Candles

candles

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog. To put it into perspective, my last post was titled “The words I spoke to Autumn”, and today marked the first day of Spring. That’s not to say I haven’t kept busy on the writing front, but so much of what I’ve been working on is in private, under wraps, sheltered away while I stubbornly polish it. Safe to say it’s a story for another day.

I decided to write this post, “Candles”, in response to all the noise out there in the world at the moment. There’s been a lot of news coverage around the fallout of the U.S. presidential election, the Brexit vote, the conflicts in the Middle East and our own troubles closer to home. Regardless of your interest in politics, it’s becoming quickly impossible to ignore. Drowning airwaves, plastering TVs and seeping into social media newsfeeds-these events are perhaps the great hysteria of our decade, maybe even the landmark moment of our generation if certain commentators are to be believed. And yet, by and large, that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

It’s hard to keep a finger on the pulse in this rapidly changing world, that same little flutter at the neck now starting to move and crop up elsewhere. Even so, I’ve managed to pin down one thing. One sober, irrevocable truth.

Confidence is almost extinct.

Acquaintance

A few months ago, I was chatting over coffee with someone I knew reasonably well. To this day, I can’t remember who it was, though for the sake of the argument it doesn’t really matter. At some point during our exchanges, the blurred face turned to me.

I didn’t know your parents had such normal jobs. It’s nice.

I can recall being taken aback at the time, sort of vaguely uncomfortable, like I’d just caught my name in conversation or blinked to find a light on my face. For a few months, I didn’t know whether to read the remark as a compliment or an insult, though I’ve now settled on the fact it was unintentionally the latter. And recently, it gave me pause, made me think about why they said it in the first place. My only conclusion is that the person assumed my parents were extremely well-off, and as a result, I must come across as the son of that, which in layman’s terms can equate to pretentious.

I think part of growing involves trying to see yourself in the eyes of others, attempting to become “self-aware”. It’s by no means an easy task, opening yourself up to the one person who knows you best. All the same, the above story is an example of what I call a minute-mirror, a quick snapshot of who you might be. And as with most photos, very few of us ever like how they turn out. Perhaps the silver lining here is that we can learn a lot from these polaroids, shaping ourselves in time for the next flash. What we can’t do, however, is change how the camera sees us.

The generation I was born into is the most over-labelled and over-scrutinized of all time. Scarce thirty years to our name, we’re already to blame for the deterioration of human nature, the collapse of what people considered good values. All the same, one of the only constants between us, Generation X et al is what I’d actually consider one of the more damning aspects of society we’ve allowed to continue.

Modesty.

Ronaldo

Saturday, 18th of June. A summer evening in the depths of Cork City, where alone I watch Portugal fight it out in a group game with Austria at the European Championships. The match is tied but the Iberian side have just earned a penalty. To nobody’s surprise, captain Ronaldo steps up to take it. Approaching slowly, perhaps waiting for the Austrian keeper to move first, he drives the ball into the post, watches it bounce helplessly away to safety. I’m on the edge of my seat and I sigh in disbelief. On the screen, the Real Madrid forward does roughly the same. And then, as if to rock my house to rubble, the RTE commentator explodes through the speakers.

“THE SHEER ARROGANCE OF THE MAN”, the man-child shouts, lambasting the Portuguese forward for literally kicking a ball wrong. He fails to mention the same player has been on fire all game, dancing in and out of the Austrian defence to shoot close on a number of occasions. And as Ronaldo’s side stutter even more, the man behind the mic pours on the grief.

I’ve often found the case of Cristiano Ronaldo rather unsettling. He is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most witch-hunted men in sport. Engaged in a never-ending battle with Barcelona maestro Lionel Messi, Ronaldo has become a pantomime villain of football, an easy target for budding sports journalists and that lad in the pub. All because he is confident.

I don’t believe Ronaldo is arrogant. I truly don’t. We see on a number of occasions in plain sight his genuine interaction with fans, his play-acting with team mates and his willingness to engage with the wider community. Yet all that is nullified in the eyes of the press when he complains on the pitch, takes off his top or celebrates because he’s on the scoresheet again.

Just so we’re all clear, we’re talking about a man who unknown to the world only a decade ago, has gone on to win three premier league titles, an FA Cup, three Champions League medals, a European Championship, four Ballon d’Ors, a rake of other individual awards, has more goals in the Champions League than anybody else, has more hattricks in La Liga than anybody else and has scored more goals for Real Madrid (arguably the greatest club in the world) than any other player. I’m sorry, but if a man who accomplishes that much in ten years wants to take off his top and be happy about a goal, fucking leave him off.

