Days 12 – 14: A Night At The Opera
"I was born like this. I had no choice.
I was born with the gift of a golden voice"
I have been silent for too long here at SESP, and for that I apologise to you all, and most cravenly to Fústar, who has been left carrying so much of the workload a-keepin’ this blog ticking over. While my Orange boys were out doing wonderful things against France the other weekend, I was drinking beer and eating pie in Kilmainham, watching Leonard Cohen being spellbinding. On Sunday, as the Turks and Czechs battled each other, I was in Vicar Street, caught up in the whirlwind of fierce beauty that is the live Bonnie "Prince" Billy experience. Such was the degree to which I refreshed myself at those cultural events that it’s only now that I’ve returned to peak blogging condition.
During my absence from the first team, I noticed an interesting piece in the Guardian where they sent their arts critics to sporting events and their sports writers to arts events. With a few exceptions, the critics didn’t get the sport; with a few exceptions, the sportswriters were pleased with the culture. What does this prove? That Art is better than Sport? Maybe. That the Guardian's jocks are more rounded writers than its nerds? Definitely.
Thomas Castaignède, rugby correspondent, loved the opera, and even went so far as to do a post-match interview with one of the tenors, an innovation which could add a fascinating new dimension to arts coverage, though I suspect that most actors, at least, are as boring and banal in the locker room as are footballers, though they probably don’t say "all credit to the lads" as much. Now M. Castaignède is French, which may explain his conception of Sport as analogous to Opera in the intensity of its high drama. Nonetheless, I am as one with him when he says "I just love to watch people giving it everything – in any walk of life". And it is true that that the football of the past week has been good enough to provide me with moments of pleasure (though perhaps not as many) at least the equal of anything given by Messrs. Cohen and Oldham. And that’s without even mentioning tonight.
Surely I was not the only one out of my seat and pacing the floors this evening, as the Croatia-Turkey tie came to its spectacular, cruel, spell-binding climax? Both teams were so likable, and so passionately supported that it seemed a shame to send either of them home. By extra time, I thought that whichever team could manage a goal from play would be the deserving victor.
Then Rustu made an insane decision to chase a ball way out of his area of responsibility. Failing to capture it, he was sent racing back to his line after a ball that sailed inevitably netward. Croatia it was then. But with ordinary time done, and the single minute of injury time completed, the amusingly named (to Irish ears at least) Semih sent a rasper into the corner of the Croatian net. It was struck more or less on the stroke of full time, and sent us into the fascinating and sadistic ritual of a penalty shoot-out.
I hate to see games decided by shoot-outs; they are a blunt instrument, their only virtue being that they at least put an end to what otherwise might go on all night. They are cruel, and cannot even begin to determine who the best team is. Still, they do provide a certain insight into the character of teams and, especially individual players. Weak teams will invariably crack in a shoot-out. My Dad suggested to me last night that nothing sums up Christiano Ronaldo’s weaknesses like his too-clever-by-half and ultimately bottled penalty in the Champions League Final.
Thus, it was the Croatians, understandably shattered by the last-second equaliser, who were found psychologically lacking. The Turks, all steely determination and never-say-die attitude, slotted their kicks home like men of the fine old school. Then, at last, the final kick of the game, and Rustu, the 117-times capped veteran, redeemed himself in the eyes of his nation, and the Turkish fans went every bit as mental as they deserved. The Croatians, a team of such great charm and passion, go home. It’s fascinating, exhilarating and dramatic; it’s also arbitrary, crude and cruel. But then, as they never say at Covent Garden, that’s football.
June 21, 2008