Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Keano V Bod - Sporting Icons - Class Warriors

* this post is a little something different and pretty Irish-centric - but stick with it because I'm trying to make a fecking point here.

Run Away! It's The KEANOBOD! (excellent illustration borrowed from the Irish Independent - it was used on a piece I wrote recently)

* I have a good friend who thinks I'm a little obsessed with the Class System - and how we never talk about it in Ireland. He would say that, 'cos he's a upper-middle class eejit.

My theory is - we have a very well defined class system, almost as well-defined as the British one. But while the British are almost painfully aware of the very clearly drawn lines that delineate their society (and rarely stop talking about them), we Irish like to pretend that sure we're all in the same boat lads! From the highest Captain of Industry or Politician to the lowliest street sweeper, you could put any two Irishmen on adjacent barstools and sure they'd find lots in common. Get on like a house on Fire. Bertie made great hay out of this tired old bollix.
What your father did, what school you went to, what sport you played and shout for, the music you listen to or the pubs you drink in - they all mark you down as something - whether it's a Culchie, a Jackeen (pejorative term for a working class Dubliner), a Rugger-Bugger or something else. 

I only need to ask you one question to know everything about you. Are you going to see Garth Brooks in Croke Park this summer? If you are, you're either a Muck-Savage, or that weird breed of Dublin GAA-head that's basically a Bogger In Denial (and one generation away from some Godforsaken hell-hole in Offaly). 

So when I heard that both Roy Keane and Brian O'Driscoll were working on new biogs, it made me think on how the two Irish Sporting Icons - while ostensibly having a lot in common - are actually perfect examples of the class divisions in Irish society (through no fault of there own, I might add, it's not as if Bod walks down Grafton Street wearing a monocle and whacking passing oiks with his malacca cane). 

And here it is - the Irish Class System explained with the help of a Hot-Headed Corkman and a Calm Suburban Dub. 

It's .....BOD V KEANO!
"Who are you callin' a sexy mother-fecker, like?"

Two Irish sporting icons. One, the Golden Boy with the perfect public persona and virtually spotless record, the other, spiky, cantankerous, fiercely charismatic and (in the past at least) deeply divisive.

Brian O’Driscoll and Roy Keane are currently working on major autobiographies and both are employing the services of heavy-hitting ghost-writers. Or at least BOD was, until a parting of the ways with Paul Kimmage.

Keane’s memoir, The Second Half, will be written by Booker-prize winning author Roddy Doyle and should be in bookstores this autumn. Publishers Orion say it will blend "memoir and motivational writing in a manner which both disquiets and 
reassures in Roy Keane’s own original voice".

Brian O’Driscoll’s biography is now on its second ghost writer - following the departure of respected sports journalist and former pro-cyclist Paul Kimmage. And while publishers Penguin Ireland have no confirmed release date as yet, Keano and Bod are expected to go head-to-head in the lucrative Christmas market at the end of this year.

For sports fans and the wider public in general, it should be a fascinating match-up between the two contrasting characters who have dominated Irish sport for two decades.

One is the son of two doctors with a solidly middle-class Dublin background that took in Blackrock College, a scholarship to UCD and a steady rise through the ranks to a glittering career.

The other is a working-class boy from Cork, who reacted to early rejection from pro clubs and the Ireland schoolboys’ setup (a coach later said he was “just too small”) by taking labouring jobs and writing to scores of clubs in England for a trial, before finally getting a late, late chance with Nottingham Forrest.

In the kind of simple terms that marketing men love, it’s The Golden Boy versus The Outsider.

O’Driscoll is already ahead in the popularity stakes. A national survey released last month saw 22 per cent of Irish adults name the Leinster and Ireland star as their most admired Irish sports personality. Katie Taylor came second with 13 per cent while Roy Keane trailed in third at 8 per cent.

The survey from industry experts Onside Sponsorship also confirmed that while the Irish public like O’Driscoll, major Irish businesses love him, with 37 per cent of potential sponsors choosing the rugby player as Ireland’s most marketable sports star.
Just 11 per cent of potential sponsors rated Keane the most marketable.

Red or Dead - BOD

However, the survey was carried out just before Keane’s dramatic return to the Irish set-up. And that unexpected move is likey to change the public's perception of Keane (especially if it goes well and we qualify for a tournament). 

Roy Keane – or at least our perception of him – may be changing. But when put head to head with Brian O’Driscoll, the contrasts between our two greatest sportsmen are glaring. And they include;

·      * Background

Class is an issue we don’t like to talk about in this country, it’s something that the British do and sure aren’t we all Irish, after all? But both men are very much products of their backgrounds. Keane, the working-class boy from the second-city (and a Northsider at that, a distinction that only Leesiders can really get), O’Driscoll, the middle-class Dub. The late-developing Corkman had to cope with lots of rejection in his teen years and scrap and scramble for his chance, O’Driscoll was almost fated from the start to shine.

