I have never been a regular follower of live sport. Remotely, I support the Munster rugby team, but rarely get to games. Because of my scaly back, the keratoid growths on my hands and the large sucking proboscis with hollow retractile needle through which I ingest people’s brains, I can’t say I’ve ever felt truly comfortable as “one of the fans”. That famous, semi-familial Munster welcome was never extended to me.
Don’t judge the Munster fans too harshly, though. They have different cardiovascular systems and different senses of humour from me; that’s all. For instance, during some gruelling Celtic League fare a couple of years ago, I amused myself by sucking out the cerebral cortex of the gentleman in front of me, and then – whistling innocently all the while – pointed an accusatory tentacle at my neighbour, as if to say ‘Don’t look at me. It was him’. Suffice to say, that did not go down too well with the Best Fans In Europe TM.
They chanted for blood, but tentatively and without unity, as fans subdued by mediocrity are wont to do. (Connacht were, for want of more accurate words, entertaining us, as some might have guessed). In the end, they didn’t even chase me to the gates before they threw up their hands in exasperation. In spite of the mortal danger, I was almost disappointed at their reaction. Maybe it is a symptom of social breakdown or increasing atomisation, but lynch mobs are definitely not what they used to be. Although, I suppose – who’s to say in this crazy, relativistic world whether eating other people’s brains is really wrong, and not just an interesting personal or cultural foible? Nobody.
Since then, my likeness has been circulated at the turnstiles for every Munster game, so I haven’t been able to see the men in red in person for a while now. I did try wearing a fake moustache as a disguise once. Alas, it slipped at the vital second and the ticket agent saw through my cunning subterfuge. So near, and yet so far. Anyway, like many other sports followers, I am now condemned to the mediated experience of television or radio for my entertainment.
This presents some difficulties. Difficulties that have commentators’ voices, and commentators’ cultivated idiosyncrasies. And commentator’s sheepskin coats, occasionally.
Johnson’s dictionary defines a commentator as “a gabber who in England is generally given to hoarseness, but in Scotland succours the people.” (they do need succour these days, the poor Scots). But does this say enough? A commentator is also a perpetually excitable child, a nerd, a buffoon and a trimmer. He has that curious mixture of servility and self-regard that one associates with the renowned celebrity lickspittle. Yes, he seems to say, I am not a part of the game, but the only way to the game is through me. He isn’t entirely unlike the Catholic Church. Or Rupert Murdoch. And yet, this is to exaggerate his grandeur. He aspires to be one of the major players, but is too unfashionable for their parties. One can imagine him in the toilet cubicle of a bingo hall, viciously snorting cocaine.
Not the least of his qualities is his superstitious egocentricity, characteristic of children, Liverpool followers and the terminally insane. He believes that his thoughts can actually change games. However, he is no subscriber to the power of positive thinking, even though it is a measurable phenomenon (estimates put the power of positive thinking at a few hundred milliwatts – a staggering zero percent increase on regular thinking). Like Schopenhauer, his ideas of causality are pessimistic and bitter. None more than the so-called commentator’s curse. This curse (example: commentator says player is brilliant; player promptly kicks himself in the testicles) is nothing but the extension of the childish fantasy that one can collapse stars just by blinking one’s eyes, or the fan’s delusion that shouting at a television screen has any effect on anything. Nevertheless, for all sports watchers, the curse inspires a mixture of dread and television-berating. Why is this?
Simply: because there is such a thing as the commentator’s curse. Don’t be fooled though – it is no magical power. It is actually just the audible end-result of commentators’ tendency to be wrong about practically everything, and confident in that wrongness to boot. The last time a commentator was right about anything, it was a) by accident, b) 1950 and c) not long before he corrected himself. I could bring forth thousands of examples, but instead I’m going to unfairly single out Eddie Butler. As soon as Eddie said that it was “hard to see France coming back from here” against Ireland, I knew without doubt (Oh, his unprophetic soul!) that they would. I just knew it. Even as Beauxis’s restart was ambling down from the sky, I had already sunk my second pint and was just starting on my third chaser. Thankfully, I had passed out by the time the final whistle blew.
Eddie’s doing the England-Ireland game this weekend too. He tipped Ireland to win. Will someone look after my cat when I’m gone?