‘I will never, ever understand the game of soccer. And thank God for that’

Illustration: Alan Clarke

Illustration: Alan Clarke


The objective of soccer, for the vast majority of Irish Times readers who’ve never watched the game, is to pass the ball about the place without using one’s hands, then at some point, if the opportunity arises, to kick it between one of two sets of posts that are situated at either end of the pitch – under the bar, by the way, instead of the more logical over?

Other than that, I might as well be watching interpretive dance for all I understand of the game – although one further thing I can state without fear of contradiction is that my son is having a total mare here today. He’s putting in the effort, there’s no doubt about that. But he honestly hasn’t touched the ball once and I know that because I haven’t taken my eyes off him all morning.

We’re in, like, Manchester for this long-awaited trial of his, which, by the way, is taking place, not in the Manchester United Soccer Stadium, but on a pitch in the middle of some random estate. And when I say an estate, I don’t mean the kind of estate I grew up on. I’m talking about literally a housing estate, where kids learn to count in eighths and the baby seat in a supormarket shopping trolley is for riding shotgun to the local off-licence.

“Mon, Ronan,” Kennet shouts. “Lerrim know you’re thayer. Lerrim know you’re thayer,” and then he turns around to Shadden – his daughter and Ronan’s girlfriend – and goes, “Has he touched the b, b, b, ball once? I doatunt think he’s t, t, t, touched it once.”

“He has,” I go, because I’m not going to stand there and listen to him knock my son. “He’s touched it loads of times and I know that because I haven’t taken my eyes off him all morning.”

Ronan suddenly has a chance from a corner kick, except he swings his foot at the ball and manages to miss it totally. He kicks the post in frustration.I’m wondering is it all the drinking and smoking he’s done in his 16 years.

“He’s f, f, f, fookenblowenhe’s big ch, ch, chadance,” Kennet goes. “That’s all’s Ine saying.”

I decide not to let him get to me.

I just shout, “You’re playing a really good game out there,” sounding weirdly like Sorcha when she used to stand around in Donnybrook watching me play rugby.

Shadden’s giving it, “Man on, Ro! Man on!” getting herself seriously worked up. She clearly expected today to go better than it’s going, given that she’s already storted dressing like a wag, with the fake tan, the genuine replica Herve Leger bandage dress and the lips frozen in a permanent pout like a turbot that hasn’t been well.

And that’s when I hear it. Dordeen, Shadden’s old dear, goes, “He’s lubbly, idn’t he?” and she nods in the direction of this Spanishy-looking kid, this Spanishy-looking kid who isn’t Ronan, this Spanishy-looking kid who’s scored two goals so far. “He keeps lookenober at you, Shadden.”

“Does he?” Shadden goes, clearly delighted with herself. She runs her gel nails through her hair extensions and flutters her fake lashes in the dude’s general postcode.I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Girls are always looking to trade up.

“At least he’s not b, b, b, blowen he’s big opportudity,” Kennet goes. “Like some I could m, m, m, m, menchidden.”

“Come on, Ro,” I shout in response to this. “Try to get the ball and then kick it into the goal.”

Seriously, I’ve turned into my wife.

Five minutes later, the referee blows the whistle and the trial is over for Ronan. You could say the trial is over for all of us. Ronan doesn’t even look over at us, just walks to the dressing-room, staring at the ground. There may even be tears.

A dude with a clipboard tips over to us. He’s like, “Which one of you is here with Ronan O’Carroll-Kelly?”

I swear to God, I watch Kennet, Dordeen and Shadden turn and stortlooking in the opposite direction. I even hear Kennet go, “Say nuttin.”

I’m just like, “Me. I’m Ronan’s father and I’m proud of that basic fact.”

The dude smiles at me. He goes, “So you should be. We’d like to take another look at him. We’d like to bring him over for a month.”

I’m like, “A month?”

I look at Shadden and her old pair, except they’re not listening. They’re staring at the Spanishy-looking kid, who Kennet describes as being like a young Cristiano Ronaldo, whoever the fock that is.

I’m there, “A month?” still in genuine shock. “Look, Dude, I’m obviously no kind of judge, but he didn’t touch the ball out there – as in, not even once?”

The dude laughs. “It’s not about how many times you touch the ball,” he goes. “For a striker, it’s about making the right runs, finding space for yourself, showing good instincts. They’re the kind of things we look for.”

“I’ve no idea what any of that means. You might as well be reading the stock market prices to a gerbil.”

“I’m saying that Ronan did all the right things. He was the stand-out player for me.”

“Seriously? Not the Spanishy-looking kid?”

“No, not the Spanishy-looking kid. Anyway, I’ll go and tell him the news.”

I will never, ever understand the game of soccer. And thank God for that.

The dude heads for the dressing room. Kennet and Dordeen tip over to me, Shadden following them unsteadily on her six-inch heels, like a Wesley Disco foal.

“I’ve a good m, m, m, mooyunt to send you a b, b, b, biddle,” Kennet goes.

I’m like, “A bill? What for?”

“Shadden’scloawits,” he goes. “That thress is a genuiddin fake Harvey Ledger.”

“And her tadden,” Dordeen goes. “Her heerextenshiddens. Her H.D. browuz.Who’s gonna pay for irrall?”

Kennet’s like, “We were gonna send the p, p, p, peer of them off to Dubai to c, c, cedeberrate. Someone’s gonna have to g, g, give us eer deposit back.”

All of a sudden, Ronan steps out of the dressing room, grinning from ear to ear, like the cat that got the canary. I’ve never been more proud of him than I am at that moment.

“Ine through,” he goes. “Thee waddent to see me again in August.”

Shadden throws her orms around his shoulders and presses her sink-plunger lips to his face.

And Kenneth goes, “Nebberdourit you, Ronan. Nebberdourit you for a midute.”

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