Our night began with an inauspicious start. The express bus which we hoped would get us to the Ireland vs USA game at the Aviva Stadium on time arrived half an hour late. When that last happened, I near missed a flight to Birmingham. Nobody at the bus station ever seems to know why there is a delay: a shrug of the shoulders in response to queries about the slow express. It’s a bit like talking to Mark Benton in those Nationwide ads.
|Behind the nets|
My son and I missed the opening 15 minutes and the first of Ireland’s four goals. It detracted nothing from his enjoyment. Being of dual nationality he was like a dog with two tails, unsure which one to wag. So he opted for the USA, under the influence of his mum, no doubt. But as the match progressed he cheered for Ireland and applauded each goal. The making of a politician I thought. This was the same kid who cried his lamps out when the Germans took Ireland apart in the last European championships.
We ended up in the worst seats in the ground, right behind the Ireland goal in the first half where everybody wanted to stand up for the duration of the game rather than sit. So nobody could see without climbing on to seats and craning their necks. Not for me. While Rónán chanted and flapped about, I stayed nonchalantly on my jaxie viewing much of it on the big screen at the far end of the ground. Watchable but still something I could have done in the warmth of the pub were I willing to forego the atmosphere. My wife has since been instructed to book seats in the top row for future fixtures. But wives, like daughters, are immune to the intrusion of instruction so I don’t see that being a runner.
I have been at numerous live football games either side of my jail time. There have been countless goals but I could not describe one of them. Last night’s final goal will remedy that. It was such an exquisitely placed free kick from the gifted boot of Robbie Brady that it will live on in my memory as the best goal I have seen scored at a live game.
It was adequate consolation for being perched behind the USA net in the second half where somebody in the seat to my rear raucously roared in tuneless falsetto to his heart’s content for the whole game. At first, because of the voice, I thought it was a woman who for some reason was not allowed to talk in the house and was eager to let loose with a high pitched tone that Guantanamo torturers might consider an alternative to waterboarding. But when I realised he was a kid there was no point in being grumpy about it. If you can’t stand the noise of a football stadium, don’t go. I could still hear his shrill teenage, if even that, voice ♫Stand up for the boys in green♫ pounding in my mind’s ear as I drifted into sleep.
Live soccer games, I love them, the ambience, the din, all of it bar the waiting for kick off. Attending them with my son is one of the high points of fatherhood. Someday he will make it to the famous Anfield Kop. I was five when my father first took me to a live game. Whereas I got to watch the home internationals, as they were called, Rónán has been less insular in his viewing, seeing teams from further afield than Scotland, England and Wales. He reckons Drogheda United could give England a run for their money.
So, these are the moments to cherish and for him to carry into the future and pass onto his own children when that moment too lines up for its turn to be cherished. Vibrant, boisterous, noisy, full of life, sucking in the atmosphere and bellowing it out with all the might his nine year old lungs can muster, his immersion in the soccer culture intoxicates him with one of life's less harmful substances. On the way out, the crowds were dense and the pace snail like. It seemed a longer trek than usual to put distance between ourselves and the Stadium, slowly fading behind us. Rónán said it was like a scene from The Walking Dead. I gripped his arm, having told him if we got parted he must approach no one but a Garda, and under no circumstances a priest.
Guiding him through life is like steering him through that throng of impediments outside the Aviva. It is constant navigation and negotiation, as the boundaries shift, while the hand on his shoulder is incrementally prised away in that inexorable journey from my grip to his own.
Not every parent is as fortunate. Society does not always protect its children. In the North last week eight year old Adam Gilmour died as he walked a dangerous road on his way to school. His fate, the result of government bureaucracy failing to fork out the money for a school bus, preferring instead to push the public purse of Sisyphus up the hill of insatiable greed and into the bottomless pockets of fictitious companies and phoney cultural fronts. For such observations BBC Spotlight will now too be an enemy of the fleece process.
Meanwhile back to my son ...