Anthony McIntyre attended a soccer match last night with his son.
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I love watching soccer games. The last one I attended was a month or so back when my son, Ronan, turned out for his side, Drogheda Marsh, in Navan one bright Saturday morning. So, when he told me yesterday afternoon that he would like to go to the last home game of the season for Drogheda United in the promotion play off against Finn Harps, I recommended the outdoor clothing, it was cold. I am no longer of the age for jumping about and flapping my arms to stay warm, so the sedentary state needs additional layering to keep out the chill.
Having seen Liverpool and Tottenham go at it the day before, I sort of winced at the thought of having to watch the Drogs slug it out with the Harps. But the atmosphere at a live game always compensates for withdrawal symptoms caused by the descent into mediocrity. And it was the first in a two leg play off, so the stakes were pretty high.
On the way to the match I thought, as I invariably do, of the 96 Liverpool fans who made a similar journey, never to come home again alive. I thought of fathers like Eddie Spearing who watched his 14-year-old son Adam die in front of him but couldn’t move a muscle to help him, so tight was the crush. Of Tommy Howard who died along with his fourteen-year old of the same name. The names of other teens sailed across the horizon of my mind, Philip Hammond, Paul Brian Murray and Lee Nicol all the same age then as my son is today.
Inside the ground we settled in our seats, Ronan with his sweets and fizzy, me with a flask of steaming coffee. I joked to him that one of the Finn Harps midfielders looked more like a Fat Harp; that it was obvious why they were called Finn rather than Thin Harps. He responded that one of the Drogheda midfielders had a big tank but very little in it. Fat shaming which the politically correct would disapprove of, but he is 14 and I am irreverent, the combination not readily lending itself to woke culture.
The stand out player was the very lean and mean Drogheda's Luke McNally, who patrolled the backline with a composed assurance that belied his twenty years. Lean, because there is not pickings on him, mean because he gave absolutely nothing away. Still, it was not a feast for lovers of the beautiful game. For the first ten minutes I was completely taken in by the colours, thinking the team in blue was Drogheda. My son looked at me in disbelief as I confessed my error. "Well, they were blue the last time I was here" didn’t cut it with him. He is passionate about the game: it is all “we” and “us”. I can always blame Daithi O’Donnabhain, whom I spent part of the game texting as we plotted a drinking session.
Ronan is a chip off the old block, profane and colourful in his language. We have never discouraged him from cursing at home, so his screams at the referee for robbing “us”, his hands in the air gesticulating to the words “we” are fucking donkeys, caused me to laugh and hug him. Almost as tall as me, it would seem out of place to admonish him for his blue tongue. It's a soccer match FFS, not a place for the no joke woke. At one point he raced out of his seat to shake hands and exchange pleasantries with Drogs midfield marshal, Sean Brennan, as if they were old buddies.
A dull game, with very few exciting moments to lift it above the flatness of it all, it ended with a bang. Drogheda scored in the final sixty seconds of the four extra added minutes. The already noisy crowd erupted as the flares and fireworks competed with each other for attention. Immediately after the restart Harps hit the woodwork. We were in a different game. The biggest talking point up to then had been a sending off for the Finn Harps manager for bellowing like Ian Paisley a few yards down the line from us.
At 1-0 the advantage is slender and might not be enough for the Drogs to hold the line against a tenacious Finn Harps on home turf in the second leg in a blustery Donegal. But for now the victory can be savoured and the night enjoyed. The father-son memory secured, ultimately more meaningful and enduring than the result.