I have a running Google doc of half-baked ideas for potential projects and enterprises. One of these is a podcast called Steak & Chips, in which I would interview GAA players about their pop cultural influences.
I used to love those player profiles that were ubiquitous in Munster championship programmes in the nineties and early noughties, the ones that asked all the important questions: favourite music, favourite film, favourite food. The delightful thing was that there seemed to be a range of acceptable answers that no one strayed too far from, no matter what county they hailed from or position they played. Favourite music was inevitably Christy Moore or Bruce Springsteen. Favourite film was The Shawshank Redemption or some manner of mafia film. Favourite food was always, without fail, steak and chips.
I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection between sport and pop culture, and it has expanded hugely since those nineties terrace summers. With not a huge amount of live sport on the telly at present, and Covid puncturing those fixtures that are in the schedule, at least we have plenty of media about sport to keep us ticking over. Here are some forthcoming highlights to watch out for in 2022:
Readers of these pages will already be familiar with Tadhg Coakley’s insight and wonderful prose style, and this memoir-cum-essay collection about his lifelong relationship to sport promises to be special. Subscribers to The Stinging Fly literary magazine will recall his stunning essay ‘Five Moments in Sport’ from the summer 2019 issue, which opens, unforgettably, with the following: ‘I have only one memory of my father kissing me. I was eighteen years old. It happened on the long curved platform of Kent Station, Cork, the night after the All-Ireland Hurling Final of 1979, when my teammates and I had brought the minor cup home.’ Coakley is particularly good on masculinity and the emotional resonance of sport; don’t miss this.
This dual biography of Jack and Bobby Charlton, from the author of the excellent Inverting the Pyramid, should have particular Irish interest, for obvious reasons. This book traces the lives of the brothers, from growing up together in a coalmining village in the north of England; through successful careers at Leeds and Man Utd; to winning a World Cup together in 1966; to their management careers, and beyond. The book will explore their political differences and eventual falling-out, as well as taking in extraordinary incidents such as the Munich air disaster, which Bobby survived. Two fascinating life stories in their own right, but together, an irresistible yarn.
A little-seen cinematic release in late 2021, King Richard will have a resurgence on streaming platforms this year when Will Smith inevitably sweeps awards season for his portrayal of Richard Williams, father and coach of Venus and Serena. Beginning in 1980s Compton, the film follows the sisters’ early lives and tennis careers, ending with Venus turning pro in 1994 (the rest, we know). It’s an exploration of both fatherly ambition and fatherly love, as well as the family’s challenges trying to break into a predominately white, affluent sport. Rent it now on iTunes or the Google Play store.
This three-part series should help sports fans through the last of the January blues. The Perfect Chaos will track Neymar’s career, from beginnings in Santos to his heyday in Barcelona and now Paris Saint Germain, taking in his performances with the Brazilian national team and various controversies along the way. Featuring contributions from David Beckham, Lionel Messi, and Kylian Mbappé, the series promises to give an intimate insight into this uniquely gifted (if divisive) star. The trailer – in which Neymar compares himself to both Batman and the Joker – looks intriguing, to say the least.
Netflix series The Last Dance was one of the pop-cultural heroes of the early pandemic. Along with (admittedly unlikely bedfellows) Tiger King and Taylor Swift’s folklore, the Michael Jordan series gave us a shared cultural touchstone when we could not gather physically. It also proved that, like most great media about sport, you don’t have to be an expert in the game itself to enjoy the story. Now ESPN, the network behind The Last Dance and the great sports documentary series 30 For 30, are back with a six-part deep dive into the career of Derek Jeter, a 20-year veteran of the New York Yankees and widely regarded as one of the greatest shortstops of all time. His career (1995-2014) coincided with an era of enormous social and historical change in New York, and his leadership helped change the Yankees from a struggling franchise into a dominant force in baseball. It will help if you like baseball to begin with (which I do, even if I’m more of a Red Sox fan) but this should be compelling viewing regardless.
There is an interesting book to be written about sports star endorsements of video games. While most sports video games carry the name of their organising entity, such as FIFA, they can also be a lucrative money-spinner for individual megastars like Tony Hawk or John Madden, who gave their names to skating and football games respectively. The venerable PGA Tour Golf is very much my type of video game – calm, diverting, nothing much at stake – and has been running in some form since 1990. It wasn’t until Tiger Woods signed up to be the face of the game in 1998 that the franchise exploded. When Woods left in 2013, a subsequent iteration featuring Rory McIlroy did not perform as well, leaving the game to be shelved for several years. However, EA Sports have announced their intention to resurrect the franchise sometime in 2022; April, to coincide with the Masters in Augusta, would be a safe enough bet.