On the other hand, we have Lionel Messi. The Argentinian, likely to go down in history as one of the greatest players of all time (and rightly so), has become the people’s champion of football. The tricky forward, known for his solo runs, turn of pace and amazing vision, does not celebrate with as much vigour as Ronaldo, nor engage in as much sponsorship or modeling. As a result, people have elected him a sort of demi-god, a humble master of football who couldn’t harm a fly if it accused him of tax fraud. Though to be clear, Messi was not born yesterday. The Barcelona legend is not under some impression that he’s only “kinda okay” at football. Every time he’s interviewed he’s pointing at his team mates as though that goal where he slithered through six defenders on his own was “all down to the team”. It’s an attitude that endears him to thousands, makes it seem as though the poor crator hasn’t even come to grips with the fact that his legacy will endure forever.

The dichotomy of Ronaldo and Messi typifies the great issue we have with confidence. Messi is “one of us”, a shake-your-hand, smile-for-the-camera, aren’t-we-all-friends-kinda guy. It’s the same tactic politicians use to garner your vote. First, they are among you, then they are you, and suddenly you’re ticking a box with their name next to it. While being humble is applauded, confidence is viewed as some sort of disease, a blight likely to leave us starving if we tolerate too much of it. And yet confidence, so easily skewed into arrogance if your job is to make headlines, is undoubtedly the default position of human nature. The modesty we see in the world today is for the most part false, a cloak-and-dagger show put on by people who’ve learned a thing or two about Narcissistic Supply. Open up even one of your social media newsfeeds and tell me it doesn’t read so. Generally, the not-so-humble entries range from “I’m terrible at life”-25 year old with a car, a steady job, a long term relationship and solid family support to the more obvious “I can’t believe I went to the gym and forgot it was closed.” And of course, the point that I’m making is that those engaging in this behaviour are actually the victims. They are in all respects blameless, forced to reduce their self-worth to zero by a society that values meekness and obedience. A society that values shadows.

Stars

The interesting thing about human nature is that it differs from the individual to the collective. Alone, we’re somehow starting to have far greater company than with others.

Modesty is a social construct, akin to eating with cutlery or using politically correct terms. But while the latter two are virtually harmless, modesty can become so deeply rooted in the collective expectations of a people that to not conform makes you a pariah. We start to dwindle, quash our passions and accept that perhaps we’re not destined for anything at all. The only successes we share are those deemed suitable by whatever background generation we’re part of. Ten years ago the concept of posting “food plans” or “gym pics” to social media would have had you laughed out of any room in the country. Now, those are accepted in culture, woven into the fabric of the very small tapestry we allow the world see. Gym goals, car purchases, engagements. Throw in the common house cat and that’s about all you can share with the world without being labelled an egomaniac. And so we plod along, internalising all the pride we want to show others, belittling ourselves so that we can click “add to cart” on popularity.

Perhaps the only well-defined group of people who don’t engage in any of this finger-to-lips behaviour is celebrities. The culture we’ve built around them, as a result, is essentially escapism, a brief look at the sort of lives we’ve been denied. People wonder how hours are spent in front of reality TV shows, failing to understand we ogle these stars because they’re the uncaged birds, the liberated few, the candles brave enough to keep burning.

But even in the celebrity world, the weeds of a forced modesty are taking hold. Now even those privileged few who’ve come unshackled have to watch for the signs, knowing even the slightest slip would have the daggers of collective humbleness down on them. It’s not uncommon for an idle tweet to turn into character assassination.

“Et tu, Buzzfeed?” they cry, as the knives of social media plunge into them.

Storm

And of course, while reading this you may be rolling your eyes, thinking to yourself “Well yes, but I am truly modest, not modest because I am made so.” If so, I hope you know you are the humble-esque equivalent of those who say “Well I just don’t see colour” when confronted with the idea of racial prejudice.

And what harm, you say, if the world insists on a quiet voice here or stifled celebration there? Isn’t it nice just to keep hush, to play a ghost, to pretend we’re smaller than we truly are. Well, if Ronaldo didn’t take his top off tomorrow, the world wouldn’t fall down around us (probably). That being said, the pursuit of a pseudo-modest society has far-reaching consequences. Firstly, it impacts on us, the small wavy flames, the ever-candles who light the darkness. While it’s perfectly natural to have a lack of confidence, to tremble on a wick as you sit there, it’s artificial to make a wax out of modesty. If we you were to wake up to an empty world tomorrow, your default setting would not be modest. You would grow certain, sure of yourself against the things that life threw at you. As a candle, it might make sense to burn slowly, not waste oxygen or risk snuffing out. And yet, that attitude begs the shadows to come closer, draws the night on you before its due. Something similar was once said in Coach Carter

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us

And while modesty as a social construct lives at large in the world, it makes its home here in Ireland. This is the land where to be “a slob” or “a dote” is desired while “to have notions”, “to be brazen” and “to fuss” is almost a flogging. We’re a head-down, one-fist-pump-then-back-to-the-half-back-line society that values meekness over metal, silence over fury and death stares over well, anything resembling a solution. It’s a small wonder our elected Taoiseach will crawl over to Trump in March, holding shamrock as though it were a sacrifice. What was it Edward Burke said about the Irish-“All it takes for evil to flourish is for your man to say era be grand.”

