SPORTING-PATRIOTISM

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in January 2022

Scooting over to MacCumhaill Park for Donegal games – be it in the National League or the Ulster Championship – is something I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember.Intercounty games are great for generating a sense of pride in one’s county, but how does it work on a more national, and indeed an international, level?

There’s an old proverb which states that the ‘closer you are to something, the harder it is to see it.’ When it comes to national pride, that may bore some truth when we attend GAA matches. The Irish tricolour gets raised aloft, Amhran na bhFiann gets performed and sprinklings of the gaelige language are to be seen and heard over the tannoy  and in the match programmes. 

And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. The GAA have never been shy in portraying themselves as being anything other than a sporting organisation who openly carry a strong political and cultural undertone. To their immense credit, they are one of the last bastions in Irish society who continue to develop a wide variety of traditional events and spectacles. 

But what about other countries? Are we alone in this quest for patriotism through sport? 

Having spent two summers in the United States in my twenties, I enjoyed conversing with their citizens about why they followed the sports they did and how they felt about certain aspects of political undertones in their games. People tend to brand Americans as brash ignorant, but speak to them about what they know and love, and that stereotype becomes redundant. 

During those summers in the States, I learned that sometimes you don’t need to learn everything from a textbook. As we guzzled cold bottles of Bud amid the wailing sound of traffic and shining neon New York City lights – never forgetting to tip – conversations often cropped with our fellow high-stoolers along the bar about sports. 

With it being ever constant on the big screens, it was hard not to get chatting about it. 

The general consensus that came from the locals was that baseball was the quintessential and truly American game. It was a cornerstone of social activity where kids ‘stickball’ on the corners of neighbourhood streets in the likes of Brooklyn. Some elders recounted the day of deviation when their beloved Dodgers packed up and moved their franchise to Los Angeles in 1957. 

It also led me to research an interesting development in the late 1970s when the Cosmos soccer team signed Pelé for an extortionate amount of money. 

Even though Major League Soccer league wasn’t born for a further twenty years, soccer became big business and Pelé’s move was widely jeered by baseball fans who felt that soccer was an opponent of a true American game. “Nothing but an aul foreign sport,” as you might hear some devout GAA heads utter along the stands of matches here. 

In terms of politics becoming linked to American sports, it’s clear to anyone watching how the powers-that-be promote patriotism in the pre-game build-up. It’s not uncommon to see a military fanfare and marching band take to the field on the day of an American Football match; stars and stripes are unfurled and the Star-Spangled Banner anthem rings out with high decibels. 

Although the US National Anthem didn’t officially become the song of the nation until 1931, it already had a long-presence at sporting venues long beforehand. It had been purposely utilised to keep morale high during the World War years and resurfaced greatly again in the wake of the 9/11 attacks at the beginning of this century. 

While soccer has steadily risen in popularity in America since the country hosted the 1994 World Cup, it’s still not expected to ever surpass the devotion most American citizens have towards the likes of baseball, basketball, football and hockey. One might think that this is because soccer is considered to be too low-scoring and pedestrian for American tastes but there’s more to it. 

The United States of America is built on the foundations of capitalism and free-enterprise. Their games have an unimaginable amount of stoppages and timeouts throughout a given match and this leads to commercial breaks and a chance for those in attendance to divulge their sweet-tooth with hot-dogs and nachos. After all, sports are branded as family events. 

I witnessed this firsthand in 2007. When David Beckham togged out for his first game with LA Galaxy, the TV broadcasters curiously cut to adverts and interviews with spectators  – including Jim Carey – during the game itself. On a visit to Shea Stadium to see the New York Mets, there were players standing around idle for what felt like ages. Why was this? Ad breaks, of course.

There’s no denying that Americans are truly a fanatical sports nation. Even though there’s definitely been a growing interest in the playoff series and showpiece events like the Superbowl on these shores in recent times, if you do see their games as slow and too stop-start, there is an underlying reason for patriotism behind that. 

RIGHT ON CUE FOR CELTIC

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in December 2021.

Friday January 2, 1998: Celtic 2-0 Rangers.

Just as the Hogmanay celebrations subsided, the Celtic faithful were ‘Bhoying’ themselves up again pretty quickly for the imminent arrival of Rangers to Glasgow’s East on January 2nd.

Back in 1998, Celtic were in the early stages of a restructure under new manager Wim Jansen. Despite a rocky start to the season, the Hoops and their plethora of new signings went on a fantastic run throughout much of September and October. 

They hit a bit of a sticky pitch in November when they went three games without a win, but crucially in the run, they’d secured a vital 1-1 draw with their crosstown rivals thanks to a stoppage time header by Alan Stubbs. Come January, Celtic were looking to go one better. 

Rangers were in hot pursuit of their tenth successive league title that year. Marco Negri had already noticed a staggering 33 goals by the turn of the year, but despite the fact they held a four point lead going into this game, there was a feeling that they were still there for the taking.

One of Celtic’s major undoings in previous Old Firm meetings was a leaky defense. Although they could often attack in a dazzling manner in these intense fixtures, their Achilles heal, time after time, was getting caught on the break by Rangers’ talismanic figures like Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup to name but a few. 

There was a different feeling around Parkhead this time however. It seemed as though Jansen was righting the wrongs of the past by installing a solid and watertight defensive unit through Marc Rieper, Enrico Annoni and the aforementioned Stubbs. 

On the day itself, the game was covered by the Sky Sports commentary duo of Martin Tyler and Andy Gray on the gantry. It’s hard to imagine now but yes, this pair often covered Scottish football meetings back in those days. 

