It may come as a shock to some to learn that there was a time yours truly gave serious consideration to becoming immersed in the local soccer scene. Indeed, the fact is that I had been to several soccer matches before wheels transporting this writer parked up on a GAA pitch. Thanks to the kindness of the great local musician and soccer administrator of his era, Jimmy Maguire.
You see, back then there was a pitch which could be guaranteed to be playable when the headquarters of Dunboyne AFC at the time would’ve been more conducive to kayaking than playing football thereon. The winter pitch was a cattle field, basically. Up what will forever be known to us as Barry’s Lane across the road from our house. The Barry family still live there to this day, with their backyard up whatever remains of the lane.
There are things about living in a country town – even an increasingly urbanised one – which make it so special to those of us that remember how it used to be and long for even a smidgen of how it used to be. An example. There were six different ‘plots’ of land up the lane. Originally all of them had different owners, with the lane being the right of way for all concerned.
At some point shortly before the occupant of this seat was airlifted into the world, I think, all the ground up the lane was bought by a very shrewd property developer who was ahead of his time. And, indeed, the same man would go on to be equally as adept in the arena of horse owner/breeder.
Anyway, there were six fields up the lane, five of which, blessedly from my perspective, were in tillage and farmed by Pat Clarke for as long as they were fields. Indeed, some of them still are, though the landscape may as well be from a different planet compared to what it was then.
However, I will openly admit to absolutely wrecking my family’s heads to push the wheelchair up the old laneway when the lads – including Paul, my brother – would be working up in the fields. The heartbreaking irony, mind you, was that, the first year the wheels here had batteries under them was the last year the fields were there in their original form.
That said, it is for completely different reasons they make an appearance here today. There was one field of the six in permanent pasture. From about March to October it rotated between being closed up for meadow and being grazed by the Parish Priest’s cattle. Yes, you did read that right!
THE PARISH PRIEST’S CATTLE AND A SOCCER PITCH
Fr Ned Rispin was a man ahead of his time. Purchasing parcels of land on behalf of the Parish whereon now lie a Community Centre, a secondary school and a drastically needed extension to the local graveyard. He was also a farmer at heart, keeping some of the finest bovines in the locality and making quite an amount of hay every summer. That is to say, Larry Hogarty and Seamus Maguire knocked and made up the crop for him. God bless the small square bales, literally. Larry still has the old Welger still on the go.
Once baled, Tony Dunne and Martin O’Toole looked after drawing the bales to the shed at the back of the church. With the aid of pitch forks, back breaking labour and a small 80-bale trailer and a tractor borrowed from one of the local farmers. Usually either Paddy McCann’s Ford 5000 or a David Browne 995 owned by Matt Buckley.
Anyway, the reason all that got a spin out which brought a nostalgiac tear to the one seeing eye here was that, once the concecrated cattle were in Dunboyne’s version of the stable in Bethlehem for the winter, the grass field up the lane became the bad weather home of Dunboyne AFC.
I loved going to matches up the lane, for obvious reasons. Like a lot of things in my life, though, making it happen was quite the adventure. There was a wooden fence blocking the gap out to the pitch which, when I was light enough, Jimmy used to lift me over the rails. Then, when my gaining of weight left that avenue a non runner, ‘sliding’ me under the posts, legs first became the gameplan of choice.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, as the players had to tog out in the Community Centre, they had to cross Fr Rispin’s field – dodging either cattle, cowsh** or both before getting to the pitch. A warmup with a difference!
It was around that time, too, that my brother-in-law Kieran started playing soccer with Dunboyne. Which meant a period of double jobbing for myself and dad. Going to a soccer match in the morning and then bolting off to whatever GAA action happened to be on for a given afternoon. Ironically, along with us doing the dual shift would have been the late Paddy Mulreid – founder member and President of the local soccer club and his neighbour and great friend Sonny Lowndes.
With Kieran involved with the club, as one does, we regularly supported club fundraising efforts like the weekly Lotto and any other draws or raffles they might be running. As with any of these things, you enter the likes of such draws never actually expecting to come out victorious. However, towards the end of 1997, mam’s name came out in a draw for tickets to Liverpool vs. Manchester United at Anfield.
