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16th man gets annoying after 16 pints

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” That was view of Joseph Goebbels, spin doctor to the Nazi party.

In the same way that Nazi scientists went on to become the father figures of the space race, so Goebbels’ mantra has fuelled the advertising, PR and political industries since VE Day.

In sport too, we are bombarded with opinions that have become fact because they have been repeated so much: take your points and the goals will come (not if you keep aiming over the bar they won’t), hurling is the fastest field game in the world (it is? All those polo aristocrats on horseback and their plastic balls seem to be travelling faster to the naked eye) and Munster rugby fans are knowledgeable and the almightiest of craic.

That last one demands more in-depth scrutiny. Over the past decade-and-a-bit the line about their passion only being matched by their understanding of rugby football and their sense of fun being unsurpassed in the realm of modern sports has become ingrained in the collective psyche.

At the risk of some quite severe abuse (or a bunch of people in branded red jackets scowling at me and, in unison, going: “SSSHHHHHHHH”) I’m going to have to present a counter-argument here.

I was toying with the idea of airing this view all day Saturday in Milton Keynes, but erring on the side of leaving it. What tipped me over the edge was the sight of a line of Munster fans hanging over the barriers at Euston that evening, spewing forth their day’s lager intake onto the tracks beside platform number eight.

To hell or Connacht with it, I thought, publish and be damned.

A friend who dislikes horse racing asks question: how many people would go to meets or watch on TV if there was no gambling?

Similarly, I wonder how many would march with the Red Army if there was no drink to be drunk? Judging by the widespread inebriation in and around MK Dons’ soulless bowl at the weekend, you’d have to presume that the numbers would take a hit.

Munster trips have become the Copper Face Jacks of the sporting world – the only way is to go with it; stay sober and your brain will melt. A colleague tells me that on previous trips to the continent with the Brave and the Faithful the only way he could face carrying out radio vox-pops was to get as smashed as his would-be interviewees.

The mad thing is that Coppers is (mainly) wedged with clueless kids abandoning all sense of decorum in the pursuit of obliteration. At Munster games you’ll see men in their 40s and 50s, who presumably do responsible jobs to afford these jollies, displaying an appetite for mental self-destruction. In fact, they’re the worst offenders; these boys of the old drinking brigade who no longer get out as much they’d like. But give them a red geansai and a ticket to Swansea or Leicester and it’s:

“Stand up and fight until you hear the bell,

Stand toe-to-toe, trade blow for blow,

Keep fighting till you make your punches tell,

Uhhh, nnna na na na na naaaa,

Umn… hear that bell, la la la,

Stand up and fight like hell!”

Who needs to know the words? When in doubt just shout Munster, Munster, Munster, all night long no matter what’s happening on the pitch. Yes, I’m talking about you, the guy that was sitting in front of me on Saturday. But, then, you wouldn’t remember much about all that.

I suppose this is the bit where I get myself off the hook a little by saying that the majority of Munster’s supporters are knowledgeable and well behaved and it’s only a minority that are a pain in the head. The problem is, I don’t believe that. I’d say it’s about 50-50.

One half live up to the billing while the others think it’s funny to get locked and barge into the opposition’s coaching box at half-time in search of pictures and craic; or infiltrate the press conference afterwards and start asking questions while fellas are trying to work. Okay, I admit that was a bit funny but, I wonder, would they take kindly to a sports hack turning up, pint in hand, at their workplace on a given weekday, having a lash at their job. I imagine they wouldn’t find it so amusing.

On a Munster weekend, anyone that rolls the eyes at the kind of behaviour that would earn an eight-year-old a scolding is accused of “not having the craic”. Is there any situation on these weekends that can’t be explained away as having the craic? Probably violence. To be fair, there’s no air of menace from the your typical Munster fan on the lash. They just struggle to make sense.

Which is kind of at odds with their reputation as the most knowledgeable fans north of New Zealand. No matter how much you know, it’s hard to show it when you’re after a half-keg of Heineken?

It all comes back to the original question, which came first, the most knowledgeable fans or the Heino?

Well, part of the reason I struggle to take the Munster bandwagon entirely seriously is that it didn’t exist a short while ago. Munster may be around since 1879 but when I was growing up in Cork – more recently than 1879 – they weren’t even a thing. Interprovincial games got meagre crowds. I remember getting in to Munster versus world champions Australia in 1992 for a pound, such was the staggering demand.

I know, a lot of genuine rugby aficionados attended All-Ireland league games in big numbers then, and subsequently took up the provincial cause with the dawn of professionalism. A lot of the new fans are enthusiastic and dignified in their support but there’s a bloated underbelly of who wouldn’t be there but for the beer.

The GAA got no end of scrutiny for their association with Guinness. Nobody seems bothered that rugby’s European Cup is not just sponsored by, but named after, a drinks firm. Maybe they ought to be. The beery fans went stale a while back.

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London Irish Singles – September MPU

Ronan Early
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Ronan Early is Sports Editor and columnist with The Irish Post. Follow him on Twitter @RonanEarly

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