Celtic Park was well underway with its completion but the section we now know as the Jock Stein Stand was still eight months away. A rickety terrace behind the goal, known simply as the ‘temporary stand’ would have to suffice. 

Lesser numbers certainly didn’t reduce the atmosphere as the teams took to the field. And credit where credit is due, the Rangers fans in the far corner added brilliantly to the spectacle with an array of colour and cheering of their own.

The game itself started as a fairly edgey affair. Tough tackles were going in – adding much to the noise levels from the crowd – and Rangers felt aggrieved for not being awarded an early penalty when Stubbs put a strong barge into the body of Laudrup.

Gradually, the game opened up. Celtic’s new signing Harald Brattbakk was generating huge hopes but he was denied on at least three occasions, in the first half alone, by Rangers goalkeeper Andy Goram. 

Typically, Goram always seemed to save his best for games against Celtic. 

Following the interval, Celtic burst into life and began to start turning the screw with more severity. Their passing and running was frantic but measured and they came close when Henrik Larsson struck the post from a side footed volley. 

Inevitably, there was the traditional sprinkling of questionable refereeing decisions thrown in. A curious offside against Brattbakk and a bewildering decision to stop Paul Lambert’s charge on the grounds that the ball was out of play maybe had Celtic fans thinking the worst. 

Thankfully, the deadlock would be broken in the 65th minute. A lovely mazy run by Jackie McNamara saw him play a delightfully delicate reverse pass into the path of Craig Burley who struck low and hard, first time, into the Rangers net.

“Well its a magnificent, magnificent goal … it’s been on the cards. It’s arrived right on cue for Celtic” proclaimed Andy Gray.

Despite the jubilation, there was still a storm to be weathered as Walter Smith unleashed ‘Gazza’ from the bench. His flute-playing gestures during his warm-up wasn’t endearing him to the Celtic supporters.

And yet the Geordie was finding it difficult to adapt to the pace of the game and was lucky not to be dismissed after a tussle with Lambert.

Going into the closing stages, Celtic were on the brink but they knew that nothing can be taken for granted in a fixture like this. Goram wasn’t giving up the fight anyway as he brilliantly saved a venomous strike from Darren Jackson. 

In the same passage of play though, Larsson’s cross to the back post was headed outwards by Alec Cleland. Rangers however still hadn’t cleared their lines properly as the ball dropped invitingly to Paul Lambert. 

Still at least twenty five yards out and with only one thought on his mind, he went for it. To be fair, I think the commentary team said it best with this one: 

“That’s Laaambeert!!! … Ohhhhhh, what a way to settle it!! No chance for Goram!! No chance now for Rangers … and it is bedlam at Celtic Park!! (Martin Tyler)” 

“It’s unstoppable! It’s unsavable! It’s an absolutely magnificent way for Celtic to finish their afternoon! Take that! You just do not save those! Take a bow, son! That’s a great goal! (Andy Gray)”

An absolute screamer that crashed in off the post beyond a hapless Goram. 

Songs rang out around the famous stadium for the remaining moments and when the final whistle did go, the victory was confirmed; their first in a New Year game since 1988 and also their first over Rangers for almost three years. 

For the moment, Rangers’ lead at the top was cut to one and the title race was well and truly back on. More drama was to follow in that season of course but this was a major turning point, at New Year, for Celtic.

@johnnyfoley1984 @ArmchairFanatic

SUPPORTING LOCAL AT THE HARPS.

Originally penned in December 2021

There’s an old saying that goes ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ and with regard to supporting Finn Harps, that was true for me. In the pre-Covid world, I’d only occasionally scoot over to Ballybofey on a Friday night; often finding other ways to pass a Friday night with only sporadic checks on my phone to see how they were getting on. That’s all changed now. 

By Jonathan Foley.

During the days of games being played behind closed doors and having to avail of online subscriptions to watch them, something struck a chord with me with how much I took attending games for granted. When the turnstiles opened up again, I suppose I made a wee promise to myself to make a better effort to go and show my support for them that bit more. 

It’s a decision I’ve not regretted. Sure the evenings on the terraces can be cold and wet but there’s a charm to League of Ireland football that has remained despite all the changes to the modern game. It’s inexpensive, it’s a chance to have a casual chat with friends you may not have seen for a long time and, above all else, there’s a sense of community. 

On the field-of-play, Harps have arguably had one of their best seasons. They played with a sense of confidence and adapted progressive and forward-thinking tactics. They often passed the ball very well and showed that they had players who could find the net on a regular basis; Adam Foley and Tunde Owlabi in particular. 

Even when they go for the long ball approach nowadays, it seems that they are actually trying to pick out a player in an advanced position as opposed to the more traditional plan of hoofing the ball anywhere and everywhere. The players played as a cohesive unit and worked well together and never really left fans leaving the ground bemoaning their lack of effort and commitment.

Whether or not many of those same faces will be at the club next season remains to be seen. Séan Boyd and the aforementioned Foley have already said their farewells for pastures new, but things like that are an annual conversation amongst the Harps fanbase at the end of every season, but one thing that is for sure is that the supporters will remain and possibly even grow.

It’s been great to look around the stands of the ground and notice how many young people are choosing to spend their evenings, boys and girls, at the matches. During the recent clash with Derry City, a friend pointed out to me how an aging, but young at heart, parish priest still comes along to the games to cheer the side on. Never descending to any choice language, of course. 

