David Hirshey writes regularly for Deadspin about soccer
There are few people that would cause the Kinsale crowd to put down their pints on Saturday morning, turn away from the TV screens and pay their respects. A naked Scarlett Johansson comes to mind, a naked Natalie Portman comes to mind, a naked Scarlett Johansson comes to mind again and, of course, Martina Hingis slathered in Toblerone. But it's a rare man who would inspire such reverence.
Ronaldinho, sure, Zidane, bien sur. David Beckham, slathered in Toblerone. Mmmm. But when Raj shouted above the din "James Fuckin Bond is in the house," attention was paid, beers were hoisted and everyone searched for Pussy Galore — even more than usual.
That's right, Sean Connery had just walked into Kinsale.
And I was just where you'd expect me to be for such a momentous occasion—whining like a little bitch in my bed of pain, watching the games at home for the first Saturday since 1932.
Turns out that Sir Sean wasn't even there for the soccer. His beloved Scotland was playing England in rugby that morning, though I'm told he stole a few glances at the TVs over the bar, which were showing the FA Cup matches. There, he saw his old friend Alex Ferguson about to spontaneously combust as the Manchester United manager raged at the referee for not calling a penalty kick after Ronaldo was poleaxed in the box. Connery's ManU fandom runs deep. Back in the 50's he was such a promising player himself that United tried to sign him. But he decided to concentrate on acting or maybe they just won't let him wear 007 on his jersey.
Alas, having James Bond in their corner didn't help ManU against Portsmouth on Saturday because in the FA Cup, you only live once.
Portsmouth's victory was an upset of Appalachian State-esque proportions — the team hadn't won a game at Old Trafford in over 50 years — and yet it was relatively ho-hum compared to the later FA Cup match in which a bunch of no-hopers from the dregs of the Championship beat those Prada-wearing, Lamborghini-driving mercenaries .Yes, repeat after me, Barnsley 1, Chelsea 0. Or to put it another way Premiership Giant Killers 1, Overpaid Twats 0.
This is, of course, the magic of the REAL March Madness — a bullshit team in the FA Cup playing the game of their lives to knock off an elite team whose reputation alone practically etches their name on the trophy. Which is why in a competition whose last five winners have come from the so-called Big Three plus Liverpool, we now have the following semifinalists: Portsmouth, Barnsley, West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff City. That would be like the Final Four of the NCAA tournament reading: Illinois, Winthrop, George Mason and Southern Mississippi.
And it's not like either ManU or Chelsea fielded their second or third stringers either, although Chelsea manager Avram Grant perhaps under the impression that Lampard and Drogba were Jewish gave them the Sabbath off. Still, any team boasting Ballack, Essian, Joe Cole and John Terry should be able to easily cope with a club that couldn't beat Scunthope United in their league. Of course, that's what Liverpool thought when they played Barnsley two weeks ago in the FA Cup and we all know how that turned out, don't we, you poor, deluded Scousers? Feel better now that Barnsley proved you weren't the only shite team in the Prem?
Though no one will confuse Barnsley with the 1970 Brazilian World Cup team, the Tykes can play a little football. Sure, there's much hoofing and hoping to their game but their defense was as organized and brave as any I've seen this season. After taking the lead in the 68th minute, they somehow managed to hold out against a Chelsea bombardment that was as relentless as it was inaccurate. And when the final whistle blew, the 19,000 home fans , most of them kids with shit-eating grins, all poured onto the field in a scene of sweet delerium. Through the on-field madness, you could glimpse the spectral figure of Avram Grant walking slowly toward the locker room wearing the doomed expression of a man who knows he's about to board the train to Roman Abramovich's gulag.
At least Grant had the decency to credit his opponent with having played a "courageous" game. Fergie, for his part, made it clear in his spittle-flecked postgame rant that the better team lost. Seriously, isn't it getting a bit old to watch Ol Purple Face losing his shit and whining about "biased" refereeing? Even if you were to allow that United were jobbed out of a clear penalty, that missed call happened in the 10th minute, meaning United still had 80 minutes to show its superiority. But this being the FA Cup, you need more than huge reserves of talent and United had none of the other critical ingredient: luck. Three times they looked to have scored, only for Portsmouth defenders to twice clear off the line and for their goalie David James to make a miraculous fingertip save of a Patrice Evra shot. Add to that the missed sitters from Rooney and Ronaldo, the red card given to United's backup keeper Tomasz Kuszczak (how great was it to see Rio Ferdinand in goal?) and you can understand why Fergie's head nearly exploded like a mailbox in Times Square.
Leave it to Arsenal, of all teams, to cheer up the old boy. By drawing with Wigan, the Gunners dropped two vital points in their fierce duel for the Prem title, allowing United with a game in hand to go top if they win their next match. If ManU does take the league, Fergie ought to send a bouquet of mulch to Wigan's groundskeepers as thanks for doing everything in their power to ensure that the pitch at the JJB Stadium would be uglier than Jimmy Bullard.
This is not to suggest that that the quagmire was the sole reason for Arsenal 's dreary performance but it certainly didn't help matters. Besides having to adjust their fast-flowing one-touch game to a grassless bog, the Gunners let themselves be outmuscled and outhustled by a gritty Wigan team fighting to stay out of the relegation zone. It took only 45 seconds for Arsenal fans to realize that this wasn't going to be their day when Adebayour broke clear through the Lattics' defense and had only the keeper to beat. But Chris Kirkland came barreling out of his net to deny the Togonator and Arsenal didn't have another good chance until the final minutes when Kirkland thwarted Fabregas from point blank range. So how does a team go from being the tits (eliminating the Champions League holders AC Milan at the San Siro) to the pits (recording their third Prem draw in a row) in five days?
As I'm sure Roger Moore would have told me had he been at Kinsale on Saturday, live and let die.