Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Switching Wings With Alacrity

It was June 1990, and Ireland were playing Italy (they seem to be popping up everywhere on this blog, those Italians) in Rome's Olympic Stadium in the quarter-finals of the World Cup. The Irish had ground out four dull draws, scoring two goals in the process, to get that far (or at least that's how craven revisionists like myself see it now; at the age of 14, mind, I was a good deal less sniffy). Jimmy Magee, the grand old man of absolutely useless sporting trivia, had just won a sternly-fought stand-off with the RTÉ authorities and that young pup George Hamilton, to take his rightful place commentating on the biggest game in Irish football history. And thus, mid-way through the first half, Jimmy's buttery tones, straight outta the Cooley Peninsula, were heard to describe Roberto Donadoni (this week named as successor to Marcello Lippi as manager of la squadra) as 'switching wings with alacrity.' We still do not know to this day if it was Donadoni's deftness of touch and his grace that prompted one viewer to write to Arthur Murphy's Mailbag to complain that there was no Alacritti mentioned on the team-sheet he had in front of him. It may, of course have been plain old common-or-garden ignorance.

Because, you see there was not an awful lot of alacrity on display in the Irish team of the day, though not for want of the stuff; it was, after all a team that included Paul McGrath, Ray Houghton, Ronnie Whelan, John Sheridan and others among its number. Big Jack had however managed to sublimate (no, no, no, repressed) it in much the same way as the Irish used to put their sexual urges in some dark corner of their noggin in the hope that they might die of malnutriton rather than embarrass the family (my generation of Irish people are more likely to douse their sexual urges in pints of Carlsberg and Bacardi Breezers in order to render them more predictable, same thing in the heel of the hunt.)

And so, let us salute alacrity, that capacity for deftness and briskness that livens up the dullest of proceedings. I am thinking of things like Didier Zokora's double back-heel roll for Ivory Coast against Holland in the World Cup, something that had no effect whatsoever on the game, but looked seriously cool all the same. But there are numerous non-footballing examples: virtuoso guitar such as that practised by Rodrigo y Gabriela; flair bar-tending; burley young country lads tossing bales of hay up on to a trailer (the sort of fellas that usually build a house for one of their brothers in their spare time every other summer); the suburban kids that come into Paris every day and do their break-dancing on Ile St-Louis, wowing American tourists that most likely have never seen the thing before. Personally speaking, the best claim to this sort of deftness I can make is an ability to chop both fruit and vegetables at high speed while leaving my fingers largely unblemished. Oh, and I can carry about eighteen pint glasses (straight sleeves, stacked) in one hand. Guess what I've been doing all my life.

It's hard to tell the dancer from the dance.