The Diary

Cod Almighty | Diary

Unforgettable

18 December 2018

Middle-Aged Diary was lucky enough to spend last Saturday evening in the company of Retro and Wicklow Diaries. We talked about how our memory plays tricks. How our recollection of an event will change over the years as the brain – influenced by what we later read and hear – continues to interpret what we saw and heard and felt at the time.

That is a way that collective memory is formed. Think about Nathan Arnold at Wembley. Is what you are seeing and feeling what you saw and felt at the time? Or has the original memory been reinforced, but also overlaid by the TV pictures and John Tondeur's commentary, which you have been playing over and again, mentally or actually, for two and a half years? Over time we coalesce around a history which is not quite factually true for any one individual but true at the emotional, communal level – when sport is at its best.

Something similar happens with players: we form a collective view based on a thousand incidents. Which incidents we amplify, and get recalled over and again, and which we discount will depend ultimately on which way the balance of opinion goes. I'd have been eight at the time but I am almost ready to swear that I saw Matt Tees win a game with a powerful header, the shape of his body suspiciously like the photos of Tees in action I have seen since. You can be sure that if ever I saw Tees miss with a tame or misdirected effort, it has been wiped.

Some events magnify the reputation of any player. At the moment, we remember that before that play-off final Arnold had also put in some forgettable performances as a Mariner. If we haven't forgotten them in 20 years, I bet our children will have.

Which brings me to James McKeown. He has made the odd error, one in a play-off semi-final. But he has put so much credit in the memory bank that those lapses have long been eclipsed. On Saturday, he was at it again.

One save in particular illustrates how emotionally sharp but factually vague our immediate recall can be. At the Osmond end, a Swindon player rolled the ball across the six-yard box and one of his team-mates slid in. My eyes shifted towards the net, waiting for it to bulge. Only in my peripheral vision did I see an arm – it must have been yellow but it was a blur – divert the ball away from goal. What is vivid is the emotion: astonishment and relief.

As Retro, Wicklow, and Middle-Aged Diaries all agreed on Saturday, we'll remember that save far more coherently in years to come. Or at least I think we all agreed. The memory is a funny thing, especially at midnight in Willy's.