Not about Bohemian FC’s next opponents, nor those who lie in wait in the weeks and months ahead.
It’s of a greater, invisible opponent — one that is discernibly shaping the present and threatens to leave an indelible mark on the future.
The opponent: the climate emergency.
The issue is a very real and personal one for the Irishman.
He’s a resident of Phibsborough, a neighborhood in the north of Dublin, and a member of local club, Bohemian FC.
In January this year the top-flight Irish football team unveiled McCabe as their new signing.
Community led sustainable practice
The inconvenient truth is that the global game is not immune to changing climactic conditions.
Heatwaves and heat stroke will threaten the health of both players and fans alike.
The warnings are stark but simple yet powerful notion lies at the heart of McCabe’s ethos and role.
It’s a belief that local communities can play a key and participatory role in owning climate action and as a consequence bridge the inequality gap.
He speaks of how working in a hospice in Kolkata with some of the city’s poorest inhabitants left “an indelible mark,” while spending time in Sierra Leone shortly before Ebola hit exposed “the thirst for resources.”
“It [the climate crisis] can’t become about the future of children in developed countries when the present of people in developing countries is at risk.
“The world didn’t end up with rich areas and poor areas by accident — it’s man made,” he explains.
“There’s not that many things left in the world that people are lifetime members of. There were unions and churches at one point but now I think football clubs are one of the only things that someone feels a part of them belongs to.”
A unique, progressive club
Bohemians isn’t not your average football club.
The message, however, throughout has been about the wider collective.
The collar featured the slogan “Love Football, Hate Racism.”
Orders poured in from more than 40 countries worldwide and an option to play in the jersey was made possible in EA Sports’ FIFA 21 video game.
Bohemians’ commitment to tackling climate change is no different.
Bohemians’ Greta Thunberg?
Whilst, according to McCabe, the debate around the climate emergency has over the last decade, “stopped being about polar bears and started being about children,” doubters still remain.
Replies on social media to his appointment were largely unfavourable.
“You want people to challenge you. You want to try to move into the spheres where these conversations aren’t happening and that was a sure sign that we were doing that,” he explains.
“I am very humbled. It’s a very unique opportunity […] It’s in no way daunting to me. What’s much more daunting is the crisis itself.”
McCabe is under no illusions that whilst the scope for change is limitless, actions will speak louder than words.
“People are tired of just being advertised at […] We can differentiate between what’s real, what matters and something shiny.
“It’s genuinely about getting into the community and making change that people respond to.”
For now, exploratory discussions are underway as to how Bohemians can become an effective zero-waste club.
McCabe sees opportunities in mining the supply chains that flow into the game, pressing leaders to up their commitment to climate change and pushing sponsors to work with clubs to advance community-led sustainable initiatives.
“The EFDN member clubs have well over half a billion followers on social media.
“We need football clubs to start mobilizing their social media to help their fans, because at the end of the day, clubs draw their legitimacy from their fans.
“It’s not about politicizing clubs. It’s about helping your fans move through this very serious transition that we have to move through and creating platforms for them to explain to decision makers the realities of their lives.”
“For the younger generation, sincerity matters”
Whilst McCabe is acutely aware of the current challenges that climate change presents, he believes it’s imperative that the considerations of future generations are at the forefront of climate justice thinking.
“For the younger generation now, sincerity matters a lot more to them than maybe it mattered to our generation.
“It’s really important that we at least have the same courage as the children.
Ultimately, though, it could be role models within the game who evolve to become the real vocal proponents of change.
“Young people are going to look up to those sports stars who really do put their head over the parapet,” says McCabe.
“He (Marcus Rashford) put his reputation on the line to try to do what was right by his community.
“There’s a real opportunity, particularly for footballers coming from countries where droughts and floods and severe storms are occurring most often to do what Marcus Rashford has done and highlight those dimensions of climate.”
Vanguard of world football
McCabe, though, is under no illusions that if football is to be a “global leader” in climate justice, a collective effort will be needed across the board — one which he hopes can be led by the Dublin outfit.
“I think if we’re to really supercharge this going forward the sharing of knowledge, the sharing of information, the sharing of toolkits and resources to help clubs move forward will be so important.”
It’s a project which he says provides a huge transformative opportunity for the club to apply its climate justice credentials both on and off the pitch.
“I’d love to be in a new stadium where you have a roof bedecked with solar panels and fans who are on board with climate action and have actually forgotten that it’s even happening.
“We want them to know that they are part of the battle for a fair and safe future for our children and grandchildren.
“But that they’re still watching a team lift the League One title … potentially in a jersey made out of bamboo fabric!”