Remember, it was said early on that often there has to be a sense of adventure about how I have to get things done. Well, when it emerged the wheelchair spots were all booked out for the day in question, Plan B had to be thought of and put into action rapidly. Which is where Helen Robinson – whose husband Jake has been a mainstay of the soccer club for as long as can be recalled – played an absolute blinder for us by arranging a trip to Old Trafford for us instead. Being an ardent United fan, it was an even better outcome than the original proposal.
What we didn’t realise initially was that the home game against Bolton Wanderers was on Saturday, February 6th. Thus it was the 40 year anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster. A poignant occasion at any time, but, especially with it being four decades since the crash on a snowy German runway took the lives of several members of the original Busby Babes, including Ireland’s Liam Whelan.
Very often over the years, the words Con Houlihan used during his description of the 1978 clash of Kerry and Dublin in the All Ireland SFC – “Those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad” have been applicable to sporting occasions. In other words, they don’t subscribe to the line ‘In an ideal world’. Because it would be wagered what transpired was one of the most boring encounters ever to be played out in the Theatre Of Dreams.
The admirable Scottish midfielder John McGinley gave the visitors an early lead and it took a scrambled late leveller from Andy Cole to save the home side from what would’ve been an embarrassing defeat. Time would prove, of course, that the abject performance that day was typical of performances which would eventually see them lose their title to a rampant Arsenal in their first campaign under the guidance of one Arsene Wenger.
Now, the following his been hinted at over the years, but the time has come for full disclosure. It may come across as a little bit graphic, but that will be at my own expense. At that time, the ability to go to the ‘bathroom’ in a bottle had been mastered, so it was often a running battle not to get caught short. Even though my bladder had trained itself to keep the peace – often to gargantuan levels – the one day it was really required to behave it spectacularly gave me the two fingered salute.
Urine ‘leaking’ is one thing but on this day, of all days, it ended up in a puddle under the manual wheelchair I was in. A steaming puddle. All of which led to the most awkward, uncomfortable 24 hours myself and mam ever spent in each other’s company. Knowing the journey she and I have shared for the past four decades, that’s some statement.
There’s still a sense of shame on my part. Shame and embarrassment. At what the people around us must have thought and at my poor mother having to hike me into a bath by way of restoring some form of dignity. At the point, also, it would have to be admitted that my own heart wasn’t really in the expedition on the weekend in question in the first place. Solely because I was starting into my second full season as P.R.O. of St Peter’s GAA Club and the day we were due back from Manchester coincided with the first day of the season. The problem, though, was that our flight wasn’t due back into Dublin until 8 that night.
All of the above came flooding back to mind most recently – pun entirely intended – during the weekend of the 63rd anniversary of Munich. Yet again, the resolve cropped up to definitely try to get back to Old Trafford. In fact, it should be easier. With Susie by my side now, the obvious course of action would be to be to bring the van and travel over on the boat. Possibly returning the same evening, although there might not be a need to do that now either.
With no small amount of irony, entirely of my own doing, the weekend that was in it almost passed me by before its significance was realised. Main reasoning for which will become very obvious quite quickly. There are some days you simply cannot forget to remember. However, what probably didn’t help was the fact that United’s match this weekend gone was utterly as forgettable as was the fixture wheels holding this writer were parked at.
That might appear somewhat harsh given that the match finished 3-3. Down through the years, the Red Devils have employed some of the most iconic midfielders the game has seen – Denis Law, George Best, Bryan Robson, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. That’s only some of them. You can promptly add the name of Bruno Fernandes to that impressive looking collection.
His acquisition has enabled his employers to regain a little bit of credibility after mismanagement by the Glazer family and Ed Woodward and on-field misfiring by players who, in some cases haven’t repaid a fraction of what was paid for them had turned what was once regarded as the greatest club in the world into average also-rans.
Something again underpinned by the concession of a ridiculously late equaliser after Scott McTominay looked to have spared the home side’s blushes, putting them in front at the beginning of injury time.
Only for Dominic Calvert-Lewin to nab a most unlikely point for Carlo Ancelotti’s charges. In so doing allowing the player atone for some glaring misses earlier in the whilst at the same time underlining that, for all the progress United have undeniably made, they are still well short of the top teams.