Goran Ivanisevic’s victory in this year’s Wimbledon brings to an end a fourteen-year quest, not just for Goran, but also for me. I’ve been following the exploits of the mad Croat since he first aced his way into the public consciousness. In the absence of an Irish presence in the tennis, I’ve adopted the red-and-white checkerboard of Croatia as my tennis emblem, and religiously followed the antics of the idiosyncratic Ivanisevic through the thunderous victories and the heart-wrenching defeats.
The fact that he is clearly a few strings short of a tennis racquet upstairs meant it looked like he would never win a Grand Slam event, so I don’t mind admitting to being a bit emotional when he finally got his hands on that gilded lily they give to the winners of the men’s singles at Wimbledon – it looks like the kind of thing that the ancient Egyptians might have put a pharaoh’s ashes into if he had died in a fire and they were unable to turn him into a mummy. But I do have a problem admitting to the venom that I directed towards Pat Rafter. Those who follow tennis (and it is okay to follow sports other than football; I follow at least ten, not that that is a recommendation) will know what a thorough gentleman Rafter is. A great player, a great champion and, by all accounts, a stand-up bloke, he didn’t deserve the habitual son-of-a-convict jibes that periodically winged their way towards him.
It’s not just that fact that he stood in the way of Goran’s triumphal march that he became deiseach Enemy Number One. The hysterical antics of the fans in the crowd brought into focus the sheer arrogance of the Australians. You can be sure that had that if Rafter had won, we would have been treated to multiple drunken dissertations on the superiority of Homo Australopithecus. Allied to their (thoroughly deserved, I should hasten to add) victories in the Ashes and in the rugby over the Lions, we wouldn’t have been able to move with Crocodile Dundee rejects drowning us in their spittle as they lectured us at close range about how Steve Warne could take wickets with a peach and that Joe Roff could run through the Great Wall of China so what chance did Brian O’Driscoll have, followed in my fevered imagination by some spectacularly ignorant breaking of wind.
Yep, the Aussies are the cockiest SOB’s in sport. And it’s not as if it’s even a particularly deserved reputation. So they’re the tops in cricket and rugby league. Big deal. Ireland is the best country in the world at pitch-and-putt, but you don’t hear us crowing about it. There are eleven Test cricket teams (or so I’m told; I can only count ten) and only two countries take rugby league seriously. Australia were great in tennis in the days of Laver, Newcombe and Roche, days when rackets were wooden and top sportsmen earned less money than a bad plumber. But Rafter disguises just how inferior they are at tennis nowadays. They haven’t produced a decent golfer in decades, and the odd Cathy Freeman here and there does not make you a great athletics nation. Their most noteworthy athlete for years was the marathon runner Steve Moneghetti, who was famous for never winning. This leaves swimming and rugby union as the only international sports in which they are undisputedly outstanding, and the United States and New Zealand would certainly dispute the top spot with them in those respective pursuits.
Having put the boot into the Antipodeans, and no doubt upset a couple of message board regulars no end, the time has come to stick my size tens into the Brits. Because despite all that bile spewed on the heads of your colonial cousins Down Under, I’d still rather them win than England. I laughed uproariously when Fattie Warne skittled another hapless Sassenach victim, and Glenn McGrath took Manc Atherton for the umpteenth time. Had Pat Rafter locked tennis racquets with Tory Tim Henman, you can be sure I would have been applauding the heroic actions of good ol’ Patrick, no doubt he had relatives deported by some unjust absentee landlord when he stole a loaf of bread to feed his family during the Great Famine. And when Jonny Wilkinson chucked out that suicide pass which torpedoed the Lions, I gave a silent prayer of thanks that at least it was an Englishman upon whom the opprobrium of two islands would fall.
The English are not be as arrogant as the Australians. In fact, some of the English national self-loathing that attends certain defeats, especially in the cricket, is a bit pathetic. But being in close proximity makes for a particularly distilled form of arrogance. Had True Brit Tim (gnnh) won Wimbledon, you wouldn’t have been able to turn on the telly or pick up a newspaper without having to endure an orgy of triumphal gloating. Heck, you couldn’t have even walked into a newsagent without being treated to the sight of Essex Boy on the front page of some tabloid, putting it all down to the Royal Family and how he couldn’t have done it without the Queen Mum, Gawd bless her. The treachery of Matt Dawson on the Lions tour typifies the belief that proud Anglos shouldn’t have to share the same team bus as the inferior Celts.
There is, as always, one exception to this ferociously blinkered form of Anglophobia, and that is Liverpool. Not long after heaving a sigh of relief when Pistol Pete Sampras blew away another plucky Brit, I discovered to my horror that Barry Cowan was a Red. “Had I known that at the start I would have been cheering for him” says I to myself. Thankfully he sold his story to The Newspaper That Dare Not Speak Its Name, so I could go back to being glad at his demise. But in all walks of life, being a Red secures one forgiveness for a multitude of sins. We’ve got some really cool fans, like Ricky Tomlinson and Phil Redmond, but we’ve also got fans that would embarrass a Nazi. Tung Chee Hwa, the chief executive of Hong Kong, is the puppet of the murderous Chinese regime, yet he’s a Liverpool fan, so he must be okay. Michael Howard, former Tory ‘something of the night’ Home Secretary, is a Red, so he’s okay too. The revelation that Craig Phillips, of Big Brother fame, was One Of Us transformed him from short-arsed gay icon on one of the most stupid shows in Christendom into stout standard-bearer of Scouse nationalism.
What we are as Reds transcends every other badge of loyalty. Race, religion, colour, creed and even sex are smothered under the all-pervasive miasma of Liverpool. How else can you explain the feeling of semi-dismay at Roy Keane’s repeated top-notch performance for Ireland? And what about the emotional somersaults we underwent when that toerag Paul Ince joined us – and anyone who insists they still hated him when he was a Red are talking through their back orifice. There might be a few Stan Boardman-types (another embarrassing fan) who look at Markus Babbel and think of bombs and chippies, but the rest of us are more perturbed with the wretched rock music on his website than his nationality.
There is a school of thought over here that the absence of Paddies from the Liverpool team makes them unworthy of our devotion. Which is pure ráiméis, as far as I’m concerned. It was great having loads of Reds in the Irish team in the past, and Ronnie Whelan is still one of my all time heroes. But Ronnie was my hero because he was great for Liverpool. Had he only been great for Ireland, then he would never have occupied a special place in my heart. And if I discovered, God forbid, that Goran was a Manc, then I’d have to reassess my opinion of him. But if he were to be a Red, that would be just perfect, wouldn’t it?