Diary of a tortured Ireland soccer fan
Irish fan Michael Keaveny chronicles his day in the lead up to Ireland’s crunch World Cup qualifier with Wales in Cardiff.
Who put the ball in the Welsh net? James McClean turns to celebrate his winning goal at Cardiff City Stadium earlier this month. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
My phone tells me its 5 am, I don’t have to be up for work until 7, but I’m wide awake. I’ve seen every hour on the clock since 1 and have pretty much given up on sleep at this point. My plan of getting a good night’s sleep so as to be in peak form for tonight’s game was scuppered by my body’s incessant need to jerk awake to check my phone, just in case I missed an update from the team or somehow slept on and missed the game (which let’s face it, unless I was hammered drunk would be impossible given its 7.45 PM kick off)
After what feels like a
millennium… century (better rephrase that given its association with Welsh sporting stadia) I’m up, dressed and in work on my farm. Generally the process of getting dressed takes all of 15 seconds as I hurriedly throw on the nearest t-shirt, jumper and trouser combination and oafishly hop out the front door still putting my socks on, but today is different. Today every item of clothing is choreographed and completely in sync with the momentous occasion that will be kicking off in just over 12 hours time. My boxers are my “lucky boxers” (not that they or any other piece of undergarment have ever brought me any luck, they just happen to be white with shamrocks on them). My trousers are an old pair of tracksuit bottoms, but not just any old pair, they are the exact same pair which I wore when Ireland qualified for Euro 2016 just two short years ago AND when we qualified for the 2012 showpiece two years before that (I should at this point mention I wore them when Germany tonked us 6-1 coming for the end of the 2014 campaign, but let’s not go down that road). My socks are green, my t-shirt is my retro 2002 World Cup shirt (complete with Robbie Keane’s name and number by the way) and to top it off (no pun intended) I’ve also donned a Martin O Neill-esque managers training top.
I think I’m going mad. Everything I do reminds me about the Welsh. Everything from the BALE I fed to the heifers, canoe (Hal Robson Kanu) enthusiasts who asked could they use the river which flows through our land, to the songs playing the Robbie Williams tribute hour on the radio (Ashely Williams). Actually scratch what I said earlier, I HAVE gone mad.
Lunchtime, usually my favourite time of the day, but not today. My mother, who is neither superstitious nor a sports fan, has delivered a bad omen. Potato and LEEK soup. As I explain to her that the leek is the national emblem of Wales she kindly tells me to “quit that shite and f**king eat it”. No sooner than the pale, slightly lumpy broth touched my tongue I heard the sports news announcer on the radio say “Shane Long has been ruled out of tonight’s game with a hip complaint…” I somehow resist the urge to put my cursed bowl through the kitchen window, and instead run to the life-sized portrait of Jack Charlton hanging above the mantelpiece to beg for forgiveness, singing three “we’re all part of Jackie’s army” and two “come on you boys in green” in an act of penance.
Generally my back teeth would be floating in milk, manure and god knows what else at this stage, but I’ve hired in extra help for the day , cleared my schedule and dedicated the afternoon to watching old games on youtube as sort of self-affirmation. So far I’ve watched the England game from ’88, the Romania game from Italia ’90 the Dutch game from 2001 and the Germany game from 2015. Not to mention countless loops of Ray Houghton’s sublime chip against Italy in Giants Stadium and Robbie Brady’s deft header vs Italy from last year (which as a green donned idiot in the Italian end that night I openly wept at).
Squad named, three changes and surprise surprise there’s no f*cking Wes. His omission doesn’t come as much of a shock, but it’s still a bitter pill to swallow. For what it’s worth, O Dowda and the aforementioned Long have also been dropped. Bollocks.
In the last hour I’ve dropped my phone, spilled my tea and burnt my beans. As it kicks off I tell myself surely it can only get better, surely….
Its half time, there’s no doubt they’ve had more possession, but at 0-0 it’s like a moral victory of sorts.
56 min on the clock, poor Welsh clearance, Hendrick chases a ball down the line, swings a ball in, Arter with the step over, MCCLLLLLLLLLLLLEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
As Wales press and probe in search of an equaliser I realise that my heart wasn’t built for this pressure and find myself making a mental note to make an appointment with my GP.
After a fortnight of injury time I hear the sweetest sound I’ve heard since Ed Sheeran released Galway Girl - the final whistle! Against all the odds we’ve reached the play offs, which is good but also means I have to go through all of this again… twice.