Having a soft spot for Scotland isn’t a choice; it’s a feeling. We holidayed there in the 1990s, and quickly fell in love with Scotland’s raw beauty and its welcoming people. There’s a natural affinity between the Scots and the Irish, something I also experienced when mingling with Scottish supporters at rugby internationals.
Edinburgh is a very charming city, easy to fall into the embrace of. A fond memory is of a lazy afternoon in a bar in Princes Street, reading Eamon Dunphy’s evocative biography of Sir Matt Busby. Mostly though, our fondness for Scotland is based on its people…welcoming, generous of spirit, resilient, stoic too, while brimming with character and love of life. Nightlife in Edinburgh and Glasgow was great; in rural villages and towns – some of them delightfully charming, others, by contrast, austere in appearance and vibe – there was always a heartwarming authenticity about locals who instinctively had an affinity with visitors from Ireland.
It’s never hard for me to celebrate a Scottish success. That soft spot is well embedded. Tonight, much as I also love France and its people, I enjoyed Scotland’s thrilling win in the final game of what has been an engrossing Six Nations rugby tournament. The odd extravagant, swashbuckling season aside, Scotland tend to hover between ‘nearly men’ and ‘wooden spoon contenders’ each year. A late try tonight gives them a rare win in Paris. It’s a sensational finale to the match, and to Scotland’s season. The unexpected win also secures the title for Wales. There are a lot of happy people in Wales and Scotland tonight, very few of whom are publicans.
Legend has it that there are only two certainties in life…you must pay taxes, and you will die. Of course the first presumption has been challenged by some upstarts. When I was younger, there was a third, less publicised certainty: any self-respecting international soccer team would always beat Luxembourg.
Not any more. Tonight, the Republic of Ireland lost a crucial World Cup qualifier at home to Luxembourg. Such a result was unimaginable throughout my entire life…up to a few minutes ago. In historical terms, it is pretty catastrophic.
When Stephen Kenny was appointed Ireland manager, I was sceptical…perhaps unfairly. My main quibble was with the media consensus. The Irish soccer media seemed to hero-worship Kenny, and I felt one effect of that was an unseemly haste to denigrate (and ultimately usher away) Mick McCarthy.
Now, no thanks to the soccer media, I feel some sympathy for Kenny. He’s had wretched luck (restricted by Covid, injuries, etc). He just hasn’t been lucky. If his six numbers came up in the Lotto last week, he’d still be ripping the couch apart, desperately searching for his ticket.
Kenny may have made mistakes, and he may yet prove to be out of his depth at this level, but he really hasn’t got a break yet in this role. And ultimately, the players must bear much of the responsibility for a long winless run.
Tonight, we were pedestrian and predictable. After we’d huffed and puffed in customary manner, Luxembourg – spinning all we’ve ever known on its head – struck with a late winner. Humiliation for us, history for them.
The great cliché is ‘We don’t have the players’. Certainly we don’t have the quality of old. But losing at home to Luxembourg really is unforgivable. I say that with respect to Luxembourg, who have certainly improved, and were well worth their win.
Tonight, the unthinkable came to pass. We lost at home to Luxembourg. It will haunt us. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch the Eurovision voting again…
The hype, over several days on Virgin Media, proved to be entirely justified. Tonight’s documentary on Big Jack (‘Finding Jack Charlton’) was a stunning film. I actually recorded the programme and watched it on Monday night (when it also aired on BBC). I won’t be deleting for some time; it was magnificent, and deeply moving.
This documentary was beautifully shot. Featuring remarkable access to Jack in the final months of his life, it was a highly sophisticated and incredibly poignant portrait of the life and times of a sporting hero. A great footballer with Leeds United, Charlton won the World Cup with England in 1966, playing alongside his brother, Bobby. After some success in club management, and what Jack considered to be rejection of him as a prospective England manager, came his incredible transformation into Irish folk hero. Jack led the Republic of Ireland to unprecedented heights.
The documentary revisited Ireland’s glory days under Jack – with some wonderful footage of singsongs in the Irish camp. However, the programme was largely about Jack’s struggle with dementia. In the months before his death last July, Jack could remember little or nothing of his career. All the more poignant then was that emotional moment when a very ill Jack suddenly recognised Paul McGrath while watching footage on a laptop. ‘Paul McGrath’ Jack mumbled, before breaking into a smile. It was heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.
This extraordinary documentary was extremely sad at times, but also a celebration of a wonderful man. Jack had his flaws, but his sense of humour, bluntness, self-belief, eccentricity and great humanity shone through. His wife, Pat, came across as a truly wonderful lady. The programme was a stark insight into the terrible impact dementia can have on sufferers and on their loved ones.
It’s probably not a great time in a journalist’s career to be writing a diary. It’s not like there is much variety to life these past 12 months or so. I cannot, for example, write descriptively and passionately of holidays, day trips, social gathering, sports’ events attended. I mean, how riveting is your diary?
There is, of course, still the social outlet of…the shop. When queuing for the checkout, we are all playing a modern form of Hopscotch, or maybe it’s more like a dubious new version of Riverdance. I refer to those of us who are vigilant about the two-metre rule. In our mundane shopping mode, we dutifully ensure that we’re standing on the yellow ‘marker’, while gritting our teeth when someone breezes in and stands much too close to us, disregarding their marker.
Meanwhile, I paid a rare visit to Lidl the other day, because I was looking for something in particular, and had heard a voice in my head saying ‘Try Lidl’. I couldn’t find the item (no reflection on Lidl; you have to admire a place where you can buy a hedge trimmer and a head of cabbage). My mission not accomplished, I was faced with the challenge of trying to exit Lidl after buying nothing. Usually it takes a moment or two to work out the exit route, especially if there are long queues at the checkouts. I sometimes fear, if not a burly security man’s hand on the shoulder, that a buzzer might go off as, laden down with no goods, and having contributed nothing to Lidl’s considerable profits, I nervously make my escape.