Ross O’Carroll Kelly: When the Tracksuits and Sheepskins collide

I don’t think Hennessy was overstating it when he said this was ‘a clash of civilisations’


Unless you’ve spent the last seven days in a diabetic coma, you’ll know that Thursday was one of, like, the most momentous days in the history of Irish sport. I am, of course, referring to the events that occurred in the High Court, where Justice Edward Mangan-Smythe was asked to intervene in a bitter dispute that arose in Gleesons of Booterstown just over two weeks ago.

On the day in question – you’ve probably already heard this, because it’s all over south Dublin – the pub was packed with rugby fans, who were there to watch Ireland beat Romania. During the half-time ad break, someone – and there were, like, hundreds of witnesses – decided to quite literally switch the channel to “see how the soccer was going”.

Well, as you can imagine, there were a lot of goys who weren’t happy rabbits. And while they were muttering bitterly into their brandies, one voice emerged, strong and true: “What the hell kind of how-do-you-do is this? This is a bloody well rugby pub!”

Gordian angel

It was the voice of Hennessy Coghlan-O’Hara, my old man’s best friend and legal gordian angel – and he wasn’t about to be shushed in the boozer where he’s been a loud-mouthed barstool bore for most of his adult life.

“Sit the fook dowin,” someone shouted – clearly not a local. “You bleaten muppit. The hat on him, look.”

Seconds later, Hennessy was, like, drumming his index finger into the bor, going, “I am asking the management of this establishment to switch off that ugly abomination of a game and furthermore to state for the public record that this establishment is, was and forever will be a rugby pub, under natural law. And if such a statement is not forthcoming this instant, I shall be forced to go to the High Court to seek interlocutory relief.”

Regulars will know that scenes of drama like this are far from uncommon in Gleesons of Booterstown, especially when Hennessy is the wrong side of half a bottle of XO. But pissed or not, the man was speaking for a pretty large constituency of people who have come to believe that the bor staff in Gleesons have become a bit too free and easy with the TV remote on rugby match days. The latest incident was the straw that broke the camel hair coat brigade’s back.

Hennessy, of course, is no fool. He will have copped that Sunday was a potential flashpoint between the Gleesons ‘old crowd’ and the newer clientele, what with the Irish rugby team taking on France in the World Cup in the late afternoon, then the Irish soccer team taking on whoever they’re playing, in whatever it is they get up to, in the evening.

“The attention of the pub must not be divided!” as Hennessy put it. “A rugby pub is a rugby pub is a rugby pub!”

Opening submission

So off we all headed to the High Court, two or three hundred of us. Well, we all love a day out, don’t we?

Certain tabloid elements dubbed the case “The Sheepskin Coats versus the Lycra Tracksuits”, but, as my old man said, that was an attempt to, like, trivialise what was actually at stake? I don’t think Hennessy was overstating it when he said in his opening submission that what was happening in Gleesons was “a clash of civilisations, a battle between right and wrong, which we must win – must win! – for generations of rugby fans yet unborn”.

As the case kicked off, he produced what I – as the father of a teenage soccer fan – immediately recognised as a Celtic football jersey. He handed it to the judge, who looked at it like he’d just been handed a severed head. He was like, “What is this?”

Glasgow Celtic

“It is what is popularly termed a soccer shirt,” Hennessy went. “A soccer shirt worn by a team called Glasgow Celtic.”



“You’re absolutely certain you’re pronouncing that correctly? A soft C?”

“I believe it’s a soft C, Judge, yes.”

“I have to confess to being totally ignorant when it comes to soccer and the habits of soccer people.”

Fair focks to the Holy Ghost Fathers. You could tell that’s what Hennessy was thinking.

“What fabric is this?” the judge went.

“It’s polyester,” Hennessy went. “I believe that in the rag trade it’s known as dazzle cloth.”

“Dazzle cloth? Yes, it’s rather ghastly, isn’t it? And are you saying that this is what these soccer fans who have recently begun patronising Gleesons are wearing?”

“Some of them, Judge. But I’m asking you to consider this case in the context of the slippery slope principle. That if we fail to obtain an order here today that certain pubs are rugby pubs, as ordained by God, then we will soon be overrun by people wearing these very shirts, demanding, as their right, to watch not only soccer in the pub, but quite probably pornographic movies and Telly Bingo. It’s an appalling vista, I hope the court will agree.”

The judge rubbed his face. He went, “Can we get a legal definition of what actually constitutes soccer?”

Ugly stage

A leather-bound book was produced and handed to the judge. While he studied it, Hennessy laughed to himself and went, “If it may please the court, Father Denis Fehily, the wise old coach of Castlerock College, used to say that all sports would eventually turn into rugby – they had to. Soccer just happens to be going through a particularly ugly stage in its evolution.”

There was huge laughter in court, even though Father Fehily actually meant that.

The judge closed the book. “Yes,” he went, “that’s essentially the legal definition, too.”

Hennessy held his breath while the judge gave his decision.

“It strikes me,” he went, “that rugby and soccer are – as the idiom would have it – strange bedfellows indeed. And while we live in a time that celebrates diversity as much as homogeneity – a time in which a man can marry a man and a woman can marry a woman – it is my view that rugby and soccer should not be allowed to lay down together.

“The issues as outlined this afternoon merit a fuller hearing before the court on a future date, but for now I am granting the injunction requested and ruling that Gleesons of Booterstown . . . is a rugby pub.”

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