And of course, those polarized across the political spectrum are relying on this modesty. It’s how religions rose, kings ruled and governments held us to ransom. They are trusting that we won’t come close to the fire, afraid we’ll only get burned, forgetting it’s cold out here in the wilderness.

And so here at last, I am asking you to turn your back on modesty, abandon a system as dangerous to mental health as it is human progress. Understand, this is not a world where to be not-humble makes you arrogant. You forget, Goldilocks found three bowls at the table, one of which, warm with confidence, was just right.

Vigil

The world does not benefit from you burning low, little ever-candle. Remember, there are forces out there in the darkness at work, people who would have you waver, flicker, go out without as much as a hiss. They’re counting on you being a meagre light, a pale flame, only a whisper of fire. But in times such as this, you can’t afford to play small. Because soon the wind will whip hard, and the stars will drop out of the sky and the moon will go black and all that’ll be left will be you: the soft, modest candle.

And seeing the gloom yawn up over you, watching it swallow all the other teardrop lights, you may realise something.

Perhaps it is time you burned brighter.

We’ll leave it there so-The World Cup 2014

It’s time for that end of holiday feeling. Your bags are packed, the hotel room is clean, the taxi is outside and only now you realise it is all over. Nobody ever expects a holiday to end, and it’s fair to say it really felt like this World Cup was going to live on forever. Perhaps it will. After the disappointment in South Africa four years ago, these finals firmly put football back on the map as a beautiful game. All it took was a few big game shocks, a whole host of goals, and a healthy dollop of vanishing spray, and we had our World Cup 2014.

The Champions

No football fan could deny the World Cup deserved to go the Germans. Having smashed group rivals Portugal 4-0, they went on to play out a 2-2 draw against a feisty Ghanaian side in what was easily one of the games of the tournament. They rounded off their table topping performance with a tough win over the US, who at this point were standing out among their two other opponents who were touted to dump them out at the group stages. Next up for Germany was Algeria, who smashed former hosts South Korea in a 4-2 thriller nobody saw coming. It took extra time in a pulsating clash but Germany won through; Andre Schurrle grabbing the first before Ozil added the second in the dying moments. Germany had then perhaps the toughest quarter final draw for those teams that made it through to the semis, as they took on a French side who had eased through the group matches and then braved a Nigerian storm to come through 2-0 winners. Hummels proved the difference on this occasion, but all round the Germans had the beating of their neighbours.

Then came the moment to remember from a memorable World Cup. Hosts Brazil were missing poster boy Neymar, and had stumbled and staggered past Chile and Columbia to reach the semi final stage. Without their talisman, and also missing Thiago Silva through suspension, the Germans came in as the pundits pick. The atmosphere was lauded as a possible deal breaker, with a enigmatic David Luiz also being tipped by some to lead the Brazilians on to their destiny. What happened next shook the footballing world. In just over ninety minutes, the Europeans rushed seven past a helpless Julio Cesar, and with their forward line tearing open Luiz’s rag-tag defence time and time again, it could have been more. In a first half that saw five goals in a mere twenty-nine minutes, or four in roughly seven minutes, Brazil’s World Cup dream, and their world as a whole, crashed to the ground. The Germans then were set for Argentina, so a repeat of the 1986 or 1990 final was on the cards. Now destiny turned its gaze to Lionel Messi, who was in the position of Diego Maradonna not thirty years before. But fortune favours the brave, and so out came Germany in full force.

In what was in my opinion easily the best final of the modern era, Germany and Argentina traded blow after blow in a heart-stopping first period, with Argentina’s tricky maestros looking to sneak in behind a high German defensive line. Meanwhile the Germans ran a passing game through Phillip Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger, so that Klose, Muller and substitute Schurrle were free to parade into the South American box. Germany hit the post in the closing minute of the half, with the game’s golden chance before that falling to hit and miss Higuain, who spurned his opportunity to become the hero by drawing wide of the mark. Messi also found the the corner elusive with his effort. In the second half it was much the same. After a brief Argentinian shock and awe display, the Germans settled in to their football, eating up the possession stats like nobodies business. Chance after chance flew by, with Kroos not seeming to recover from his early mishaps as he wasted two good looks at goal. Neuer raced from the goal line two or three times to deny Higuain and the introduced Ageuro.

