Thursday, April 15, 2010

Leppings Lane

Before drink, before the Jesuits, before failing to talk to girls, long before The Wire, before almost everything I formed a deep and unforgiving attachment to football.

A Panini sticker album did for me.

Prior to the European Championships I had no interest in it, when the kids in Scoil Mobhí asked me who I supported I just bleated out 'Liverpool' because that, to me, was the codeword for getting out of these awkward situations.

My eight-year-old me hadn't a clue who played for them or what the First Division was or even where Liverpool was located. It could have been in Sligo.

Then the sticker album, and the collecting, and the learning of names like Dave Langan, John Aldridge, Niall Quinn, John Anderson and Kevin Moran, and then Ronnie Whelan's spinkick against the Russians and then sweet, sweet addiction. Child heroin.

The following season was my first as a proper Liverpool supporter. I knew the players, the dates of birth, the former clubs, the positions, the nationalities (mostly British at that time, with a hint of Zimbabwe and Jamaica) and the form.

Videotapes caught me up on past achievements, and having four Irish lads in the team was the badge of honour against those nasty Manchester United supporters, with their Peter Davenports and their Ralph Milnes.

We were good back then, very good. The previous season, when I was still ignorant of the game, we had won the league but lost the FA Cup Final to Wimbledon. The Cup was the top of the game because English teams couldn't compete in Europe. We were used to winning the First Division title but to win the Cup was the pinnacle, at least to my mind.

I used to watch the matches in my granny's sitting room. They lived next door, herself and Finghín, I'd just go around the back and through the kitchen, ignore them completely, walk into the room and switch on the television. Squatter's rights.

An FA Cup semi-final was a big fucking deal. A huge deal, but I said that already. I imagine myself in that green armchair with a smuggled glass of coke and some Rolos, switching between the RTE and BBC coverage. Liverpool v Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough in Sheffield.

The teamsheets came up. The Irish lads were in, including my favourite player Steve Staunton (no sniggering). Happy days. I'd been building up to this all week.

My da was working as a jeweller at the time and he operated from a workshop in the back garden. He saw me coming out of my granny's and asked me what was wrong. He tells me now I had a face like thunder.

"There are supporters on the pitch and they had to call the match off."

I was almost in tears, cursing those fuckers, those supporters who couldn't behave themselves so I could see Staunton rampage up the wing (like he ever rampaged, I know, but I was ten) and throw over a cross for Aldridge or Ian Rush to head home.

Those supporters who ruined my day by spilling on the grass and just sitting there, those ambulances that would tear up the surface something rotten if they decided to just delay the kick off for an hour, those policemen on horses where Steve McMahon should be scything into Steve Hodge.

A face like thunder, until the count went up and up and up and never seemed like stopping.

14 comments:

Andrew said...

I don't think I've read anything better about Hillsborough. Far too many pieces I've seen have a tendency to get a bit romantic about the victims. They were normal people, excited about watching a football match, and that's what you capture so brilliantly here.

Radge said...

Cheers Andrew. My da regularly tells me he never saw me as pissed off in my life, just think it's funny that kids have no perspective on these things.

I didn't want to write a straight 'justice for the 96' piece, that's done far better elsewhere than I could manage.

Andrew said...

Don't tell her I told you this, but Herself still has the odd grumble about the movie she was watching about ancient Greece on the 11th of September 2001 being interrupted by some media coverage or other.

Radge said...

That's nothing. A friend of a friend texted his other friend immediately afterwards, saying, "Tyler Durden, perhaps?"

Rosie's a saint by comparison (to me).

McMuck and the Mystery of the Kuúgleflarg said...

Jesus.

Mindblowingly brilliant.

Take a bow.

Radge said...

Cheers Mook.

Conan Drumm said...

Radge, I was never tuned into the footballing world but knew lots of fellas who followed teams and stats voraciously. But you forget, from the outside, what deep-feeling ties people have to clubs and players, until you read something like this. Well said.

Sus said...

Wow. This is a really lovely account. I love the honesty of innocence.

It stirred up my first memory of finding out about the tragedy. Unlike yours my memory isn't from the day it happened, I was probably too busy playing with toys at the time. I can vividly remember a BBC documentary about Hillsborough, and I watched it when I was about the same age as you are in this memory. They did a reconstruction of the scene, a bit of a sentimental depiction of two young guys going to the match. I cried and cried as they reconstructed the emotion within the stands, I simply couldn't believe that this was based on real events. In reality it was probably a terrible documentary but I'll always remember the emotion I felt when I first found out.... My dad went to football matches every week, I'd been to Lansdowne Road, this couldn't have happened. People couldn't have died this way.

Radge said...

Thanks Conan, such ties are a blessing and a curse.

Sus, thanks to yourself too. There have been a lot of really heartbreaking documentaries, most notably last year on the 20th anniversary. The story of Trevor Hicks, who lost his two daughters, always gets to me.

This Limbo said...

A powerful piece of writing Radge. I wasn't expecting that crescendo at the end, and I'm always waiting for a twist. Disarming - that's what I'd call it.

Radge said...

Thanks Regina, I was in quite literary form before the weekend came and drank it all away.

Jackie said...

"face like thunder". Gorgeous. Actually, this whole post was gorgeous. You've got some amazing prose on this blog...

Therese Cox said...

This post has left me with a face like Eyjafjallajökull. And I mean that in a good way.

Radge said...

Therese - I'm sure you know how much that umlaut impresses me, especially as I've been trying to pronounce it for the last day and a half at home in Radge Towers, on own.

Oh, and I'm happy you liked the piece.