24 September 2008

Mind, how you go!*

Before we begin, two points.

Firstly, you should probably know, if you haven't already figured it out, that I tend to see things through red-and-white tinted shades.

Secondly, there is but one thing I know for certain about sports psychology: even though I, like most other sports fans, have fantasised about what it would like to play in, say, a World Cup, were I actually to find myself in that position, I would surely have a nervous breakdown before I'd even managed to get the shinpads out of my kit bag.

So, with that in mind, my considered opinion of the ASTONISHING motivational letter found at Arsenal's hotel at Bolton at the weekend is:

I suspect that some of the excitement it's created is similar to that when a celebrity gets papped while wearing non-fabulous footwear and no make-up. Despite the fact that one could spend one's entire life wading through news and analysis, we really know very little about what goes on behind the set-piece interviews and a-source-close-to-person-X's. It's quite interesting to get a glimpse at the otherwise hidden process. The reason there are entire boxsets dedicated to outtakes is that there are people out there who will buy them (guilty as charged).

Beyond that, and the excuse it gives to the makers of absorbent house-training floor-coverings to print something hilarious for Fidinho to use as a target**, it's hard to see what the big deal is. At worst, it's a list of platitudes you or I could probably whip up in half-an-hour's mind-tempesting. At best, it's yet another sign of Arsene's genius. In truth, it looks like nothing more or less than a useful way to reinforce some basic principles essential in a good team. Apparently, Arsenal don't employ a full-time psychologist, instead bringing one in from time to time when deemed necessary. It's reasonable to assume that it would be useful in a week involving a 2,000-mile round trip bookended by a couple of visits to some neanderthal shitkickers. It all seems like fairly elementary stuff of the type no doubt practised up and down the league.

Besides, if you really are surprised by it, you must not have heard of the Blue Book. Sorry, I mean THE BLUE BOOK.

THE BLUE BOOK, the Dublin Gaelic football team's bible for the season just finished, saw the idea of psychological preparation and raised it some crazy. There were the usual quotes from the likes of Confucius, Isaac Newton, Bruce Lee, Winston Churchill, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gandhi and - but of course! - Vince Lombardi, as well as some fearsomely precise playing instructions (being a senior inter-county footballer seems as much fun as playing for Louis van Gaal).

What was most striking, however, is that THE BLUE BOOK made Dublin look like - how to put this? - paranoid, psychotic Freemasons. It sees the all-in brawl with Tyrone in 2006 as when "we crossed the line together as a Dublin squad hasn't done in years". According to the Irish Independent's Vincent Hogan, "it lists being 'more cynical' among the positives". It recommends a closing-off from the outside world: as Confucius advises them, "Silence is a true friend who never betrays" (and why not? Sure isn't it so that "some of the people making these judgements are the ones that had us as shite from the start"?). Most importantly, all squad members were required to sign up to a seven-point creed (counter-signed by a witness), thus affirming that, amongst other things:

  • "I promise to adhere to all areas of THE BLUE BOOK RULES OF ENGAGEMENT"

  • "I will not show or admit the existence of THE BLUE BOOK to any other person except another Blue Book holder"

  • "I will not divulge the meaning of our BS logo to anybody" (they make it too easy for us...)

  • "Finally, I appreciate that for the duration of this campaign it will be thirty-one versus one. I am quite happy with these odds" (ie. thirty-one counties against the brave boys from, ahem, "the greatest city in the world" (sic)).
The punchline to all this? Someone in the camp leaked the BOOK to the media after Dublin's exit from the Championship.

Speaking of which, every page of THE BLUE BOOK has the heading 'Dublin, All-Ireland Champions 2008'. It would be cruel to point out the twelve-point skelping they got from Tyrone in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Some have questioned the fuss over the BOOK, claiming that other counties have successfully used psychologists in the recent past, and that had Dublin won it all, this would have been hailed as a masterstroke. Four points on this:

1) They didn't win the All-Ireland. That's an important detail;

2) Even if they had won, THE BLUE BOOK would still be as creepy and hilarious as it is in this Dublin-are-not-All-Ireland-Champions reality;

3) Much of the interest stems from the same feeling of getting a peek at the engine underneath the bonnet as with the Arsenal document, which is heightened by the would-be clandestine nature of the BOOK;

4) It is the solemn duty of every culchie in the land to raise a glass of Schadenfreudebräu at any instance of Dublin misfortune. I'm sure the Dubs wouldn't mind - after all, does not the good BOOK say "Our motto is - we are not in a popularity contest"?


Flickr photos by Яick Harris and uzvards.

*Title appropriated from Roger McGough's Poem for National LSD Week.

**I refuse to put a link to the Daily Mail here - partly as a point of principle, and partly because if I did, then you might click on it, and then you would have the Daily Mail in your History file, and I think better of you than that.


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