Parents are bringing their kids along in greater numbers than before and, while that may not look like much, one cannot forget how special any family event really is. It’s an endearing sight to see a parental figure share a greasy bag of chips and a mineral while cheering on the team from the sidelines.

Friday nights are an ideal time for a game too. It gives you something to look forward to during the working week. Monday to Fridays are consumed with early morning rises, trying to eat well during your lunch breaks while still making sure you take time to get some form of exercise during the evenings. 

On a Friday night on Navenny Street though, you can get that reward feeling on the go. 

After you’ve draped the blue and white scarf across your shoulders, there’s a sense of anticipation as you make the drive towards Ballybofey. Usually, the Highland Radio DJ will take a breather from shouting out requests to let us all know that “we’ll be going over for live coverage of the Harps at eight o’clock, so stay tuned for that. Now back to the tunes.”

The next major question is where the best parking spot would be. After much deliberation, I personally want to thank the staff at Scoil Mhuire primary school for not adopting a clamping system even though their sign reads that the car park is for staff and church-goers only. Cheers folks. 

As you see the lights of the ground peering over the rooftops when you ascend the bridge that runs across the River Finn in Stranorlar, the temptation of the chippie draws ever closer. It’s the start of the weekend so all sense of guilt is swiftly eradicated. Owing to the fact that you have the car means that it’s only a fizzy drink or a non-alcoholic beer in ‘Cheers Bar’ on the corner. 

You’d never know who you’d meet here. Last time I was in, the noise that greeted me when I walked in the door was from a pair of Scousers attempting the “we’re really on our way” chant. While their vocal chords were a little raspy and their knowledge of the lyrics wasn’t great, you had to admire their enthusiasm. 

After all, they’d flown over from England to watch their brother play. 

Not long later, it’s time to make the short walk down Navenny Street where the noise of the drum bangs slowly in the distance. “Are ya for the shed side or the Aldi side the’night?” might be a question. You gotta love that there’s still a place in twenty-first century football where you can choose so easily where in the ground you want to watch the match from. 

Not only that, but even at the halftime interval, the fact that you can temporarily vacate the ground to nip for a halftime coffee and bar of chocolate in the Centra shop across the road is just something that you can’t do at matches in most other parts of the world anymore.

As alluded to earlier, it’s all part of the charm of League of Ireland football. And what’s more is that you’re home in no time afterwards.

@johnnyfoley1984 @armchairfanatic

FROM GORTLEE TO BERLIN

BERLIN: YOU HAD ME AT ‘HALLO.’

Originally penned in November 2021

Last month, I took advantage of the mid term break by taking a wee scoot over to the German capital of Berlin. As modern and trendy as this famous city is, it still is something of a geek heaven Graceland for a History teacher like me. 

By Jonathan Foley 

Berlin puts on the face of a modern-day hipster vibe. A place that shows itself to be highly tolerant and progressive. This draws back to the city’s immersion with creative arts and entrepreneurial spirit after the Second World War. 

Make no mistake though. It’s not a place to see your ‘typical Germany.’ The idea of seeing stout men in lederhosen swigging an enormous frothy beer or blonde girls with braided pigtails singing ‘Edelweiss’ won’t be found in the capital.

It’s modern, fast paced and high-tech. Having said that, there are some wonderful old buildings and churches found throughout the city. Each one with their own unique story to tell. 

Upon one of my many strolls, I passed by the Berlin Cathedral. At first glance, one could assume it is centuries old. Something that might be similar in age to the Basilica in Rome or Notre Dame in Paris, but don’t be fooled. 

This gem was built as recently as 1905. Legend has it that Kaiser Wilhelm had grown a tad envious of similar structures he’d seen when traveling Europe and, just maybe, he just huffed and pouted until he got one too. 

As a sports fan, there was no way I could miss out on the Olympiastadion. To the untrained eye, it’s where Hertha Berlin play their home games and where Zinidine Zidane was infamously sent off in the 2006 World Cup Final. 

More than that, however. It’s also the venue where the 1936 Olympics were centered. The games that will forever be linked to how Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime used sport as a means of showcasing their supposed superiority to the world. Until Jesse Owens came along. 

The wall, which had divided the city until November 1989, or at least what remains of it, can be found in smatterings across the city. I first spotted it at Beckaneurstrase which was where the first blocks of the wall were erected, overnight, by the occupying Soviet forces in 1961. 

At this site, you can stand where a ‘no man’s land’ will show how scaling the wall was only part of the job for escapees. Numerous other obstacles including tripwires, land mines and lookout towers were just some of the other barriers that had to be faced. 

There’s always time to enjoy some of the artwork around Berlin. The Brandenburg Gate and Victory Column will give you a taste of the days and successes of the old Prussian Empire while Checkpoint Charlie and the Reichstag will give you a feel for the more modern. 

What I found interesting about the Reichstag is that it now has a glass dome on the roof. Apparently, this is to symbolize the parliament becoming more transparent and visible to the people compared to the past. And they never did quite find out who burned it down in 1932. Hmm? 

Foodwise, I must confess I’m not a huge fan of German grub. Currywurst – if you can call that German – is probably the signature dish of the city. A pretty basic sausage and chips drowned in curry but it goes down great with a large, cold beer. 

For a pint, chances are you’ll only be spending about €4 a go which, compared to Dublin, is a bit of a steal. A lot of locals do fear though that if prices keep going up, the city will fall victim to inflation and gentrification which will lead to everyone being charged ‘tourist prices.’ 

German people themselves are very courteous. They may not be as openly warm and affectionate the way the Italians or the Spanish are but they are very respectable, often highly intelligent and, despite the stereotype, they can be a right good laugh too. 

