High life sees Vinnie get hung for a goat
AGAINST THE ODDS: Vinny and his gang get tackled by the police after indulging in a taste for heights in Poznan’s main squareFROM A prison cell in the centre of Poznan, Vinny Fitzpatrick heard the Town Hall clock chime nine bells and groaned.
It was Sunday morning. The Republic of Ireland were playing Croatia in less than 12 hours and the plump Dublin bus driver was in trouble. He wasn’t alone.
Across from him, snoring loudly was Fran, his oldest friend, wearing a T-shirt speckled with beer. Down the corridor somewhere were Macker and Brennie – he thought he heard the latter whimpering.
All four Dubs were under arrest for breach of the peace and for causing bodily harm to a pair of sacred goats.
Vinny had objected to the term “bodily harm” on his arrest, pointing out that the goats were inanimate objects but his protestations, slurred as they were, had fallen on deaf ears of the Poznan constabulary.
“How did it come to this?” he said to himself. How did a middle-aged man, a husband, a father and a grandfather, who had never crossed the law in his 54 years, end up in the slammer a thousand miles from home?
At this moment, all he wanted was to be with his wife and kids, sitting in the kitchen at home in Clontarf, having a cup of tea over the Sunday papers.
Instead, he was under lock and key and in grave danger of being given a custodial sentence for the duration of the European Championships, maybe longer, for his involvement in “Goat-gate”.
It had all begun so innocently. The lads had caught a tram in from their camp site by Lake Malta on the east side of Poznan into “an lár” at about five the previous afternoon.
The sun was splitting the stones and the plan was to mooch around the old town and grab some dinner while watching the Holland versus Denmark game. For the most part, the plan worked.
Stary Rynek, the locals’ name for the old square, was where it was all happening. It was a sea of green, white and orange, and red and white, as Irish fans mingled happily with Croats. Every pub was jammers.
Vinny had been chatting to a couple of lads from Zagreb, Savo and Vedran, about his concerns over a lack of pace in the Croatia defence, when he spotted a living Irish legend, Kevin Kilbane, walking past.
“Jaysus, lads, it’s Killer,” he said. “C’mon let’s get a pic.” Macker suggested leaving him alone but Vinny wasn’t having it. Not only was Killer one of his favourite players, he’d also played for Vinny’s beloved Everton
A few minutes later, he returned all smiles, reporting that Kilbane was as pleasant in person as he came across on the telly.
“A true gentleman,” he said. “He even asked if there was a game of ball among the Irish fans to let him know ’cos he’s brought his boots.”
Fran chipped in: “I’d have picked him in the squad for the finals as I’m not sure about young Ward at left-back.”
As the evening rolled on, the lads had a blast. Vinny won the sweep on the first game, collecting 800 zloty – about €200 – for guessing the Danes would beat the Dutch 1-0.
He had doubled up on Germany to beat Portugal by the same score but with 20 minutes to go, the game was scoreless when Brennie, all of a sudden, mentioned the goats.
“Do you see the tower at the top of the Town Hall?” he said, pointing skywards.
“Well, every day at noon two mechanical goats appear up there and they head butt one another for a minute. It’s based on a legend from medieval times and is a huge tourist attraction, says Wotjek here.”
Vinny studied Wotjek. He was a wiry, crop-haired chap in his 40s, wearing a Lech Poznan football shirt, who had somehow inveigled himself into their company.
“Would you like to go inside the tower? For some of the money you won, Mr Vinny, I know a way up there through the cellars.”
Brennie and Fran were all for it. Macker, who had a fear of heights, and Vinny, who had a fear of doing anything wrong, were not so sure.
“Don’t worry,” said Wotjek. “Privileged visitors get brought up there every day. My cousin is a guide and he made me a copy of the keys. I earn a little money on the side by arranging private viewings.”
Just then, there was a huge roar as Germany scored. The square erupted – goals do that to football-daft folk. “Come now, while the fans are distracted,” whispered Wotjek.
A few minute later, the five men were inside the Town Hall.
The final part of the ascent involved a breath-taking climb up twisting stone steps where Vinny was almost dropped.
First to the summit was Wotjek. As he was about to slip a key into the lock of an old wooden door, he put out his hand. “That will be 200 zloty, please. It’s worth it, for the view.”
Soon, the lads were out on a tiny veranda flanked by two pillars overlooking the town square.
Way down below, Irish and Croat fans were milling around, looking like an army of ants.
“We might as well be hung for a sheep or a lamb, or even a goat,” grinned Brennie as he and Fran shuffled out on the balcony. Olé, olé, olé, olé,’ they shouted as loud as they could. “Olé, olé.”
“We’re on the march with Trap’s army, we’re on our way to Poz-a-nan and we’ll really shake them up when we win the Euro Cup, ’cos Ireland are the greatest football team.”
From down below, Vinny could see a few heads look up towards them. Suddenly, the attention was viral and thousands of supporters raised glasses and voices at the chanting from the heavens.
It was utter madness and Vinny felt intoxicated. This was Joxer in Stuttgart, with knobs on. He shifted out to the balcony and began shouting his potato-sized head off. “Olé, olé, olé, olé.’
Behind him, he heard a groan. Macker’s vertigo had kicked in. “Lads, I have to go back down,” he said.
As Vinny went to help his friend, Macker half-stumbled. He stuck out an arm to steady himself and pushed against a lever that Vinny hadn’t noticed before.
A few seconds later, there was a loud grating. Vinny felt a movement below his feet. The balcony floor began to move, like a conveyor belt. “Lads, something is happening here,” he cried
Suddenly, there was a wail from Wotjek. “The goats are coming, the goats are coming!”
On one side of the balcony the pillar parted and Vinny saw a flash of silver as a giant mechanical goat, complete with curved horns, emerged from the darkness.
At the opposite side of the balcony, another goat appeared from its concrete den, almost knocking Brennie for six.
The lads stood transfixed, backs tight to the wall as the goats began to head-butt the bejaypurs out of one another, creating an awful racket. It was like something from a Harry Potter movie, thought Vinny.
Just as the goats finished scrapping and slid back into their lairs, the police arrived. For Vinny and the lads, a long day’s journey into night had begun.
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