The Lost Shoe Diaries - Part VII

“There’s a lad on the staff of the hotel,” said Roy. “He’s a top, top operator. I want him in Lille.”

“Well, there’s no shame in losing to the second best team who aren’t as good as everyone thinks they are in the world.”

“Well, there’s no shame in losing to the second best team who aren’t as good as everyone thinks they are in the world.”

 

There’s one thing you have to say about the Irish: we never let failure, or even abject humiliation, go to our heads. Whether we draw, lose or get absolutely slaughtered, we’re always the same gas bunch.

I was making this point on Saturday night to my two travelling companions, the member of the association staff and the member of the officer board. We were drowning our sorrows, as the fella said, over a few pints in the lobby of the hotel in Bordeaux. The officer was saying that he still thinks Belgium are overrated, but on balance he’d have to say that they’re probably the best overrated team in the world right now.

“Well, there’s no shame in losing to the best overrated team in the world,” I said.

“There’s certainly not,” he agreed.

“Italy are another team,” I suggested, “who aren’t as good as everyone thinks they are. As a matter of fact, I’d say they’re probably the second best team who aren’t as good as everyone thinks they are in the world.”

“I think we’ve every chance of beating them.”

“I agree with you. But, you know, if we get hockeyed again . . . ”

“Well, there’s no shame in losing to the second best team who aren’t as good as everyone thinks they are in the world.”

“Now you’re talkin’, Christopher Walken! ”

The member of staff was having none of this half-glass-full philosophical talk. He was on a completely different buzz to us, having already switched to shorts – drinks rather than trousers.

“F**king referee,” he said. “Shane Long got kicked in the head by two Belgians at the same time. And your man just standing looking at him.”

“It’s done,” I said. “We need to focus on the Italy match now.” “Could you not write one of your famous letters, demanding a replay or something?”

“Listen to me,” I said. “As a world class football administrator, you have to know when to shake the tree and when to leave the fruit grow – do you get me?”

“Yeah, but even so.”

“Even so nothing. We don’t want to be known as a nation of whingers. We want the world to think of us as a nation of people who have the crack no matter what the result.”

That’s when I spotted Roy Keane making his way across the lobby towards us. It was like my words had somehow summoned him up. We did the usual – hid the drinks.

“I think I’ll have a rose hip tea,” the officer made a great show of saying, “then I’ll call it a night.”

Second Captains

A second later, Roy was standing in front of me, staring at me like I’d shushed him at a press conference so I could take a phone call.

“You’re f**king unbelievable,” he said.

Whether this was a compliment or a criticism, it was too early to hazard a guess, so I just looked back at him blankly while my inner me battened down the hatches in preparation for a typhoon.

“I just wanted to say thanks for everything you’ve done,” he said. “I wish everyone was as good at their job as obviously you are. For me, you’re a top, top operator and there’s not many of those around to be fair.”

This was said in front of 30 or 40 witnesses, who stood watching this exchange with their mouths wide open.

“Let me shake your hand,” he said.

I shook his hand, then off he went.

The officer of the association was as flabbergasted as everyone else. “What just happened?” he asked. “I thought he considered you a buffoon of the worst order.”

“That was before he fixed his air conditioning,” the member of staff said. Shorts didn’t suit him – I decided to tell him that in the morning.

“What do you mean?” the officer said.

So I told him the story. “I called up to Roy’s room the other night,” I said, “to ask him for an autograph for the neighbour’s young fella. Roy thought I was there to turn down his bed sheets.”

“What? Are you saying he didn’t know you?”

“Apparently not. You see, I think he just dislikes the idea of me, rather than the reality. I think he just associates my name with whatever grief went on in Saipan – but at the same time he couldn’t pick me out of a line-up.”

“So what do you know about air conditioning?”

“I know zilch about air conditioning. He said there was a rattle in it and I gave the thing a belt with the heel of my hand.”

“Is that all you did?”

“It’s all I had to do. The things was fixed.”

That’s when my phone started to ring. I could see on the screen that it was Roy. I shushed the fellas, then I answered.

“Hello?” I said.

There was no greeting – no nothing.

“There’s a lad on the staff of the hotel,” he said. “He’s a top, top operator. You’re on about doing the right things, being professional in our preparation . . . I want him to come with us to Lille tomorrow.”

“Right,” I said.

“I spoke to obviously Martin. Can you talk to the hotel, tell them he’s a lad we rate obviously highly – as I said, great attitude – and we want to make him part of the backroom team for the rest of the tournament, to be fair.”

“I’ll, er, have a word, Roy.”

“I think he said his name’s Jean. He’s got a sort of a hangdog dog.”

“A what look?”

“You know what I mean by a hangdog look.”

“Er, I do, Roy, yeah.”

He hung up.

“More compliments,” I said, putting my phone back in my pocket. “Roy wants to see me in Lille.”

“I’d say on balance,” the member of the staff said, “you’d have to be considered the best overrated football administrator in the world!”

Even I found it in myself to laugh at that one.

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