Monday, March 20, 2006

The Gaelic Supporters' Association

Dessie "Where's Mine, Boss?" FarrellIt's happened at last. The Kraken is awoken. Dessie Farrell and the rest of those Béal Bocht-ers in the GPA have sown the wind, and they are set to reap the whirlwind. The destruction of Senacharib will only be trotting after what's in store for the GAA after this.

To those of you who haven't been following the story, this is it in a nutshell: since the formation of the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1884, people have been playing the games for enjoyment. If they were good enough to represent their county, they took that as a very great honour, and it was with reciprocal honour that they were held in their own communities. However, there are many changes in Ireland since Jack Lynch used to take the 11 or 13 bus from Dublin 6 to Croker on the morning of an All-Ireland Final during his playing days in the 1940s, and now money is everywhere in the GAA. The Gaelic Players' Association was formed some years ago ostensibly to ensure that the players got a cut of whatever cakes were going around; however, by the very terms of its charter, the Gaelic Players' Association, in seeing a distinction between the player that plays for his county as well his club and the "ordinary" club player, is on the verge of instituting a schism that may very well destroy the GAA as it's been understood for years.

Until this weekend, it looked as though if a schism were to happen, it would be with the Central Council of the GAA on one side and the GPA (the acronym by which the Gaelic Players' Association is known - the story that the original acronym, WMB, for "Where's Mine, Boss?" was shot down on advice from Frank Dunlop remains apocryphal). However, a document has come into the possession of An Spailpín Fánach that would indicate that the schism will in fact be a pincer attack on the fundamental tenets of GAA-dom itself, coming from supporters as well as players.

The document is styled "A Manifesto on Behalf on the Gaelic Supporters' Association." It's hand-written, in blue biro, on the back of a application form for EU headage assistance. Words and phrases in Irish are interspersed throughout, but the grammar is just shocking. There are tell-tale brown rings that tell us the authors are porter or Smithwick's men. All this builds up into a combination of circumstantial evidence that can only mean this document comes from the very beating heart of the GAA. Even more disturbingly, forensic analysis show traces of cigarette (Major, some Carroll's) ash on the document, meaning that not only were these men on licensed premises while composing this "Manifesto," but they were smoking while they were drinking. These are clearly desperate men, who will stop at nothing and fear neither God nor Man.

An Spailpín Fánach remains strictly neutral on the issue, but only quotes the document (or such parts of it as are legible) below, in order that we may have a frank and furter - oh, excuse me, my tummy is rumbling - that we may have frank and full debate on the issue.

Here is the text of this "Manifesto on Behalf of the Gaelic Supporters' Association."

"IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations who saw the thunder and lightning final of '39, Rackard's save from Ring in '54, Pat Spillane rising from the dead in 1980 and who really broke John Finn's jaw in the 1985 semi-final, our Gaelic Games call on us, the Supporters, to stand up for what is rightfully ours and only fair.

We, the GSA, don't want any special treatment. We consider it a very great honour to watch Gaelic Games, winter and what passes for summer, year-in and year-out. We are aware of the great traditions of the Association, and how honoured and privileged we are to have our own games to watch, and not be sitting like sheep in some ersatz boozer staring at the cowards, cheats and cry-babies of the English Premiership.

However, that does not mean that we don't make sacrifices either. Dessie Farrell and DJ Carey constantly point out just how ruinous playing inter-county Gaelic games is in their lives - even though Dessie Farrell must be doing it strictly from memory as there's no way in blazes he'll be playing Championship again and DJ is hardly paying for his Smithwick's with butter vouchers - and we'd like to point out that it's no bed for roses for us either.

Do you think it's easy to traipse around the county every weekend following the county team of your choice? Do you think it's some sort of laugh? The public probably think it's just a question of turning up on the day. Well, that goes to show as much as they know. The typical Gaelic Supporter spends at least three nights a week down in the pub, lorrying strong black porter and training for the weekend, and that's not even counting his Sunday at all. A typical weekend's training would be:

Tuesday, five pints, discussion of last Sunday's game and why don't those [expression deleted] on the Board pick a man from Glandawsleva, it's a disgrace I'm telling you, a [expression deleted] disgrace, and if I met one of them I'd tell him, and to his face, too;

Thursday, seven pints, discussion of this coming weekend's selection, debate as to whether the selection of a young man with relatively anonymous credentials has anything to do with the fact that the Board Chairman's wife's brother's neighbour was fond of his mother about twenty-three years ago;

Saturday, nine pints, a half-one, discussion of the county team, the opposition, who's driving, who's going up in the car, why do we have to give a lift to that [expression deleted], I don't care who works with him, he's the two ends of [expression deleted], what do you mean, don't be like that? Like what? I'll be any [expression deleted] way I want, you [expression deleted], I'm sorry guard, no guard, we're friends guard, it was just horseplay guard, no guard, I won't do it again guard, thanks very much guard, of course I remember you guard - didn't you break me jaw for me in the Ted Webb Cup in 1982? Oh no guard, no hard feelings now - it's a man's game, thanks guard, yeah, I'll see you up there, between the forty and half-way, opposite the stand, as usual.

Sure what space can a man make for wife and family and everything that normal people enjoy? All our spare time is et [sic] up with this thing, I'm telling you, it's all et up! We have no time at all for our own lives, and all the time swallowed up by football and hurling.

And that's before the game is even played a'tall! Don't you realise that it's not easy keep that up every week, when you'd much rather be home hearing about how we need new curtains and watching Eastenders and Dancing on Ice. And as for Sunday - for God's sake, only a crazy man would think about piling into a car on a bright summer's day with the dinner eaten since nine and the hay cut and the beautiful smell rising off all the freshly mown meadows in the county as we move up through the country with the hundreds of others, one man in the back reading the previews in the papers aloud to a hushed but doubting congregation and telling the kids about the heroes of your day and what it was like and how much better it all was and stopping off to eat off the brown tray in those strange Ating Houses in the midlands, but saying nothing because it's such a blast for the kids, even though Séamus is getting big now and he's a bit too cool to be travelling with the family, and heading for Dublin and that gorgeous amphitheatre that we built ourselves for our own games and no-one else's, and the colours and the pageantry and the hits and the skills and the roars and the sweetness and the bitterness and the long, sated, drive home.

Sure that's slavery, man, that's worse than slavery! The serfs in Russia before the Revolution wouldn't have stuck it! The savages in Africa, eating a missonary a day and two of a Sunday wouldn't think about it for a second! Dessie Farrell is right - it's all very well talking about honour and glory and pride and mórtas cine and all that, but how does all that translate into pounds, shillings and pence? The only way this hateful system of bonded indenture can survive is if the GAA, in combination with the Government - for what else is a Government to do but give us stuff, stuff, and more stuff - sets up an index-linked contributory pension hand-out scheme, deliverable in brown envelopes in Conway's of Parnell Street (and they say the GSA has no respect for tradition - hah!), and directly linked to each individual supporter's ability to sink porter and whine loud and long. Which supporters are eligible? Why, all of them! More! More! More! Me! Me! Me!"

And so the document ends. An Spailpín can only think towards the future, and shiver.

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