Sport is a simple game made complicated by one hundred different rules and times, forever existing in twirling infinite narrative and rivalry which we are spellbound to until the final chapter. Rivalries take over from the everyday game and we are hooked in the pantomime of larger than life characters, fed and bled on ancient traditions and digested on today’s blessings.
That is what separates sport from life. Life is not a simple black and white game of winning losing. In life we do not always get our just rewards. Life has to end. It is here however, in the funeral home and grave side where we see it for what it is.
In death sport is humanised and bound. The crowds and hordes on the pitched are silenced and drowned into a horizon of emotions only to be plummeted in front of an empty glass and the slivered memories. From here the dirt and sod of a December training night becomes the punchline.
Over the last year the Irish sporting community has been rocked to its core from sudden deaths. In February 2016 Derry City FC’s leading goal scorer Mark Farren died aged 33. In October 2016 Munster Rugby was shocked with the death of Anthony Foaly aged 42. Last weekend Derry City FC faced another crisis with the death of their 27 year old captain Ryan McBride at his home in the Brandywell.
The tragedies plunged two communities into despair. Derry City FC from sting and suffering retired the number 18 in honour of their fallen striker while the League of Ireland named the under 17 cup the Mark Farren Cup. Munster Rugby greeted the week with 38-17 victory and saw Axel Foley inducted into the RTÉ Sports Hall of Fame. As this edition goes to print every League of Ireland ground will have a unanimous minute’s applause at the fifth minute for Ryan McBride.
It is not a tradition confined to Ireland. On the 15th of April 1989 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives in the tragic Hillsborough Disaster. The event; which has been plastered into footballing folklore as the darkest alleyway in the most run down street, has been kept lit with never so much as a name fading through the fans and supporters. Ignoring the annual displays at Liverpool’s spiritual home in Anfield; the club has cast the numbers on to the famous red strip while supporters have set out and campaigned for justice, clearing the bereaved names to have the words, “innocence” brandished across the city centre to the verses of, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”
In other cases death has refused to let memories die of once giants of the great game. Most notably the names and memories of the 1948 Torino team who met their end following an ill-fated plane journey, the 1957 Manchester United team affectionately dubbed the, “Busby Babes” for a similar incidence and right up to present day with Brazilian side Chapecoense who caught the world’s attention in 2016 when their team was killed in a plane crash in route to the CONMEBOL Sudamericana final.
None of these incidents have been laid to bare. Names have been forged and cast in stone and etched into footballing folklore. Names did not die. People did not die, but instead cast in stone for generations to see and ponder of what could have been.
Remembrance is one thing, but to be a constant straight of thought brought to the forefront every year and never cast aside takes a community and backing. While death can unite us, it is in the scars where we find ourselves and build. Eyes are dried and the much is swept from the soles of our shoes leaving behind footprints and memories. Children measure up and adults look back beyond and what was there and who was there. No one is forgotten. In a true prize for life and death; memory is moved onto into a monument.
A statue of life. Of the person of who was there. Something to look, and to look up to.