One girl I met, Marina, explained that Germans are well aware of their tropes, but she admitted she embraces her devotion to punctuality and being organized. She put it best when she said: 

“In other countries, friends will say ‘I’ll give you a call someday or let’s meet up soon.’ Here in Germany, I admit we are more specific and will say things like ‘let’s meet, tomorrow, at six, at this place’ and we won’t be late either!” she joked.

During my pre-trip research – aside from Googling ‘what pubs are good?’ – I did come across some articles stating that although the Wall has come down, there still lies a stark difference between easterners and westerners who share the city. 

Perhaps due to their years under communism, the easterners tend to see themselves as ‘true Germans.’ Ones who avoided being lured by the ideals of capitalism and foreign influence. 

On the flip side, while there is no real animosity between the two, the westerners seem to perceive their neighbours to be radical to the point of xenophobia and racist.

While I’m led to believe that places like Munich and Cologne are more quintessentially German, Berlin still has a lot to offer. Especially if you’re into learning about its, still relatively recent, history. 

There’s a lot of cool museums and galleries where you can learn about the inventiveness of the people who tried to scale the Berlin Wall. There are also some reminders and memorials to those who suffered the Holocaust. 

And if you find yourself scratching your head and pondering why tourists all flock to a simple car park in an apartment building, fear not. This is the site which once was Hitler’s underground bunker. 

Don’t underestimate how big the city is though. It’s essentially the old East and West joining to make one big city. Thankfully though, public transport is cheap and it all runs on a very regular basis. 

WE DON’T NEED NO EDUCATION!

Originally penned in October 2021

As a secondary school teacher of over 11 years, you get to know a lot of things. I’m not necessarily talking about my own subject knowledge or classroom organisation skills just now. More specifically, I’m referring to how you can learn more about what engages and motivates kids, both inside and outside the classroom. 

By Jonathan Foley 

Teenagers often get a bad rap in the media, but I’m one of those people who will always stand up for them. They may not be my kids per se, but once you become a teacher in the school they attend, you take on a surrogate ‘Duty of Care’ role right from the start. In essence, it’s how the fabric of a school community gets woven together.

Teaching can be a stressful job, but the bulk of that pressure never really comes from the kids. It comes more so from society’s perception that we have it handy with longer holidays. That we finish up early every afternoon – that’s certainly not true – and that we get presents piled up on our desks at the Christmas holidays.  

In an odd way, perhaps the advent of homeschool learning during the height of the pandemic eased some of those qualms. Parents and guardians began to see for themselves that explaining a concept or a task is not as easy as it might look and that, thankfully, educational approaches have changed dramatically in recent years. 

Kids nowadays have wonderful access to eye-catching technologies, hands-on practical materials and a variety of ways to express themselves creatively. Of course, the traditional forms are still there. Things like painting and writing, but it’s just brilliant to see them prepare podcasts and video content as part of their coursework now. The kind of stuff that I know I’d have loved to do when I was their age. 

For years, Ireland staggered away behind other countries in the way our system operated. We bragged that “our exams are so hard that we’ve the best system in the world” but that was a myth. Having taught in, visited and read up on educational systems in Scotland, Japan, Germany and Finland, we were so very far behind.

The Junior and Leaving Cert courses were top-full and heavy with textbooks tediously asking questions over and over again. Memorisation of essays was the only key to success and, quite often, any sense of enjoyment became lost. It’s a simple known fact that we learn better when we are having fun along the way. 

While some flourished under this method, it’s likely that many more did the total opposite. The national and local media outlets have to accept some responsibility. In no other country that I’ve visited does the final year exam in sixth year gather the same press attention and frenzy as the Leaving Cert. It’s an unnecessary pressure. 

Huge adulation and respect will go to the kids who earned over 600 points – and rightly so – but it’s funny how the kids who got their access courses or apprenticeships never seemed to get their picture in the paper in those days. The very same folk we regularly rely on to cut our hair or fix up our cars now. 

Education is always supposed to be a journey. Not a race to the summit. Over the last decade or so, the change to this more positive-mindset approach in schools has been wonderful to see. With wider use of technologies to engage them and by allowing them to take ownership of their own learning, times really have changed. 

I may not have been around at the time when kids were belted for being left-handed or because they had a style of learning that the teacher couldn’t understand, but still, these improved methodologies that we see nowadays should’ve been brought in, in some shape or form, much sooner. 

Tagging kids with A-to-F grades and educators solely relying on one single textbook alone should’ve been gone longer than it is. It should’ve always been about group work, collaboration, visuals, paired activities and fun – not training them to look like lonely assembly-line workers in an old shabby factory – and long may that continue.

There might be ‘one F in Foley’ on my articles, but there was a heck of a lot more on those poxy report cards, I can tell you. 

To analogise, a football team works best when everyone plays to their main strengths. The goalies and central defenders are usually the tallest, the nippy wingers are often the quickest and the strikers are the greediest, but in a good way. Yet, when they gel, they become one team but they also get a chance to embrace their own individuality as well. 

In order to teach well, you don’t need to be an expert. Kids don’t really expect you to know everything, but show them that you too are still a learner, admit to mistakes and they’ll trust you. Any progress, no matter how big or small, is still progress and they should be let know that they are progressing and that they should celebrate that.

Remind them that you need them as much as they need you. Instead of repeatedly wrecking your voice throughout each lesson of the day, set up differentiated and inclusive tasks which pave the way for them to take responsibility for their own learning in what works best for them. 

