All changed, changed utterly

When faced with not a single UK team qualifying for the 1994 World Cup, the BBC did two things: 1) adopted the Republic of Ireland soccer team, which wasn’t that difficult, my boss in Liverpool once asking me whether Ireland was a separate country with a separate government to which I replied that yes, at least until the European Commission had finished with us come the next recession; and 2) did a series of We Football segments to give people their fix of soccer. One instance of this was a dedicated evening of soccer programmes on BBC 2 themed as ‘Goal TV’. themed evenings also being part of the Zeitgeist. If that sounds condescending to the 90’s, remember that reality TV was merely a twinkle in Peter Bazelgette’s conjunctivitis-ridden eye.

Most of it was pretty forgettable fluff that only worked because wall-to-wall sport was a novelty in the early days of Sky. One comment by one contributor has stuck in the memory though because it was so obviously and simply right. She observed that when people went to see tennis they expected excellence, for Pete Sampras – ask your parents, kids – to perform silky drop shots and thunderous volleys as a matter of routine. Whereas when you went to a soccer match you expected mostly mediocrity; square passes, knocking the ball back to the goalie, aimless punts to no-one in particular. What made it worthwhile was those moments of magic. And due to their scarcity nothing is quite as magical as a goal.

And that woman came to mind last night when, having departed work at half nine at night convinced that Waterford United were  sliding to a soul-destroying 2-1 loss to Athlone Town, arrived home to discover that they had conjured up two goals in the last six minutes to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. You can imagine the bedlam that must have consumed the RSC when Kevin Murray scrambled home the winner in the last minute as the crowd, small enough to know each other by face if even by name, rejoiced in the salvation of an entire season in six crazy minutes. There’s a lot to be said for that kind of intimacy – when things are going well. Let’s not dwell on the febrile atmosphere that would have been there with seven minutes to go.

And tonight, Mervue United pulled the rug from underneath Monaghan, which puts Waterford’s disaster in the West against Salthill a few weeks back into context. With a couple of cards to play for the final round against Shelbourne – a win will guarantee them home advantage in the playoff, a draw will mean they’ll be at worst in the playoffs, and they could lose andstill get through if Derry beat Monaghan – it’ll be hard for them to screw up totally. Consider them well and truly cursed.

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