A sport eating itself

What a depressing weekend. While Waterford United were trying and failing to break down 10-man Cobh Ramblers, Seán Maguire was getting off the mark for West Ham United. That’s the West Ham ‘development squad’, and the juxtapositioning of Maguire’s exploits on his first start for the Hammers against the travails of his former club is a poignant one. And by ‘poignant’, I mean it’s a proper pain in the arse. While nostalgia for sport in days of yore must always navigate the rapids of racism, homophobia, misogyny and indentured servitude, you have to wonder at a modern-day system that has a club like West Ham able to keep a talent like Maguire in the cold storage that is the Under-21 League, a competition with precisely zero history, while the Blues can only ponder on what might have been.

This isn’t to criticise Maguire for taking the soup. It’s an expression of exasperation at a system that will go through dozens of Seáni Maguires on the off-chance that they might produce one player capable of performing at the highest level, and the levels lower down can go to Hell, aka the Airtricity League First Division. Watching the preview of the recent Ireland-Austria game, we saw highlights of another 2-2 draw between the countries back in 1968. It showed Eamon Dunphy crossing the ball for Johnny Giles to strike a shot against the post, and the rebound was tucked away by . . . Alfie Hale. I don’t think my wife believed that the man whose name is above the door of a pub on Main Street in Tramore had played football at the highest level, yet here it was in (grainy) black and white. The contrast with Maguire’s career path is stark. Hale would have gone to Aston Villa with the intention of making a stab at the first team and when it didn’t work out he went to other clubs where he was a success before returning to Waterford. Quite apart from the improbability of Maguire ever returning to Suirside, it would be much less galling to see him playing in the lower divisions in England than in some makey-uppy league that no-one cares about and will probably be dispensed with come the next round of meddling to try to produce a system where English youngsters can pass the ball to each other.

As if that wasn’t enough, we then had the utterly mental sight of Luis Suarez biting Branislav Ivanovic. Even writing those words, it doesn’t seem possible that anyone other than a hyperactve child fueled up on on Coke and Wham bars would be engaging in this kind of behaviour. In the week which saw the death of Anne Williams, someone who paid the heaviest price imaginable for someone’s interest in Liverpool FC, it’s demoralising to see an employee of the club lower himself in such a fashion. Only once in the past have I thought that supporting Liverpool wasn’t worth it, when Craig Bellamy attacked John Arne Riise with a golf club, an act that caused me to wonder why I’d put my happiness in the hands of someone so juvenile. Okay, you might have children, but at least they grow up. Yet how do you put manners on someone who is rich enough not to care?

What the cases of Messrs Maguire and Suarez show is how football is governed by the economics of the madhouse. West Ham can afford to take players away from the likes of the Blues without a second thought. Just another brick in the wall. At the other end of the scale, Liverpool can’t afford to get shot of Luis Suarez, not just because he’s the best player at the club, but because he’s a £20+ million asset. If they were to try to sell him, every club would realise that he is damaged goods and offer peanuts as a transfer fee. Please note as well that just about every club in the world would come sniffing around, thus making a mockery of any high-minded comments by the supporters of other clubs. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, we all know what football clubs are, we’re just haggling over the price. They can get away with this because football fans are not rational consumers, but as this former Cardiff City fan shows, even the greatest addict has their limits. Surely football can’t go on forever with this habit of biting the hand that feeds it (sorry).