May be an image of 1 person and indoor

Then just motivate, advise, assess and move on. And if they don’t grasp it straight away, don’t worry! There’s no rush and sure it’s not like any of us can ever say that we took to bike riding or learning how to drive a car on the first day we ever sat backsides on one. 

And don’t be afraid to smile, to let them see that you are too a life-long learner and maybe even let them know that, rather ironically in some regards, that one of your favourite songs to play air guitar goes to the melody of “Hey! Teacher! Leave Them Kids Alooooone!” What a tune!, by the way 

ALL YOU NEED IS LIVERPOOL

Originally penned September 2021

Now that travel is slowly but surely returning with some degree of normality, it was hard to resist the opportunity to not hop on a plane and explore a city. Granted, Liverpool is merely a hop and a skip away compared to some of the more far flung and remote parts of the world I’ve visited in the last five years, but even with that, it’s a city that’s good for the soul. 

By Jonathan Foley

Although I’m better known for being a Celtic fan in many circles, I’ve never denied the fact that when it comes to English football, I’ve always been a Red deep down. With the restrictions easing on attendances at matches across the channel, the Liverpool vs Chelsea fixture at Anfield had to be taken in once the sights and the sounds of Merseyside had been done.

While it was my late father who passed on his enthusiasm for LFC to me, it was my mum who did likewise with her love of The Beatles. And although I’d been to the city numerous times before, mainly for trips to other matches, this was really the first time I ever took an extra day to wander the city streets and famous dock areas that make the place what it is. 

As an Irish History graduate, there’s no denying that when it comes to our country’s history of migration, predominantly from the mid-nineteenth century, the port of Liverpool is just as much a part of our heritage as anywhere else. While on a stroll around the district of Everton, I couldn’t help but notice that I passed a local Catholic church with a road sign for Roscommon Street. 

Having nipped for a pint the night before – well, maybe a few more than that – I’d also got chatting to two local and fairly-elderly Scousers who went by the surnames of Mahon and McDermott. A pair of easy going and light-hearted lads who informed me that they both had grannies who came from Dublin. This gave rise to the famous old gag: 

“What’s the true definition of a Scouser? He’s a Dubliner who could swim well!”

Perhaps one of the best features about the city is that everywhere is fairly walkable. Matthew Street was noticeably busy on Friday evening as the pubs and clubs filled up with stag parties, hens and ones looking to start the weekend off in style. This being the same street that’s home to the Cavern Club and the statue of a young John Lennon created an ideal photo opportunity. 

The aforementioned docks, now known more commercially as Pier Head, is within walking distance. While it’s become much more touristy with its fancy cafés and souvenir shops since the city’s rejuvenation as ‘City of Culture’ in 2008, there still remains here a chance to take in the sea air and see for yourself the dockside that once made the city flourish in the old days. 

As good as the sights are, it’s the sounds and the energy which drives the city. Liverpudlians certainly have their own distinct high-frequency accent which is unlike anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Like the people, it’s welcoming, endearing and humorous while a love of live music and conversations about football are prioritised over anything else. 

Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that Liverpool’s ground at Anfield produces a special atmosphere. Having been away from stadiums for so long, and with all the uncertainty brought about by the pandemic, the pre-match rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ was notably spine-tingling and even a tad emotional. 

On a personal level, Covid-19 has carried a real and ongoing threat to my own career plans these past 19 months, but places and songs like these possess an uncanny ability to put things in perspective. They make you realise that you’re far from being the worst off person in the world, you become thankful for what you have and sure, as they say, money can’t buy me love. 

LORDS OF THE WING!

“..AND IF YOU KNOW YOUR HISTORY!”

LORDS OF THE WING

With Celtic fans lording over the recent signing of Kyogo Furuhashi, and with good reason too, there is perhaps scope to question just how much the Hoops’ followers seem to embrace one position on the field above all others; that of the Wingers. 

By Jonathan Foley 

Last month’s defeat to Rangers at Ibrox saw manager Ange Postecoglu confess that he should’ve played the Japanese forward in a more central role. It still oesn’t deny the fact that, in an overall sense, the recent summer signing from Vissel Kobe is a dab hand at showing his talents while charging down the flanks. This is not entirely new at Celtic.

Jimmy ‘Jinky’ Johnstone will always live in the hearts of Celtic fans. His dazzling dribbling ability and sultry skills in the wider areas of the field earned him the reputation as perhaps being the club’s greatest ever player. In a time of damp and mud-soaked pitches, the wee man from North Lanarkshire won 19 major honours with Celtic, including the European Cup in 1967. 

With 135 goals to his credit during his time at Paradise, Jimmy Johnstone’s name will forever resonate with the Celtic faithful. His precocious and mercurial talents were noticed on a global scale while his small stature, gapped teeth, fuzzy red hair and quick-witted humour made him as normal and approachable as the everyday man on the street. 

While he had many famous goals and performances, there are some parts of his life that remain the stuff of legend. His late goal at Ibrox to win the league title at the home of their fiercest rivals or twisting and turning the Inter Milan defence while giving them guff about how their Ambre Solaire gel was going to set their hair on fire, so they should maybe “phone yer maw, big man!”

In slightly more recent times, one might also recall a certain dreadlocked Swede who also wore the number seven jersey. Henrik Larsson went on to become Celtic’s third place all-time leading goalscorer, but it’s worth noting that when he signed from Feyenoord in 1997, the original plan for him was to play off the main two strikers up front; Andreas Thom and Darren Jackson. 