Early Pic Of BOD

Keane - the soccer player. Traditionally a working class, urban game in Ireland. This has, of course, changed in recent years and there are plenty of middle class kids and men who will shout for Liverpool or Man U. But for the marketing men and many more, soccer is still very much a working and middle class game. The people with serious money (and the men who make the decisions in corporate Ireland) give their hearts to rugby (and golf).

Let's say one of the pillar banks want a "Face" for their marketing campaign. Do they get Roy or Bod? That particular decision will be made in about 2.5 seconds. Not just for reasons of class, of course. Keano is a little too controversial, a little too likely to speak his mind, to front a big marketing campaign.

Another point - and one that was pointed out to me - the "other" Keane, Robbie, has not exactly been embraced by corporate Ireland - strange given that he is the Republic's leading goalscorer, has a big profile at home and abroad (US soccer doesn't get much bigger than David Beckham's old team in LA). Probably a few factors at play here, but you are unlikely to see Robbie Keane fronting a big campaign for a pillar bank. 

·      * Education – Keane went to Mayfield Community School but left when he was 15. He was given an honorary doctorate from University College Cork in 2002 and last year began sponsoring a soccer-scholarship programme at the university.

O’Driscoll went to Willow Park primary school in Blackrock and then on to Blackrock College, before winning a sports scholarship to UCD where he completed a diploma in Sports Management.

·      *   Early Career

Keane had his well-publicised battle with booze, his share of pub brawls and by his own admission, came close to self-destruction. O’Driscoll had a few speed wobbles (the tragic bleached hair, below - the WAG-esque girlfriend) before knuckling down and becoming the ultra-professional rugby star and family man.

BOD GOES BLOND - What DAFUQ were you thinkin, man?

·       *  Family

O’Driscoll is (as you may have heard) married to the actress Amy Huberman, they have a daughter, Sadie.

Roy’s wife Theresa shuns the limelight, they have five children, ranging in age from 18 down, four girls Shannon (the oldest), Caragh, Leah and Alanna and one boy, Aidan (14 and an Arsenal fan).

·     *    Marketability

While O’Driscoll is heavily involved in the kind of commercial partnerships that go with modern A-list sports stardom (deals with the likes of Adidas, Gillette, Lexus as HSBC bank) Keane has mostly stayed away from major corporate sponsorship.

One of Keane’s few forays into that world, a big deal with soft-drink brand 7Up in the run up to the World Cup in 2002, turned into nothing short of a PR disaster when Keane (the face of the slogan “Clearly There’s No Substitute”) left Saipan and the Irish squad in a worldwide blaze of publicity (clearly, there would have to be a substitute).
7Up billboards nationwide were defaced by irate Irish fans and the soft-drinks company found itself in the middle of a second Irish Civil War.

Public Didn't React Well To Keano's Soft Drink Campaign Post Saipan

According to one Irish sports marketing expert I talked to, O’Driscoll will always have the edge; “The guys who make the decisions in corporate Ireland like rugby and they love Bod. He’s their kind of guy. That’s not usually the case with Keane and soccer in general.”
   * Media

For years, journalists would make the annual pilgrimage south to the Irish Guide Dogs For The Blind HQ in Cork City for Roy’s once-a-year Q&A session. A dog-lover and patron of the charity, it was virtually the only Irish media appearance Keane would do (but was always worth hearing).

His punditry work with ITV – in which he regularly gives the hapless Adrian Chiles the terrifying Keano Stare while grimly laying into the consensus view – has seen him loosen up. And Keane’s seldom-seen but highly developed and mischievous sense of humour has been more on show. He’s very self-aware and likes to play around with the “Roy Rage” stereotype.

In his earlier years, Brian O’Driscoll had something of a reputation for showing up late to interviews and PR events. But these days he is the consummate media performer. The complete package.

BOD is also an enthusiastic Twitter user (as is his wife, Amy Huberman). Roy’s attitude to social media can best be summed up as “icy”.

·        * What They Have in Common

Simple - both intense, driven competitors, natural leaders, willing to put their bodies on the line. Both very smart about managing their careers (Bod may shade that) and shrewd with their contracts. They will both be idolised long after they finish playing. 


There’s a good chance that the first people seeking a look at Roy’s book will be lawyers acting for one A Ferguson and possibly the Glazers, current owners of Manchester United.

Roy’s previous biog with Eamon Dunphy famously didn’t pull punches. Or kidney-high tackles. But while we can expect the Corkman to be characteristically blunt, his new writing partner, Roddy Doyle (a Chelsea fan, by the way), may take a less dramatic approach to telling the story.

Expect plenty of headline making digs, kicks, revelations and recriminations. But also a more thoughtful, mature Roy. And lots about his management ups and downs at Sunderland and Ipswich.

Which would you read first? It has to be Keane, innit?


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