The Rituals of Football

Thu, Nov 10 2016

Credit: Laszlo Geczo

Ironing. There’s none to be done. Just about three weeks ago it was all I could do when City were defeated by a mighty Dundalk side in Oriel Park, surrendering a league challenge that had provided intriguing and exciting viewing for the neutral fan throughout the 2016 League of Ireland season.


As a League of Ireland fan I could do nothing but admire the fast-flowing football which Dundalk had played and honed in European competition. As a Cork City fan, I was desolate in defeat that night and resorted to ironing. I know that that is probably highly unusual and a bit quirky but those are traits which are probably reflective of our league anyway. It’s frustrating, it’s emotional, it’s a bit unusual (after all, we all know the question, “who do you really support?”), and it is real. Oh so real.


In the prequel to this article, “The Drug of Football”, I explained that I can rationalise most things and keep emotions fairly separate. I can watch a sport and be excited by it but, ultimately, the result means very little. The truth could not be further away when it comes to supporting Cork City though, indeed the truth could not be further away when it comes to the FAI Cup Final full-stop. Cup finals are heart-wrenching affairs that are difficult to watch for a fan so emotionally invested in the result. It’s all or nothing. After a league game you can sit back and take stock, planning the next stage of your assault on the table and figuring out where you can find some points.


The cup final couldn’t be more different and everything is up for grabs. I doubt that I am the only one who does this but I spent the week beforehand bargaining with the Gods hoping that I could eke out an advantage, any advantage, for my team.


“Ok, ok, I’ll give up on wishing to win the lotto as long as we win the final on Sunday”.


“Maybe my car breaking down is just me getting some bad luck out of the way before Sunday.”


Again, it’s like a drug. Addicts do similar deals in their heads. Any rational person would scoff.


It came to the stage where, if I were tossing something into the bin, it absolutely had to be on target. It had to land in the bin. It could be a bad omen otherwise.


“If I manage to throw this into the bin from here that’s a win for us on Sunday”.


It’s laughable really, it’s completely unbelievable, and I knew that. But I did it anyway because we all have our rituals. A Snickers bar on matchday was another one. It “worked” once so, no doubt, it would work again.


Standing in section 115 of the Aviva that Snickers bar remained in my pocket (and testament to the cold it didn’t melt!) until the second half of the game.


As City took to the pitch I decided that the ritual was, maybe, a little silly but then a thought crossed my mind; was I eating this at the right time? Was there a right time? Perhaps in Cup Finals there is no right time. Having finished it off, and tasty it was, it was clear that in these early minutes of the second half City were transformed. They were a different side to that one which had exited the pitch earlier. The Snickers bar had worked! Nothing to do with good tactics, a transformative half-time team talk or anything like that, it had to have been the Snickers bar.


But where was the goal going to come from? Had all of those accurate shots into various office bins been worthwhile? Brian Gartland, under pressure in the dying moments of the added time forced the ball out for a throw. It could well have been a corner. My mind races into overdrive, the thoughts fly. This could be the last chance.


A long throw, surely Gartland will clear this, it can’t work. Maguire. What’s going on? Is this slow motion? It touches the net, it’s in! City players run in celebration. I can’t believe it! As we jump, shout, scream, yell, and perhaps even fall over, it feels like the whole planet is moving with us.


Our minds free from any worry, uncontained joy and ecstasy floods over us all. It worked, the concentrated shots into the rubbish bins, the containing of any bad luck, the eating of a Snickers bar.


In reality these rituals probably did not play a part but it is the nature of a fan to invest in them anyway. Just in case. The truth of it all is clear now in the glow of victory - this was a victory built on hard work, on dedication, on belief. Belief that Cork City Football Club could not die and belief that FORAS, the fan’s trust, could indeed take over the club and build it into what it is today.


It was a victory built on the dedication of City fans, the Rebel Army, who have supported the club through everything, and who have represented themselves and the city and county with aplomb.


For the team and staff this was a victory built on sheer hard work away from the media spotlight which was so focused on Dundalk’s excellent achievements. In many other years the points total which City amassed would have easily won the league but, more importantly than that, City were the only club to really stick with Dundalk and the only other club in the league to do us all proud in Europe.


As a City fan I am, of course, a little biased, but I don’t think that these achievements were recognised in the way they should have been by the traditional media outlets. This made the cup win all the more important for it makes it far more difficult to write-off John Caulfield’s men.


All of this being said, I will still bring my Snickers to Turners Cross next season, and I will likely still make deals with the Gods. Whether or not they will listen to me is another story but a fan can never really take the chance. I will, of course, be hoping for less ironing. I will also be hoping for more moments like that one in section 115 of the Aviva in the dying moments of added time.