While ‘the Bhoy who would become King’ was molded more into more of a frontman, there were many times during his Celtic career where he showed his capabilities to drift towards the wide areas. Here, he could send in crosses, make runs towards goal himself and still service the latter partnership of John Hartson and Chris Sutton in attack. Winger or striker? It matters not! 

It’s reasonable to suggest that in Larsson’s second season (1998-99), the arrival of Slovakian-born winger, Lubomir Moravcik, possibly allowed him the freedom to go and take up the striker role. With Lubo now taking over the responsibility of supplier from the left-flank, Larsson had more freedom to focus on scoring goals. 

For his part, Lubo ‘God’ Moravcik, was simply a joy to watch. Scoring two goals against Rangers on his full home-debut was just the start. Already well into his mid-thirties, he was the ultimate two-footed player, who was an absolute master of the dead ball, when it came to free kicks. 

He could entertain too. 

Who would have thought controlling a ball, dipping from the sky with your rear-end was possible? By the time he was 36, he was still starting in victorious Celtic teams in the Champions League; famously nutmegging Pavel Nevded of Juventus in 2001, and letting his Czech counterpart know all about it by sticking his tongue out at him, in a schoolyard-like manner. 

Of course there were other wide players whose names were sung from the stands of Celtic Park down the years: Alan Thompson, Didier Agathe, Jackie McNamara, Aiden McGeady, Emilio Izzaguere, Scott Sinclair, Kieran Tierney et al. 

There’s one man who still stands out in the memory, after all these years, and that’s another Japanese star who pulled on the famous green and white hoops; Shunsuke Nakamura. 

‘Naka’ signed in 2005. Little was known of him at the time, but the fans were in for a treat. After a slow start initially, he adapted to life in Scotland and his sublime skill and incredible work-rate endeared him to the Celtic faithful. In his four seasons with the club, he lifted the SPL trophy three times, as well as the Scottish Cup in 2007, but that’s just part of the story. 

With celebrity status back in Japan, Nakamura made regular television appearances there where his party-piece was kicking footballs from a Yokohama alleyway which would find their way through the one open window of a moving bus. Banzai! Celtic would certainly reap the rewards of his technical ability and there were certainly some iconic moments thrown in along the way. 

During a tense Champions League clash with Manchester United in 2006, Naka sent Celtic Park into delirium when his 35-yard free-kick sailed over the United wall and found the top corner of Edwin van der Saar’s net. Six months later, he did likewise with the dead-ball, when his stoppage-time free-kick curled around Kilmarnock’s wall, hit the net, and the title was sealed. 

And that’s not forgetting his other long-range special. This time in a win-or-bust clash against Rangers, in 2008. To this day, people still can’t fully explain how he struck an escaping bouncing ball with such veracity that somehow managed to change direction midway through the air and, basically, burst the net. If it was anyone else, you wouldn’t have believed it, but this was Naka.

Sure, we love goalkeepers, centre-halves, holding midfield players, but at Celtic, there seems to be something magical about some of the Bhoys who lord the wing.

@johnnyfoley1984 @ArmchairFanatic

‘The Gorbals Irishman’ – Charlie Gallagher.

Last month, Celtic FC bade farewell to one of their heroes from the past. Charlie Gallagher’s cortège made its way past the front door of Celtic Park itself so that supporters could pay their last respects. But what did we know of the man? 

By Jonathan Foley

Charlie Gallagher enjoyed a 12-year stint at the famous Glasgow club between the years 1958 and 1970; making 171 appearances and scoring 32 goals in the process. 

More than that, he acquired a clean sweep of Scottish domestic honours and, although he wasn’t on the field that day in Lisbon, he was an instrumental figure in Celtic’s 1967 famous European Cup success story. Although to say his successes came overnight couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Born of Donegal parents, Dan and Annie (Gaoth Dobhair), Charlie also became the first Scottish-born player to represent the Republic of Ireland. In a 2017 interview with TheCelticView, Gallagher discussed how he had grown to love west Donegal, having spent many of his summer holidays there when he was a child. 

He was well regarded for his ability to pickout pinpoint crosses from wide areas and set-pieces. One of his most famous assists is probably the delivery he sent in for Billy McNeill to rise up over Alex Ferguson to head in Celtic’s opener in the 1969 Scottish Cup Final rout of Rangers. As we will see, that was just one of many famous set-ups for his captain. 

He was also the cousin of another former Celtic player, Pat Crerand, who was well-known for his precocious talents and aggression on the field for such other teams he played for, including Manchester United and Scotland. And if the local rumblings speak true, some will tell you that Crerand also played in a number of summer cup games for the Gweedore sides under a pseudonym, but hush, no more. 

When Charlie Gallagher joined Celtic, the club was deep in transition. Rangers were utterly dominant and success was proving to be very elusive for the Hoops. Legendary figure and all-time leading club goalscorer, Jimmy McGrory, wasn’t enjoying the same successes as a manager, but such was his reputation, very few fans were calling for his head during this period of drought. 

Frustrations were more so aimed at the board, then chaired by Robert Kelly. 

In 1961, Gallagher made his debut in a League Cup victory over Raith Rovers and come the end of the season, aged just 21, many would’ve been expecting him to collect a Scottish Cup winners medal. Celtic went into this showpiece event as huge favourites against Dunfermline, but the Pars, managed by a certain Jock Stein,  threw the script out and rejoiced in a surprise 2-0 win following a replay.

For success, Charlie Gallagher would have to wait. 

