20 years ago a previously unknown word entered the Irish vocabulary – saipan
Not unlike another spectacular eruption almost two millennia earlier, the one that engulfed Pompeii, the story has immortalized Roy Keane’s channeling of his inner Vesuvius.
The events of the summer of 2002, like the unfortunate Pompeians, are frozen forever in time, buried under the ashes of the Corkman’s raging indignation.
Twenty years ago last Tuesday I boarded a plane with Keane and Mick McCarthy bound for a tiny 12 x 6 mile piece of Pacific rock via stops in Amsterdam and Tokyo.
It would prove to be the sporting equivalent of sitting next to JFK on that fateful November afternoon in Dallas when the President’s motorcade drove through Dealey Plaza and Lee Harvey Oswald trained his Mannlicher Carcano rifle through an open window on the sixth floor of the building Texas School Book Depository.
Here was a ringside seat for an immortal, grotesque, unsettling moment.
In hindsight, as we hurtled east at 500 mph, it should have been the foreboding soundtrack announcing that the eponymous, bloodthirsty great white of Jaws was approaching the waters of Amity Island.
A previously unknown word was about to make its way into Irish vocabulary: saipan.
Through the fog of the passing years (it’s amazing how little I can conjure up of these weeks), certain moments retain a vivid clarity.
A highly agitated Keane berates a number of journalists at Schiphol Airport for their attitude towards his recent failure to appear for Niall Quinn’s testimonial.
It was an early and ominous warning that the volcano was already rumbling and the magma that would form a Pacific Ring of Fire was already boiling in Keane’s inner furnace.
At the Tokyo Transit Lounge, Shay Given played a Gift Grub Radio Roy sketch over a boom box that I remember.
I watched in fascination as the real Keane listened to his Mario Rosenstock alter ego.
The cool, frosty smile on Roy’s face was straight out of the freezer compartment of a Zanussi refrigerator or the cold room of the city morgue.
The lasting memory of Saipan – think the Canary Island of the Orient – is the overwhelming, unbearable humidity.
Within five seconds of stepping out of our air-conditioned hotel, we were drenched in sweat. In the clammy, liquid heat, every Irish head was a dissolving block of ice.
Not the best place to transport a fraying temper.
I remember Mick McCarthy’s well-intentioned, if spectacularly ill-advised, gathering of media and actors in a beachfront garden area of her hotel.
Once the MC called a player and a writer onto the stage to participate in a traditional island dance.
Robbie Keane has worked with many uncoordinated duds throughout his football life, but his rhumba with Your Correspondent was certainly a career low.
An anarchic drinking session ensued in the Beefeater Bar until dawn. Most of the squad except for Keane, Lee Carsley, and maybe one or two others were in attendance, along with a dozen journalists, their faces thirsty and flushed.
There were games, fights, chaos, paper games. And lots of alcohol. A little over a week before Ireland’s World Cup opener against Cameroon, it was chaotic, unruly, lawless, borderline mad.
I remember Steve Staunton getting angry about an article I wrote in which he questioned the morals of well paid footballers who were awarded money making testimonials.
A very upset teammate, holding a beer bottle unsteadily, eyes darkened, asked Staunton if he wanted the situation “cleared”.
Ian Harte enthusiastically wandered the bar with a snooker cue, inviting anyone and everyone to join him in a setting of pool.
Another player seriously questioned journalists why his lifestyle should be a topic of conversation. At that very moment, at 4am, a week before the World Cup kicked off, he was cradling a lit cigarette while holding two beers.
He didn’t seem to notice the irony.
Barely 100 yards away, wrestling with his own demons, no longer a drinker, Keane sat alone in his hotel room.
A few days later came the row that shattered all prospects and ended an age of footballing innocence that had spawned the mad glory of Euro ’88 and Italia ’90.
We all took sides (although I knew McCarthy well and had officially ghostwritten his newspaper column, I volunteered on the Keane side of the Civil War), subtlety and perspective among the first casualties in the raging crossfire.
All these years later, I look back on that time of ugliness and cruelty with humiliating embarrassment.
In our immature, seething overreactions, many of us let go of our mindless, rabid, inner buffoon.
Cracks that took the longest to heal were opening in a number of my closest friendships. Too many of us, who should have known better, have gotten a little lost in our dizzying ascent to high moral values.
The overwhelming sense of Keane’s absence, and the shattering of optimism that accompanied it, cast a somber shadow as the tour party advanced on Japan.
I remember sitting in the press box in Niigata for the opening game against Cameroon and not caring how Ireland did.
Too much had been said, too many emotions ignited.
Six thousand miles away, alone with his thoughts, a teetotaler took Roy Keane Triggs for another walk through the leafy lanes of Cheshire.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/world-cup/20-years-ago-a-previously-unknown-word-entered-the-irish-vocabulary-saipan-41662281.html 20 years ago a previously unknown word entered the Irish vocabulary – saipan