Red brigade in no mood for unruly Bluebird
Awash in Liverpool livery, Foleys was no place to be for a wiry Welsh Cardiff blue
Cardiff City fans show their support during the Premier League match against Stoke City at Cardiff City Stadium. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images
The first crimson wave of Liverpool supporters surged through the portholes of Foley’s public house on the Clontarf Road over an hour before kick-off at Anfield.
Mostly middle-aged, nearly all male, they were instantly identifiable to Vinny Fitzpatrick by their replica red jerseys, many of which were emblazoned with sponsors associated with the club’s golden age. From his customary pitch by the bar, Vinny noted the retro strips with such familiar names as Crown Paints, Candy and Carlsberg.
Alas, no one had the original of the shirt sponsor species, Hitachi. “A collector’s item,” he mused before returning to his paper for a considered study of the football tables and race cards.
It was Sunday lunchtime and Foley’s was crammed with Liverpool fans, many of whom had been lured, not so much by the Chelsea game live on Sky Sports, but by the €3 a pint promotion for anyone wearing a Liverpool jersey.
As the red tide swirled into every nook and cranny of the watering hole, among them a single blue jersey stood out in defiance, and not a Chelsea one at that, rather Cardiff City.
It belonged to a regular Sunday sipper, Taff, whose allegiance to Cardiff City is inestimable. A recently retired stevedore in his late 50s, Taff was a 5ft baldy, skinny as a rake and as argumentative as a viper. No one knew his real name but it didn’t matter. He was from Wales, so he was Taff.
Blue is the colour
On this Sunday, Taff was at his usual place, close by the telly near the men’s toilets, following the fortunes of his beloved team. He was usually left well alone, and for fair reason, but today the die-hard dynamo found himself enveloped by fans in red – a colour despised by Cardiff City fans.
Taff wriggled uncomfortably as he became imprisoned by Liverpool heads, many of them pot-bellied. At one point, a burly interloper was obstructing his view of the goggle box. “Move lard ass or I’ll bite your bloody head off,” snarled Taff.
As Cardiff were being submerged by a catalogue of Sunderland goals, Taff could have been excused for taking his leave but he stayed stubbornly on the burning bridge. Every two minutes or so, he’d roar out “Bluebirds!” much to the annoyance of the grazing Liverpool wildebeests.
At the final whistle, as Cardiff were crushed 4-0, a defiant Taff repeatedly punched his club crest while mouthing off “Bluebirds! Bluebirds! Bluebirds!”
He was soon drowned out by the Liverpool legions, which included Fran and Macker who were on their feet blasting out a glassy-eyed rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone .
It was all too much for Taff. Before stomping out the back for a fag, the wiry Welsh man placed a beer mat on his pint of ale and made it quite clear no one was to touch either it, or his stool. No one did.
For the first 44 minutes or so, the Liverpool legions oohed and aahed as their title seekers pushed Chelsea on to the back foot. They were sure a goal was coming. It was, but for the other side.
Chorus of disapproval
When Demba Ba pounced on Steven Gerrard’s error, a ghostly silence descended in Foley’s, broken only by a raucous cry.
“Bluebirds!” belted out Taff, provoking a chorus of jeers.
At half-time, a gang of burly Kopites moved menacingly towards Taff, who was standing on his stool, fists raised. “Let’s be having you,” he snarled.
Quickly, Vinny intercepted the lynch mob. “Lads, we don’t want any trouble, do we? Why don’t you leave our Cardiff friend to me,” he said benignly.
Vinny only had a few moments to quell the insurgency. He bent in towards a quivering Taff, so close that he could smell the nicotine and see the twitch in his eyelid.
“Taff, you have two choices. Either sit down and keep schtum, or saddle up and get out of Foley’s. Any more agitation and you’ll be beaten up, and probably barred as well. That’s not what I’d call a win double.”
Taff’s nostrils flared and he gritted his teeth. “You don’t understand, Vinny,” he hissed. “My team is going down like a burning Spitfire and all this lot are worried about is whether they come first or second. They were brought up on Shankly, Paisley and all ‘This Is Anfield’ sentimental hogwash.
“They’ve no idea what it’s like to soldier beside a club through really dark times. For years
Cardiff were ignored like a leper, we were castaways. I never left them, and they never left me.
“Do you remember the League Cup final of two years ago? No one does. But we were all there at Wembley, desperate for our first trophy in 85 years. We led in normal time, and we led again in the penalty shoot-out but we lost to a team used to collecting League Cup wins like Panini stickers – Liver-bloody-pool. If this lot want a fight today, then by God they can have one because I’m going nowhere.”
Vinny placed his arm around Taff’s sinewy shoulders, called two pints from Dial-A-Smile and stationed himself as a bodyguard between Taff and the mob.
“Not a dicky bird from you in the second half,” he said, with a surprising firmness.
A Liverpool equaliser would have eased the rising tension in Foley’s but as the minutes ticked down, Chelsea remained resolute. And then, deep into stoppage time, Chelsea counterattacked for a second goal. It was too much for Taff, who was up on his feet, giving it loads, taunting the hordes. Aware the mood was turning hostile, Vinny put his glass down and beat a hasty retreat towards the sanctuary of the lounge. “I’d cop a dig for Everton but not for Cardiff,” he said to himself.
Behind, there was a sound of scuffling, of stools falling and broken glass. Above the tumult, he heard a stifled plaintive cry: “Bluebirds!”