Neil Loughran: Do what makes you happy and revel in - how you say? - life’s little victories

Neil Loughran

Neil Loughran

Neil has worked as a sports reporter at The Irish News since 2008, with particular expertise in GAA and boxing coverage.

Eric Dier put in a beautiful post-match performance after his first game in Bayern Munich colours
Eric Dier put in a beautiful post-match performance after his first game in Bayern Munich colours

WHAT makes you happy?

Emotional, heart-tugging answers need not apply. Filth too – please, keep that to yourselves, you animals. No family, no kids, no faith. If your eyes were already welling up while pondering the answer, then it’s time to go. The door is that way.

Because this is about stuff that doesn’t matter. Not really. Stuff that is incidental to real life, big boy/girl stuff. Stuff that unlocks the door to your inner child, to your most innocent or embarrassingly immature pleasures.

Don’t sweat, it doesn’t have to be anything too big. It could be watching on repeat the clip of the guy’s cartoonish slip on the ice during an RTE news piece a few years back (guilty, your honour).

Or that video of the guys dying laughing after arriving at a restaurant, one by one, wearing the same t-shirt their mischievious partners had bought for just such an occasion.

Me? Well, since you ask, I have a personal penchant for football figures adopting accents which, mercifully, has been indulged by new Bayern Munich recruit Eric Dier in recent days.

His was delicious only in how the inflection would take hold at the end of certain words and phrases (“I need more games to understand bettuh”), adding a Teutonic twist to what was already a slightly muddled accent, having spent much of his life in Portugal before returning to England.

Steve McClaren, however, was on an entirely different planet. Planet cringe. For sure. It wasn’t even the manner in which the Yorkshireman spoke in broken English when asked about FC Twente’s 2011 Champions League draw (“Liverpool, Arsenal, I thought maybe one of them we would draw – it is Arsenal, I think”), but the glee on his face.

It was the television equivalent of dancing like nobody is watching, McClaren’s confidence soaring as, for those few moments, he was Dutch. All that was missing was a bike.

For some, for many in fact, happiness is wrapped up solely in sport. Those few hours watching a game of football, or the 17 taking in its American equivalent, provide a welcome window of time away from the worries of the world.

Playing is a great release when you’re young but, moving into middle age, it just becomes another stress. Even something as simple as rounding up 10 players for a five-a-side kickabout - once an organic, spontaneous arrangement - comes to require a tiresome amount of planning, until the inevitable last minute flood of excuses.

Five-a-side football becomes a survival mission the older you get
Five-a-side football becomes a survival mission the older you get (junce/Getty Images)

And that’s before a ball is even kicked. When limbs are no longer made of rubber, and appear determined to defy all requests in favour of some form of robotic rampage, a nagging fear takes hold. You ask who is playing out of barely concealed concern for safety, rather than whether or not the session goes ahead.

A groan hits the gut when introduced to the guy your mate brought who used to play Amateur League; the guy whose own mates no longer invite him along on account of a list of victims longer than Jack the Ripper.

Still in decent nick, taut skin pulls hard at the jawline despite an advancement in years, his daily workout regime refusing to allow age’s elasticity drag to take hold just yet.

There are tattoos, and a crew cut with what remains of his greying locks, the widow’s peak edging close enough to wave goodbye to the biscuit at the back. Make a joke about either, however, and you die.

The overfriendliness before is unnerving. Ha ha, sure isn’t it great to be out and about? Good to see you. Och aye I played a bit back in the day, nothing serious, but that was donkeys years ago. Ah it’s all a bit of craic.

And then he starts keeping score. That’s when you know.

When he gets the ball, he buries the head and goes for goal, firing beyond an arthritic accountant who was never any good and has no real interest in football, but just wants out of the house.

Then he complains that a ball brushed an opponent’s arm. This bollocks wants VAR in his local leisure centre. And finally, the coup d’etat, an ill-timed (or was it?) tackle leaves you in a crumpled heap, pinned to the wall before slowly sliding down like Wile E Coyote after being foiled by Road Runner again, unsure where to clutch first.

The greatest indignity, of course, is the injury that simply arrives out of nowhere. No reason, not a sinner near you. Just trundling along, just minding your own business, just getting into it. Just old.

Victory is no longer measured in mental arithmetic or the smug satisfaction that, even in the absence of score being kept, your team had won. Victory now is walking out unscathed – nothing more, nothing less - before discreetly berating your friend for bringing his psycho mate.

Living to fight another day, and enjoying the little wins, is where true happiness can be found.