In fact, having gone to extra time it was this feature of the golden glove winner’s game that denied Palacio, who shot in ahead of the defence only to see his effort fly harmlessly wide. Gotze had come as a substitute late on, and now took up an advanced position with supply coming through Schurrle and quick passing from midfield. Sixty years ago, a relatively young Helmut Rahn stepped out of the shadow of his near omission from the squad to score the winning goal against Hungary. In 2014, Gotze skipped between starter, sub and ‘can’t fit in the team’ again and again. In the second half of extra time, the game still tied, Germany needed a Helmut Rahn. Step forward Mario Gotze.

 

 

Tournament shocks

Luckily the 2014 World Cup was swimming in these, whether it was Italy’s untimely demise or Brazil suffering a thumping by the future champions. Here are a couple hardly any of us saw coming.

 

 

 

 

 

Game of the Tournament

Undoubtedly this one goes to Belgium and the US, who played out an 120 minute thriller that nearly saw the US crush hopes of the dark horse of Rio.

Belgium and USA MNT fight it out

In close second I’d say Ghana and Germany played a great tie, with games like Germany vs Argentina and France vs Switzerland also deserved of a mention.

The best goals

James Rodriguez surely deserves top marks, but we had other spectacles as well. The flying Dutchman Robin Van Persie gave us something world class against defending champions Spain, Messi gave us a wonder against Nigeria, and even World Cup flop David Luiz smashed home a world beater vs Columbia. Here are ten selections

 

 

 

 

 

You bet on what?

Last night dreams came true. That’s right, one lucky SkyBet customer won 83,000 pounds as he finally saw his bet come off that had Manchester city winning the league, Madrid the champions league, Wolves in League One Placing first, QPR promoted and at last Germany lifting the World Cup. This comes after last week we heard a lucky man claimed 49,000 grand on a single bet which had Sami Khedira to score anytime and Germany to win 7-1 over Brazil.

Happier again are those smug 167 betting customers who successfully predicted Luis Suarez was going to bite somebody at this year’s finals. That’s a creative one, but not as crazy as what one Lincoln Bookmakers man wanted in on. The staff at the Lincoln branch had to ring the Stan James office to confirm the odds, after the customer insisted on the following scenario:

“The man entered the Lincoln branch to stake £5 on a scenario where Germany lead at half-time, and in the second half Argentina’s Javier Mascherano fouls and injures Muller in the box, leaving him unable to take the resulting penalty – which is then missed by Klose!”
But of course not all betters can win. This was a fact highlighted by Singapore government officials before the game, when they made their ad programme against betting use the following image
Not like they could have picked a less likely team than Germany, who previous to the games had featured in the last three semi-finals at least. But the Singaporean government aren’t so easily defeated, as they then updated the ad to this.
Saying goodbye to Rio 2014
It won’t be easy to wait another four years for a World Cup. Despite all the controversy around Brazilian preparation and match officials, Rio has been a phenomenal success for the sport. Out of the ashes have risen Germany, the now super power of both European club and World football (if we are honest about what the club situation is). In the fallout, Louis Van Gaal says his goodbyes to a wonderful World Cup for Holland, with Arjen Robben theatrically playing himself into history, and Robin Van Persie keeping the doubters quiet for another year. Columbia, Chile, Belgium, USA and Costa Rica will all hope to push on from here for a big display in 2018 in Russia. As for Italy, Portugal, Spain and England, it’s back to the drawing board for Europe’s elite. Portugal are waiting for a couple of top class players to take the heat off Ronaldo. Italy will look at their midfield and wonder where the spark will come from now. Spain have seen their passing game eliminated as fast it came, and with the squad aging it might be a sign Del Bosque needs a new vision. And England? Another disappointing tournament in their eyes. To everybody else, Roy Keane especially, it was something we saw coming. Too much of the English game contradicts the norm of International football, with the percentage of World Cup finalists playing in the EPL shockingly low. Whereas Italy are the ghost of a 2006 victory, England might yet have at least a spring on the horizon.
It was not be Brazil’s destiny after all, with Neymar carried off into the night to wait for his calling. Messi may have seen his last chance slip by, and with it, the possible glory of immortality among the greats. He will go back to Barcelona now, and set the golden ball somewhere quiet, an ill-begotten title on a lonely night for the Argentinian. Rio gave us goals, all record equaling 171 of them. It gave us tears, joy, shocks and wonder. It gave us fresh faces and infamous acts. It gave us good football and a changing world for the players of our time. Most of all, it gave a fitting farewell to Bill O’Herlihy; one of the great sports broadcasters of his time. May we make it to 2018.
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