Celtic were trophyless in the early 1960s and Gallagher was regularly rotated in and out of the starting eleven. His finest performances came in 1964 when he put in a dazzling display in a Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final victory over MTK Budapest. 

The Hunagrains would overturn the tie in the second leg, however, and Gallagher openly claimed that this night as the most disappointing of his career. He would put in another stirring performance five months later though when Celtic pulled off an unexpected 3-1 win over Rangers in the league. 

One year later, 1965, Jock Stein returned to Celtic as manager and Gallagher became something of a regular in his early sides. Despite a lowly eighth place finish in the league that year, Celtic did reach the final of the Scottish Cup again where they would meet Dunfermline for the second time in four years. 

Many fans still regard this game as a pivotal turning point in the club’s history. 

Having twice trailed in the match, Celtic levelled each time and eventually won the encounter courtesy of a 3-2 scoreline. Charlie Gallagher’s superb ball in from a corner set up McNeill’s winning goal and, alas, the Hoops ended an eight-year barren run of no trophies. Following that, Celtic FC were about to embark on something truly special in the following years. 

They became the dominant force, not only in Scotland, but across the European continent as well. 

Having played much of his time in the midfield area alongside Bobby Murdoch, Stein’s remoulding of Bertie Auld’s role – often regarded as one of his managerial masterstrokes – meant that again, Gallagher’s appearances became a bit more sporadic. Celtic were roaring, both domestically and in Europe, so getting into that team would’ve been a task for anyone. 

With Auld and Murdoch holding the midfield and Jimmy Johnstone and Bobby Lennox taking up the wide areas, this was the most famous midfield which Celtic ever had. When he was called upon though, Gallagher was also more than capable of lending more than just a little help for the cause. 

In the New Year meeting with Rangers in 1966, Gallagher thundered in a wonder-strike as the Bhoys routed their old rivals 5-1. A season later, in the quarter-final of the 1967 European Cup run against Vojvodina Novi Sad, his stoppage time cross found McNeill’s head (again) and his majestic finish sent the famous Parkhead stadium into raptures of delight. 

In a time when only one substitute was named on a team-sheet and where he could only be deployed in the event of an injury, Charlie Gallagher did remarkably well to stay in the plans of Jock Stein as Celtic embarked on, what is still, the most successful and revered period in their entire history. 

He was there that day at the Estádio Nacional when Celtic famously beat Inter Milan 2-1 to become the first team from the northern half of Europe to lift the famous trophy. Although he didn’t get a run out on the field, his role within the camp was regarded as important as anyone else’s. 

He was known to have been very proud of the fact that he got to represent Ireland on the international stage. The country of his ancestry thanks to his Donegal heritage. He may have only got two caps during his career, but it must be remembered that he was competing with none other than the talents John Giles (Leeds United) for that position in the team.

Following his departure from Celtic in 1970, Gallagher finished out his career with Dumbarton before hanging up the boots in 1973. He would return to the East End of Glasgow to work as a scout between 1976 to 1978 and was often spotted still attending games and club functions right up until very recent times. A Celtic man, through and through. 

Charlie Gallagher, ‘the Gorbals Irishman’ 1940-2021. 

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT ROY.

Originally penned in June 2021

Love him or loathe him (and believe me, as an Ireland fan who still harbours the thoughts of ‘what could’ve been’ after he departed Sapian, I have feelings of both), there’s still no denying that this country has an unusual obsession with a now fifty-year old, Roy Maurice Keane. 

By Jonathan Foley

As a player, the Corkman had a reputation of holding a fiery temper. A man whose leadership qualities inspired a ‘do or die’ attitude amongst his teammates and management alike. Adored by his fans and feared by his opponents.

In his younger days as a midfielder with Nottingham Forest and Manchester United, his energy allowed him to have more of an attacking role.This often saw him being actively involved in the goalscoring process. In his latter years, some wear and tear had set in, but he remained as ferocious as ever in his new role as a more defensive midfielder. 

In a technical sense, Keane wasn’t the most gracious of players. 

He wasn’t one for mazy dribbles or thirty-yard screamers. His lack of height meant winning aerial battles or scoring headers was also something of a rarity, but one cannot deny his natural ability to break up opposition attacks as well as how talented he was at urging his own team forward against the best of English and European opposition.

He played a key role in United’s rejuvenation in the 1990s; a captain and a leader. And his winner-takes-all mindset and sentiment was shared by his then manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, making them a manager-captain combination which could steer the team to success at an almost unstoppable rate. 

All good things come to an end, however. Keane and Ferguson had a very public fallout in 2005, thus ending the Irishman’s tenure with the Red Devils, and the two couldn’t resist adding extra pot-shots at each other in their autobiographies and media interviews for a long time afterwards. 

Nowadays, after a few fairly calamitous stints as a manager himself, Keane has since become something which he famously wrote we’d all be allowed to shoot him for if he ever became one – a television pundit. And it seems that no matter what he says in the Sky Sports studio, he becomes instant clickbait. Mainly from Irish people.

Keane’s fallout with Mick McCarthy at the 2002 World Cup training camp caused an unprecedented media sensation in this country. 

In newsrooms, it was even held with the same regard of  ‘newsworthiness’ that was on a par with the death of Princess Diana or the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Only this time, people were taking sides in the argument and this caused an unusual civil war like tension in the country. 

Even though there was only a primitive form of social media in those days, Conor O’Callaghan’s book ‘Red Mist: Roy Keane and the World Cup Blues’ (later revamped as a talking heads documentary) perfectly charts how the man from Mayfield, in County Cork, became a talking point in almost every aspect of Irish society from then on. 

