Have you got SWAG?

This is a term that was only recently introduced to my vocabulary by colleague and fellow Toastmaster who gave a speech on the life of a SWAG at our latest meeting. The term WAG is more commonly known and was familiarized in Ireland and the U.K. with the likes of Victoria Beckham and Coleen Rooney becoming as talked about as their famous footballer husbands (Posh’s Spice Girls career aside).

“Wives and Girlfriends,” what they wore, drank, said and spouted began to clog gossip columns and was the perfect complement to the scintillating scandals of European football. What a bore.

Growing up in Ireland you learn the value of the underdog, especially when it comes to football. Irish fans are freaks and show a level of devotion to their home teams that is both admirable and terrifying.

We are famous, worldwide, for our camaraderie, our support and our sadly inaccurate chants of “You’ll never beat the Irish.” But you will. Most people do, actually.

I have never been one of these people. I have never gone to a match. The only time I went to Croke Park was to see The Police. I have had no interest in GAA, rugby, soccer, any of it.

The sound of football on the TV would lull me to sleep as it purely reminds me of lazy Sunday afternoons at home where Dad would insist on watching “the match” while Mam and I would pour over the Sunday newspapers and then happily snooze only to be intermittently shocked awake by yelps, shouts and hysterical claps as whatever team on the agenda advanced in some small way towards victory.

My dad grew up in London and is an avid Queens Park Rangers fan. So much of a fan that he took a penknife and carved “QPR” into his left forearm before smothering the open wound in Indian Ink giving himself a raw, cool tattoo. My mother had him remove this when I was born which I find disappointing as I believe it is the saddest and baddest thing for a grown man to have.

Queens Park Rangers? Who are they? Yes, you have probably never heard of them because they are quite the underdogs which is fitting with Dad’s Irish heritage and subsequent reluctance to support the bigger teams like Man U and Liverpool. You may notice my sport lingo is somewhat lacking.

In the summer of 2014, while living in New York, I made a point of loudly announcing how much I loathed football and couldn’t possibly bear having to watch several matches over the course of the World Cup. I would whine and moan, attempting to strike up conversations with anyone who looked remotely as bored witless as I was but to no avail. Everyone was engrossed.

What had I missed? Why had the enthusiasm not sunk in?

I remember being 12 and watching the famous World Cup Ireland-Spain match (2002) that went to penalties and that we sadly lost. I was at a big barbeque with all of our family friends crammed into Aunty Mary’s living room to watch this monumental moment.

I remember leaping out of my seat, yelling and screaming – basically copying the grown-ups’ enthusiasm and dismay whenever we advanced or whenever Spain got ahead. I remember looking around the room in awe as every single solitary person wept when we lost – even my mother.

I remember genuinely being so confused by the entire event. It was just football. I believe this is the moment when I should have begun to care, but it didn’t quite click.

So while I gassed on and on about what a waste of time and money all this football lark was while sitting in a Brooklyn backyard last summer, I finally got put in my place by a friend. He turned to me quite sharply and said, “You know it’s the most watched sport in the entire world. It’s everyman’s sport. Absolutely anyone can play. It’s not classist, or elitist, and the guys who play for their countries have come from every corner of the earth. They are totally immersed in it from when they’re kids and they know nothing else. And then the normal guys – and girls – who aren’t professionals can just grab a ball and go outside and mimic and learn and play too. It’s international – It’s a world sport.”

I’m paraphrasing, but that pretty much sums it up. He was right. I quickly shut my trap, and shut it has remained.

Thus began my life as a SWAG – “Supporters’ Wives and Girlfriends.” I have yet to attend a match, but the quantity of matches I have watched since returning to Ireland has been more than I have watched in the previous 24 years of my life.

When my boyfriend wants to watch a match – any match – I dutifully sit by his side and either quietly read my book or contribute supportive cheers and inquisitive questions about the five million rules or the backgrounds of players he seems to particularly like. I’ll ask about their pink shoes and silly haircuts and show interest where I possibly can. I no longer feel that it’s ok to make a mockery of his fandom, and am somewhat ashamed of my prior tendencies to do so.

A couple of weekends ago, Ireland had some football and rugby to play which meant that my Sunday was going to involve at least four hours of sport television. Usually, for me, this would be a total nightmare of boredom and ennui, having to feign interest and pass remarks that voiced my disapproval of the money, sexism and whatnot that fuelled this enormous waste of time.

However, this time was different. During the rugby (which we won!) I actually squealed. A girlish, high-pitched squeal came out of my mouth as one of the players (don’t expect me to remember names quite yet) scored a try. That has never happened.

And during the football (which we lost) I was genuinely saddened when two of our key players (again with the names) were injured. What a catastrophe!

And I wasn’t accompanied by a book for either match. I paid full attention 100 percent of the time. Check that out for SWAG.

This morning, I actually Googled how the selection process works for the playoffs, and what teams Ireland might likely be put against for their final chance to qualify. WHAT HAVE I BECOME?

I have become invested. I am rooting for the underdog. I am rooting for my roots!

I have developed swag. I am, in fact, a SWAG. #COYBIG.

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