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Dublin: 5 °C Wednesday 19 February, 2020
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'I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t conspired to indoctrinate my nieces and nephew with an allegiance to Mayo'

In his weekly column, Eoin Butler explores why adults feel inclined to pass on their love of a sports team to the younger generation.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

LUCOZADE SALES SPIKED as usual in bars around Ireland when Liverpool took on Spurs in an early kick-off on Saturday.

It was the weekend’s standout Premier League fixture, which meant a mandatory pub visit for those who don’t have Sky Sports. But the game’s 12.30pm start time meant alcohol was off the menu.

I ordered a Lucozade and smiled to myself when I noticed the man beside me at the bar put in the same order.

I don’t know how or why Lucozade became the mandatory non-alcoholic pub drink for the thirty-something Irish male.

I think it’s because, when served with ice cubes in a pint glass, it kind of looks like the more manly drink order of a pint of cider. And our male egos really are just that fragile.

But I digress. As well as Lucozade, this man (let’s call him Tony) also bought a small pack of Pringles for his young son, who looked to be about five or six years old.

They were both decked out in Liverpool shirts and, for a while, the kid seemed content to follow the action on screen. But being a kid, it wasn’t before long that the youngster became bored and restless.

Clearly, this was a contingency for which Tony had come prepared. He fished his smartphone and a set of earphones from his pocket and handed it over.

Liverpool v Paris Saint-Germain - UEFA Champions League - Group C - Anfield Source: Martin Rickett

The boy was soon contentedly watching YouTube videos, while his father and I mulled over Liverpool’s chances this season.

Like most Liverpool fans, Tony was trying not to get carried away. It’s September. These are early days, he said. But things were looking good, I suggested? “Salah needs to start scoring again,” he reckoned. “Or else the press will be on his back.”

Virgil van Dijk was Tony’s new star man. Based on the Dutch defender’s performances this season, he reckoned the captaincy should be awarded to him.

Tony was not a fan of current captain Jordan Henderson. His pass completion stats are off the charts, I offered. “Phh,” said Tony, dismissively. “That’s because he always passes backwards. Sure, I’d have a 100% pass completion rate if I only ever passed to the guy stood ten yards behind me.”

Tony and his father used to make it over to Anfield for six or seven games a season. “Not anymore,” he lamented.

“The wife, you know yourself.” Not a happy camper? “Not happy,” he spat. “Mate…” He turned to make sure his son wasn’t listening. “I nearly got a divorce over this last year. Now I’m lucky if I make it to… Well, three or four games a season.”

In the second half, with Liverpool 2-0 up, I realised we hadn’t heard a peep from the kid in over an hour. What’s he watching on there, I wondered? Tony glanced sideways at the screen.

“He’s obsessed with this little Asian kid…. What’s his name again?” Tony yanked the earbud out of his son’s ear. “What’s that little Asian boy you watch called again?” “Ryan,” said his son, as he popped the earbud straight back in.

“This six year old kid named Ryan makes $10 million dollars a year on YouTube making videos of himself opening toy boxes for other kids to watch.”

This information seemed strange and incomprehensible to me. “I’m serious,” he insisted. “You think I’m bullshitting you. It’s the honest to God truth.” He was right. I did have trouble believing him. But I Googled it, and what he was telling me was completely true.

I struggled to glean from him what the appeal of such videos might be. So kids go on YouTube to watch other kids playing with toys? “Yeah,” confirmed Tony. “It’s huge. It’s basically toy porn. It’s a vicarious thrill for these kids. They can’t get enough of it.”

So why didn’t he leave the kid at home, I asked, to play with his actual toys, if he’s not interested in football? “I have to indoctrinate him to Liverpool FC,” was Tony’s answer. “You get them when they’re young. That’s how you do it. This is how my Dad got me. The fucker.”

Christ, I thought. What is wrong with us as adults? It’s bad enough kids have their own weird foibles and fixations. We have to foist ours onto them as well.

But of course, I couldn’t really stand in judgement. I don’t have kids myself. But I have two nieces and a nephew. And I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t secretly conspired to indoctrinate them with an allegiance to Mayo football.

Lee Keegan celebrates scoring his sides first goal Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The youngest girl is two. She was born and lives in Mayo to two Mayo native parents. I put her in a column marked “Safe”. The oldest girl is nine. She lives in Dublin, but her mother is a solid All-Ireland semi-final and final Mayo level supporter. Her father lives in the United States.

I regularly mind her after school. She knows how to hop and solo. She also knows how to field a high ball and pull it tight into her chest.

When challenged by another player (me), she tends to fall down on the ground and lie on top of the ball, laughing hysterically. But we’re working on that. She hates the Dubs and she always cheers for Mayo. She, too, I would put in the column marked “Safe.”

Then there’s my three-year-old nephew. His mother, my sister, is a Mayo supporter. But he was born and raised in Dublin and his father is a Dublin supporter.

He’s a tough little guy with a mind of his own. Babysitting him is like going ten rounds with Mike Tyson.

His first and only loyalty is to Paw Patrol. But looking forward, as far as his allegiances are concerned, like West Ham’s Declan Rice, I would place him in a column marked “vulnerable to outside influence”.

My nephew, his parents and I went to see the All Ireland ladies football final in Croke Park on Sunday.

When my sister brought my nephew to see Mayo v Dublin last year, he was wearing a red and green jersey. This year, with Cork and Dublin contesting the trophy, she couldn’t really object to him wearing a Dublin one.

He refused to put it on at first. I’d like to say it was loyalty to green and red. But in truth, he’d just woken up from a nap and was feeling particularly surly. He put it on eventually.

It was weird standing outside Gill’s pub before a game that Mayo weren’t playing in. You expected to run into dozens of red and green supporters you went to school with. Instead the odd one or two you met were also sheepishly escorting young Dubs fans.

The crowd in the stadium was enormous. When I was a volunteer steward in Croke Park in the early 2000s, 15,000 supporters on the gate would have been a good turnout for a ladies final. On Sunday there were more than 50,000 in attendance.

Sinead Aherne scores a goal from a penalty Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Dublin captain Sinéad Aherne kicked at least one incredible long range point in the first half.

But besides that, the Dubs seemed hell bent on creating goal chances and if it weren’t for some brilliant, bloody-minded last ditch defending by the Cork full-back line, the final score could have been much more lopsided than it was.

After the trophy presentation and the fireworks, my sister and her partner took my nephew down to the sideline to witness the winning Dublin side’s lap of honour.

That was a step too far for me. I told them I had to split. I asked my sister how much I owed her for the ticket. “You’re grand,” she said, dismissing me. “Sure you can babysit for us again some night this week.”

Cool, I replied. Then I paused for a second. Wait, what did you just say?

But it was too late. They’d vanished into the crowd.  

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About the author:

Eoin Butler

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