It's probably ironic that there are two kinds of journalists covering this World Cup in South Africa -- the haves and the have-nots.
In a country where equality is still not exactly a priority, we should probably take it as a compliment that the Irish hacks here are being treated slightly differently to some.
FIFA -- never our favorite people -- have a definite pecking order when it comes to organizing things like access to match tickets, press conferences and player interviews for the traveling media.
Essentially the best access is granted to teams who have actually qualified for the finals, and that’s fair enough. If your team is here then you deserve to be able to do your job properly.
Next come journalists from the same continent -- hence the South American press were the big winners when Brazil played Chile in Ellis Park on Monday night.
Last, and in this case by every means least, are the journalists from countries who haven’t qualified, which is where the dozen or so Irish hacks here enter the equation.
And just in case you’re not feeling sorry for us by now, we are classified as the Republic of Ireland and everything is doled out alphabetically.
See, I’d hate you to think that we’re actually enjoying ourselves at this tournament or the “looking over your shoulder” World Cup as I’ve called it because of the security issues.
I’m telling you all of this to explain why I was sat in an overflow section of the stand at the Free State Stadium on Sunday when England were demoralized by Germany, and the linesman’s failure to award a goal guaranteed them their revenge for the 1966 World Cup finals.
Because of my status near the bottom of the food chain, I didn’t have a desk which meant my laptop had to live up to its name.
It also meant that I was surrounded by people who had a right to be there but didn’t have much work to do on the day -- producers from BBC television and their like.
Naturally they were all English and they were all politely cheering for their team even though they were in the middle of a media section.
So you can just imagine their angst when the aforementioned linesman failed to spot that Frank Lampard’s shot had bounced off the crossbar and over the line at a time when England were roaring back into the game and only 2-1 down.
When the halftime whistle blew and they had a chance to study the replay of the incident, they were aghast. One of them, a senior producer from what I could gather, was irate.
“Germany will have to give us a goal at the start of the second half or replay the game,” he said. “I’ve just watched the television replay and the ball was a foot over the line. It’s a disgrace.”
Being Irish, I did what I just had to do -- I laughed at him and politely informed him that FIFA don’t do replays, as we well know.
“But FIFA don’t care about Ireland,” he argued. “They care about England. They will have to do something.”
FIFA won’t do anything about this. They may think about extra referees -- which is on the cards -- and they may talk about goal line technology now that the English are on the case.
But they won’t change the result of the England defeat in Bloemfontein. They won’t offer them a replay. And they probably won’t take any action against the referee.
The English will have to get used to the sense of outrage just like we did last November. The final whistle has been blown on this one whether they like it or not.
The Irish Are Everywhere
YOU don’t see that many Irish jerseys walking down the street in the few parts of Johannesburg that it’s safe to walk down -- Sandton it’s called -- so when you do it’s always interesting to stop and say hello.
Mauriscio Benavente is from Bolivia and got his Ireland jersey from his half-brother, a man by the name of Alex Wolf who works with the Bank of Ireland in Dublin.
When football fanatic Mauriscio booked his trip to the World Cup finals he decided to bring his Irish shirt along with him and have a special message engraved on the back.
Hence my laughter when he turned around the other day and showed me the back of his jersey with the number 10 and a simple message for the French people that said: “F*** Henry.”
The shirt has proved very popular everywhere Mauriscio has gone in South Africa, and even more so after the French exited the tournament so disgracefully against the host nation last week.
On a similar topic, an Irish flag caught my eye in the main stand in Rustenburg’s Royal Bafokeng Stadium at halftime in the U.S.-Ghana match.
Again being the curious sort, I had to find out more so I went down to see the gang of four for a chat, and it turned out that Maria Riordan, Laura Murphy, Conor Neacy and Damien Callaghan had a story to tell.
Their Irish flag bore the legend “Anyone But France,” and had accompanied them to some 12 World Cup games, including Saturday’s exciting clash.
It was also with them when they met the FIFA president Sepp Blatter at the World Cup opening concert in Johannesburg a week earlier.
And Maria assured me that even Sepp had to smile when he saw the latest Irish protest at FIFA’s failure to take any action against the French cheats last November.
The World Cup may be carrying on without us -- and the French now -- but at least the world knows we are still angry about the circumstances that kept us away.
World Cup Sideline Views
MARY: The biggest fan fest park in Johannesburg is in a place called Mary Fitzgerald Square. Mary was an Irish trade union activist who arrived here as a secretary with the British Army in 1907. I prefer her nickname -- Pick Handle Mary so dubbed after she picked up a pick handle and beat a few police officers around the place during a protest for equal rights for women. You can’t beat the fighting Irish.
JAMMING: This has to be seen to be believed. One of the Ghanaian players arrived into the mixed zone after their game with Germany accompanied by the biggest iPod docking station you have ever seen, and his favorite reggae sounds blasting out of it. A radio reporter approached the player for a live interview and he agreed but never turned the music down or off. What went out in air I can only imagine!
GENERAL: Am I the only person in the world who thinks that American coach Bob Bradley looks like the sort of guy who could step into Stanley McChrystal’s shoes in Afghanistan? His tactics in South Africa were good for the most part and he definitely wasn’t strong on division in his team, so President Obama would be happy with him.
CROKER: Okay, so technically this has nothing to do with the World Cup, but I got this in a text when I was returning to Johannesburg from Bloemfontein on Sunday night. What’s the difference between a Dublin taxi-driver and the Dublin goalkeeper in the Meath match? The Dublin taxi driver will only let four in!
VUVUZELAS: Sandton City shopping mall is one of the few safe places you can walk around in this place, and it’s become a regular coffee haunt en route to Soccer City and Ellis Park, so I was intrigued by a sign spotted there the other day. “No blowing vuvuzelas in the center,” it read. Does that mean you have blow them on the left or the right? Just wondering.
MAIL: Some of the English press reckon World Cup flop boss Fabio Capello looks a lot like Postman Pat but there is one crucial difference -- Postman Pat delivers. Boom, boom.
HEROES OF THE WEEK
The Germans only went and did it again in Bloemfontein on Sunday. As you might remember, my old sparring partner Eamon Dunphy gave them no chance before the tournament and I did, so I take great pleasure in their demolition job of the English -- one of the teams Eamon tipped -- on Sunday. Well done lads.
IDIOTS OF THE WEEK
The English team let Sepp Blatter off the hook with a second half performance so bad in Bloemfontein that their fans almost forget about the goal that never was from Frank Lampard. How the best players in the Premier League could perform so abjectly and pathetically for their country is beyond. The England fans here have been a decent bunch, and I actually feel sorry for them after spending good money to watch that rubbish.
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