Nowadays, almost two decades on, that ripple effect still seems to resonate and it seems that no matter what Keane says, he’ll be trending on social media just minutes later. 

This past few year alone, his claims that “DeGea shouldn’t be allowed on the United bus after that.” “Villa celebrating avoiding relegation? It’s not like they won something”, “Liverpool have been Bad Champions” and “Spurs are a tough watch” have gathered an unimaginably high number of likes, views and shares across the social platforms.

Some fans feel that such statements encapsulate that winning spirit which he showed in his days at United. Others feel that it’s all part of a caricature which Keane has invented for himself since starting his television work. Both sides of the fence in this argument hold water, to be fair. 

It shouldn’t be overlooked though that Roy Keane, who often gets depicted as this monstrous, hard-tackling and obsessive machine, is only a half-truth. 

Since he hung up the boots in 2006, not only does he do great work for guide-dogs charities, he’s shown himself to be witty and light-hearted in the television studio, he’s started his own show with ‘football’s Mister Nice Guy”, Micah Richards, and he’s recently become an instagrammer himself. Monster? Do me a favour!

On the whole, nobody can ever deny his talent as a player and it does feel that he is box-office entertainment when working as a pundit. Don’t forget though, that a lot of these so-called ‘rants’ of his are often blown out of proportion as clickbait during a time when Sky Sports no longer rule the roost in football broadcasting.

WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME.

A TV SHOW ‘WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME.’  

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in July 2021.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of decent television out there nowadays. There’s a steady flow of positively engaging fiction series and well-researched documentaries out there for us all to enjoy in the modern era. Sometimes though, it’s nice to go back and find a simpler show. One of the now old-school comedies I recently re-discovered through this was the sitcom ‘Cheers.’ 

Now this was certainly not my first discovery of the show. As a youngster, I often recall seeing it appear on Channel 4 most evenings at around dinnertime. On a visit to Boston ten years ago, I visited the street where the exterior shots of the bar were filmed and I was always very aware of the catchy lyrics of the show’s iconic theme tune. 

Being the geek that I am though, I couldn’t help but get my English Literature cap on while enjoying a few episodes last month. In essence, the show’s biggest charm is its simplicity. It’s set almost entirely on one set and carries with it all the energy and realism of watching a stage performance in any theatre. 

Well, I suppose, they did tell us at the start of every single episode that “Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience” after all. Lots of shows are filmed this way but very few of them (if indeed any) were edited without using ‘canned laughter.’ In other words, the audience laughter you hear on Cheers is actually real. 

Aside from the pleasing aesthetic of watching an American-based sitcom operate like a relaxing theatrical production, another quirk of the show is the likability of the characters and their chemistry with each other. There’s no catch-phrases, no repetitive slogans, no pointless slapstick and no fully-fledged ‘stupid for the sake of being stupid’ character. 

Everyone on the main cast has their strengths and their weaknesses – as any fictional character should have – and they put their personalities across in endearing ways on a consistent basis. 

Sam has his ego about womanising and his playing days as a professional baseball pitcher. Woody is the innocent country boy adopting to life in the big city. Norm is the washed-up accountant who props up the bar alongside Cliff, the know-it-all mailman, who seems to have an opinion on everything, no matter what the topic along the counter may be.  

In the earlier series, Diane represented the upper-middle class of American society before being replaced by Rebecca; a typical 1980s go-getter trying to make it big in the corporate world. A regular theme which appeared in movies of that era (‘Trading Places’, ‘Working Girl’ for etc). Then there’s Carla who (waitress) personifies the gruff-talking single mother who works almost constantly to feed her eight rowdy children at home. 

Then you have Dr Fraiser Crane – yes, he had his own spin-off show later – and his wife Lillith, who offer psychological and scientific explanations to everything that goes on in the bar, even if they aren’t asked for it and even though they often, ironically, fall foul of their own advice themselves.

What I’m getting at is that no character is perfect. Nor should they be. They all have flaws and that’s what makes the show engaging. It’s as if you can’t help but root for each of them in their respective endeavours no matter what hijinx they get up to and the simplicity of the setting, a bar counter in a run-of-the-mill tavern in Massachusetts, gives it all a very local yet global feel. 

Perhaps what I admire most about Cheers is not its character development or its charming theatricality. It’s the fact that the people of Boston themselves adored the show. I always imagine that when you put on a show, with a specific setting, the writers, producers and actors must surely feel they are walking a tightrope with how they portray the real-life locals.  

During its eleven year run between 1982 and 1993, Cheers seemed to strike a chord with the residents of ‘America’s Walking City.’ The viewers saw themselves in the characters. Characters who faced the same dilemmas that they did and who, especially Cliff, weren’t afraid of ridicule anytime they spoke in their typically vowel-elongated ‘Baaawstan’ twang.  

The show brought in references to history, science and culture in a non-condescending fashion. Sexual relations regularly crop up in the dialgue but certainly not in any offensive manner and, perhaps most pleasing to the locals, there was the occasional nod to the sports teams such as the Red Sox, the Celtics and the Bruins sprinkled throughout the series. 

It’s the global appeal of the show has to be praised too, of course. In a way, it’s refreshing to still see a show where people openly discuss their feelings. 

The thought of staring into a mobile phone all evening wasn’t on the horizon yet and, despite their ups and downs, the characters of Cheers remind us that making your way in the world today takes everything you got but taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Be sure to pop in if you’re looking for some nostalgia viewing.