GAA Football

Kicking Out: Nolan's culture of Them 'Uns is best ignored

BBC radio and TV presenter Stephen Nolan.

IF we all spent our mornings listening to ‘the biggest show in the country’, this corner of the world would be much happier place. 

Pete, Paulo and Rebecca aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but they bring a bit of light into the world. 

Last month, Cool FM announced that their show had overtaken Stephen Nolan’s morning broadcast as the most listened to in the north.

Nolan was the topic of debate again last week when the BBC revealed their annual list of salaries for their top earners.

The Belfast man, who presents his Radio Ulster show as well as his BBCNI TV slot and a place on Radio Five, was given a payrise of £65,000 last year.

His basic salary, which does not include his earnings from the independent production company through which he commissions BBC programmes, was between £390,000 and £394,999.

It is an astonishing amount of money given that his pay is taxpayer funded.

But then he wouldn’t be paid that if people didn’t listen to him.

Therein lies the problem.

Yesterday, the topic was Dungannon Clarke’s and the GAA.

I’m not here to defend the celebrations at the end of Sunday’s Tyrone final.

This column has questioned whether society was ready for sport to return. It was always going to be a particular issue for the GAA around county finals.

But I can certainly understand the outpouring of emotion.

Dungannon hadn’t won a championship since 1956. Their run to this year’s title was the most exciting, nerve-wracking, glorious pursuit in the history of Tyrone football.

No club had ever won a senior county title in a penalty shootout before Sunday. That it went around each player twice before Ciaran Barker finally settled it was an extra layer of drama that it didn’t even need.

If Stephen Nolan knew anything about sport, anything about the GAA, he would know that some joy is just uncontainable.

You cannot, as a public health body, tell communities and clubs that it’s ok to play a championship but not ok to celebrate winning it.

You cannot, as a public health body, tell the GAA that they are allowed a certain number of impassioned spectators through the gates for a county final and expect them to sit in their seats clapping like they’re at the cricket.

Gaelic football is the very essence of our being. It is the aorta of rural Ireland. If the GAA didn’t exist, you would wonder what kind of a country we would have.

Does Stephen Nolan ever consider the positive aspect? For someone who interviews politicians on a daily basis about “the issues that matter”, does he understand the impact the GAA has on Irish society?

Take Jimmy McCallan, interviewed in the stand before the game. The Dungannon club president was the 19-year-old goalkeeper the last time they’d won the championship.

The Clarke’s revival was kick-started by the club’s minor team touring San Francisco in 2008. Jimmy McCallan was on that trip. To this day, the young players who bonded with him regularly visit him at home.

What else in our society would have 22-year-old men calling up to see an elderly man and shoot the breeze? What else in our society fends off rural isolation, and rural depopulation, as effectively as the GAA does?

When Covid struck, the GAA was at its absolute best, helping literally feed the vulnerable in their communities.

There was no mention on The Nolan Show of Bredagh GAC pairing up with the local Apprentice Boys and delivering food parcels into the most staunchly loyalist areas around them. 

And that’s long before we get into the physical and mental benefits of playing sport.

There’s also the issue of balance. Where was the furore when Glentoran fans danced through the streets in their hundreds after winning the Irish Cup a few months back?

I won’t be a hypocrite. I felt, and have said, that it was early to bring sport back. This was part of why.

But the GAA alone didn’t decide that it was alright to play games. The GAA didn’t decide that allowing spectators, even in a limited number, in to games was alright. Those were decisions for the public health authorities.

Stephen Nolan’s lack of understanding of the situation was evident from literally the first sentence he uttered on yesterday morning’s programme.

“Disgraceful, dangerous scenes as fans from Dungannon Clarke’s and Trillick invade the pitch after a game yesterday.”

If he could find a Trillick supporter in there, he’s a good ‘un.

And it’s alright to say you’re nit-picking but that is what the show relies upon.

It draws the ire up in people by appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Sammy from the Shankill rings in and is given the airtime to vent his fury at the GAA.

He doesn’t have to be right. He just has to be loud.

And then naturally the other side reacts. Seamy from Andersonstown is on, feeling that he has defend his side.

The same applies the other way around. Unionists take a kicking on the show too, and there are elements of nationalism that can’t wait to get stuck in when it happens.

The appetite for fury is never-ending, and so round and round and round it goes.

It is the most vicious of cycles and in recent years particularly, The Nolan Show has become a serious issue in a society that is in many quarters trying its best to heal itself.

It has become a root of the culture of Them ‘Uns.

Saying we should boycott it is easy because if you do that, Them ‘Uns get a free run. But because both sides keep engaging, the wheels of division keep on turning.

For both sides, the biggest show in the country is the way forward.

Pete, Paolo and Rebecca, we’re all yours.

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