While invariably friendly and courteous, people that you meet are drained, fatigued by how long this pandemic is stretching. Hard to believe that in February 2020 we speculated at every turn about this upheaval in our lives lasting a few months at most. Hard to believe that the optimism of last November – with the country seduced by partial reopening and exciting news of a breakthrough on vaccines – would be followed by five months, thus far, of more Covid turmoil…with stubbornly high infection rates, further tragic loss of life, a growing mental health toll, an already battered economy taking more blows, and erratic vaccination rollout (and new variants) testing public patience.
People are weary. The other day in Rooskey, I said to a friend (on the street): “Hopefully just another month or two”. A lady passing within earshot good-humouredly chipped in with “A year, I’d say”.
As I write (Tuesday) there is a sense of optimism, guarded of course, with positive trends across the board. Zero Covid-related deaths reported in the Republic and the North yesterday (I know such numbers will fluctuate). Infection numbers falling. Some further restrictions to be lifted in May. Grounds for optimism on vaccinations. It feels as if we may be turning a corner in this battle.
Chatting to a fellow snooker fan in the Abbey Hotel in Roscommon a few years ago, I unwittingly slipped into ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ mode, solemnly declaring that snooker is in decline, its golden age long over.
The middle-aged man to whom I was talking quickly put me right. I’d drawn my slightly simplistic conclusion (a) because, unlike in the 1980s, there are no snooker characters around now; and (b) I was pretty sure that my generation no longer watches or cares to the extent that we did in the past.
But this chap wasn’t relying on lazy nostalgia, he was into facts. “The game has never been bigger” he told me. “The standard has never been higher” he added (that, I could accept).
Driving home his point about snooker never being bigger or more popular, he then played the Asian card. It may be true that sentimental middle-aged Alex Higgins fans in the UK and Ireland have averted their gaze a bit over the years, but there was, he informed me, a snooker explosion in Asia.
The man I was chatting to reiterated his position: Snooker has never been bigger, the standard never higher. There is phenomenal growth in playing numbers. A rapidly growing worldwide audience too. This, he assured me, is the actual golden era of snooker. The sport of the smoke-filled backstreet clubs is going global!
As the man I was chatting to was six-times world snooker champion Steve Davis (in Roscommon for an exhibition) I meekly agreed, while continuing to fawn.
Name-dropping done, let me move on…today, the 2021 World Snooker Championship began in the great Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. And while Steve Davis was undoubtedly right in what he said, it is still the case that the tournament doesn’t excite to the extent that it used to.
When the list of this year’s 32 contenders appears on screen, I recognise less than 20 of them. And, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump aside, they are rather robotic these days. Of course the standard in the 1970s-80s was not as high as it is now, but what characters the game had…Higgins, White, Reardon, Spencer, Stevens, Taylor, Davis, Hendry, Griffiths, Thorburn, Werbeniuk, etc.
Snooker may be global now, but in our hearts, it’s not a golden age. Still, I remain a fan, and will keep an eye on the Crucible, mildly interested in the latest instalment of a great sporting drama, while loyal in my heart (and memory) to the glory days of the green baize.
Later on Saturday
Ah, you have to hand it to Kate Middleton. After all the fevered speculation about the likely frosty atmosphere when ‘Harry met William’ at their grandfather’s funeral today, classy Kate just took the initiative in the most cunning and graceful way. As millions of TV viewers looked on, Kate first had a word with the now self-exiled Prince Harry, before his brother, Prince William, was drawn into the small talk. Ice broken, Kate then took a few steps back, leaving the two brothers to walk and talk side by side. You may have heard the anguished cries of tabloid newspaper editors!
As to the funeral itself, it was a very dignified send-off for a truly remarkable man. All the familiar Royal pomp and ceremony was there, even if crowds couldn’t be. It was uniquely British. At the end of the day, it was a family saying goodbye to a loved one – nobody allowed to attend, but the world peering in.
Sunday (and all week)
A tsunami strikes English – and European – football. On what should have been a fairly normal ‘Super Sunday’ – Sky Sports showing Manchester United v Burnley – news breaks of a sensational and shocking development that threatens to rock English football to its core. It’s reported that the so-called top six in the Premier League – led by Manchester United and Liverpool – are signing up to a European Super League. It’s an audacious breakaway, motivated by the lure of staggering sums of money. First up to react is pundit Gary Neville, who launches an emotionally charged attack on the billionaire foreign owners of top English clubs, the men now accused of selling football’s soul, of callously turning their backs on loyal supporters, on the game’s working class roots.
Neville captures the public mood perfectly. In the hours and days that follow, football’s governing bodies join with fans, media and even governments to angrily condemn the plans.
This weekend, stunned rank and file football fans – already traumatised by Covid’s ruthless emptying of stadiums – find themselves thrust into a worrying waiting game, the future of the sport they love at stake.
Tonight’s documentary on the writer Colm Tóibín
was beautifully made. Tóibín, now considered one of the world’s leading novelists, came across as an engaging, modest and likeable man. I have to admit that while I’m familiar with his most famous books, I haven’t read any of them! The majority of the books I read are biographies. The fiction writers that I’ve enjoyed most are John McGahern and William Trevor. But I must say, the excerpts from Tóibín’s writings – read in this documentary by the author himself – were examples of quite beautiful writing. A touch of pomposity aside, the Wexford man wears his brilliance lightly, and is quite the national treasure!
VAR (Very angry reaction) decision: Chelsea and Brighton’s 0-0 draw tonight is overshadowed (not hard) by dramatic developments in the not very super Super League story. Bowing to public pressure, all six of the English clubs that had signed up for the breathtaking breakaway have sensationally pulled out tonight. Utter humiliation for the plotters. Grassroot fans have prevailed, quite spectacularly, over the Brazen Billionaires. The credibility of the self-styled ‘top six’ has been greatly damaged. They have a lot of work to do now to regain the support of the man and woman in the street. A crazy 48 hours. Unsettling, sad, ultimately satisfactory. It seems that reports that football’s soul has been lost are, for now, inaccurate. Forget Super Sunday and Monday Night Football, this is Tsunami Tuesday. It’s over.