An Irishman’s Diary: Swedish football fans create a diversion
‘All right, the bikes are clunky and slow. But on the plus side, you never have to worry about lights or locks again.’ Photograph: David Sleator
On Friday evening last, I cycled into The Irish Times office on an errand (well, actually, I cycled on a bicycle: the errand only happened when I dismounted). And because I didn’t expect to be there long, I forewent the secure underground carpark, instead locking my bike to a pole on Townsend Street.
This, you’ll have guessed already, was a mistake. But I had locked the bike to many pieces of street furniture during the three or four years we were together and hadn’t lost it. The lock was a reasonably good one, having cost – as cycling lobby groups recommend – at least 10 per cent of the bicycle’s value. Besides, it was still daylight.
The street had a regular stream of passersby. And maybe unconsciously, I took added comfort from the fact that my bike was locked under the bronze noses of Countess Markievicz and her dog: a cocker spaniel that in life, apparently, used to annoy republicans so much they wanted to kick it when she wasn’t looking.
Anyway, I got delayed at the office. Among the things that delayed me was a rumpus in the street below that sent many of us rushing to the newsroom window to see what was happening. It turned out to be Swedish football fans, departing the city centre en masse for Lansdowne Road: an extraordinary spectacle.
There were thousands of them, almost all in yellow shirts, and many with colourful headgear, ranging from floppy leprechaun hats to horned helmets. Their migration had been carefully co-ordinated. They even had a Garda escort, which was indeed necessary, because it took nearly 10 minutes for them to pass the busy junction with Tara Street, where traffic had to wait.
Watching this river of Nordic humanity passing down Townsend Street, it struck me how ominously at home the visitors looked in Dublin. As well they might, since it’s their city. Not only did they found it, the part they were now walking through was the historic entry point to Viking Dublin.
Townsend Street marks what was once the Liffey’s southern bank, where the longboats came in. Thus, among the landmarks the football fans were passing was a modern replica of the Long Stone: a marker that stood for centuries to warn of sandbanks and that now bears the likeness of a former Viking ruler of the city, Ivar the Boneless.
This is not so much Town’s end, you could say, as Town’s beginning. So we should have known that home advantage against the Swedes would not count for much in Dublin, and that their modern-day leader, Zlatan-the-ponytailed, would be imposing taxes on the Irish back four before the night was out.
But in the meantime, the game had yet to start. And it was while about to cycle off and watch it somewhere that I returned to the aforesaid pole to find only my broken lock.
No, readers, I’m not suggesting for a moment that Vikings pillaged my bicycle. That would be a stereotype too far. But I wondered afterwards if the spectacle of their mass transit was an unwitting accomplice in the crime, distracting eyes that might otherwise have noticed someone with bolt-cutters or whatever thieves use to cantilever locks against poles until they snap.
Not that much distraction is needed, I know. Bicycle theft happens all the time in Dublin, yet somehow you never see it. And bigger things than my bike have gone missing in the city centre with no apparent witnesses. The original Long Stone was stolen in 1794, I believe. Gardaí at Pearse Street are still waiting for a breakthrough in the case.
This was no consolation as I walked home on Friday, remembering – as always on these occasions – the good times the bike and I had enjoyed together. I’m still too raw now even to think about starting a new relationship with a bicycle soon. On the contrary, the circumstances of the latest theft have dropped a heavy hint that maybe it’s time, belatedly, for me to join the Dublin bike-rental scheme.
There happens to be a station right outside The Irish Times. And under current expansion plans, there will soon be one where I live too. All right, the bikes are clunky and slow.
But on the plus side, you never have to worry about lights or locks again. An enlightened public-private partnership supplies the hardware, and risks are shared by the community at large. Not the least impressive thing about the Dublin scheme, in fact, is how free of theft or vandalism it has been. All considered, it may be the closest we have to what I think is called the “Nordic social model”, although of course that seems like a bitter irony just now.