can – for a moment at least – feel worse than sudden redundancy, a cruel break-up or confirmation that no, there really isn’t a hope in Hell of Oasis ever getting back together.
Until this week I thought there were few places as cold, unforgiving and desolate as a football ground in the aftermath of a crushing defeat. As you stand with your match program and scarf dripping with disappointed tears, you feel like the loneliest person on earth.
But now I realise there is a worse place to linger after abject failure than an all-seater stadium.
That place is social media. Just ask Cyrus Christie.
Ireland, as we know by now, capitulated to Denmark at the Aviva stadium last month, having taken the lead in a crucial qualifying second round. Christie suffered the misfortune of putting the ball into his own net for 1-1 and the rest – a 5-1 aggregate defeat – is the stuff of Irish international ignominy.
Cue disappointment, the cancelling of flights to Russia and plenty of ‘ah sure, the price of drink is fierce over there anyway!” defiance. But ask yourself this: did any of you suffer as much as Christie?
After the match, no doubt already disconsolate about his part in Denmark’s equaliser, he is presented with several disgusting tweets by some faceless, anonymous gutter snipes. The N-word was uttered – as was the word ‘lynched’ – and calls for him to ‘go play for Jamaica’ were casually thrown around by the chronically and wilfully ignorant element of the support.
Such squalid depths were plumbed that the Gardaí were subsequently called in to investigate.
Purely on footballing ability, Christie is an easy target. He is no world beater. He plays for an unremarkable club (Middlesbrough) in English football’s second tier. But he is plucky; he has guts in abundance. He is, to use the pundits’ favourite condescending description, an ‘honest pro’.
Our national team is full of those. Which makes it more unfair, indeed distasteful, that he was the one singled out for this kind of treatment, doesn’t it?
If the whole sickening side-show proves anything it’s that the tolerance of some people in our country is so thinly layered you could tear it with kiddie scissors.
Consider this: How disappointed do you have to be before you resort to discrimination on the basis of skin colour? How disgruntled are you that you would evoke the language of the most ardent KKK follower? How angry are you, in your life and in your own skin, that the best way to vent frustration is to spew bile on a young man who’s already on the floor?
I called his abusers wilfully ignorant. They are much more than that, but in this case, more means considerably less. What a slap in the face to the former players of colour who represented our country, with pride and distinction. Paul McGrath (my hero) must have shuddered when he read this nonsense; a penny for the thoughts of Clinton Morrison and Chris Hughton too.
If you are associated with anti-racism organisations such as Show Racism the Red Card, you must despair at stories like Cyrus Christie’s. But you can’t give in.
You will not ever eradicate racism, but if you continue to shine a light on the issue, you may in time push it further into a corner.
Let those who would indulge in this poison know they will not find kinship among decent football fans.
Cyrus Christie didn’t get us to the World Cup. But he is worth ten or more of the anonymous pond life that won’t advance beyond the gutter.