Tuesday, April 01, 2014

24 years

It was a Euro '88 sticker album that did it. Sucked me in. Tore me up. Gave me the fear for the next 26 years and counting, counting, counting.

I'd pretended an interest in football up to that point. Tried to bluff my way through primary school with 'Liverpool' as the answer just as long as there were absolutely no follow up questions.

Eight, maybe nine years of not one single clue about who starred in certain colours, what a Glenn Hoddle was, who Maradona played for, how to spell Ardiles...

...and then the sticker album.

There's a collector in every child and it only gets beaten out of them by drink, women, bounding, that kind of thing by 13 or 14.

I took to it straight away. I remember names like Vasily Rats, Pierre Littbarski with the spiky head, Morten Olsen and Lars, all scowl and pink striped jersey. They'd adhere to the page as I waited for Stuttgart, Gelsenkirchen, the opportunity to see what Gary Stevens looked like in real life.

Ray Houghton's goal. Jack hitting his head. Mick McCarthy's perfect throw-in interrupted by a flying Ronnie Whelan. Wim Kieft. Bastard.

Hooked.

The 1988/1989 season, the First Division Panini album this time, all the names, the bad moustaches and the Les Brileys. The swaps. Cascarino and Sheringham. Norwich as a force. Elton Welsby on a Saturday. The pink paper.

Liverpool, though. It was always going to be Liverpool, and I was straight in. It helped that they had the four Irish lads in the team at the time - Houghton, Staunton, Whelan, Aldridge - and the lads supported them too.

I was the child whose entire week's focal point was the match on a Saturday on RTE, or on UTV on a Sunday. The green armchair in my granny's sitting room is the only place I remember watching football, and she'd keep an ear out for the scores if the game wasn't televised. She was good like that, knew they were my version of her Kerry, McMahon and Barnes and Beardsley in lieu of O'Shea, Liston, Spillane.

Finghín, my grandfather, had no real interest. He'd read the paper from the front.

On it went. They lost the league to Arsenal that year and I was broken. They won it the following year and I was... I don't remember how I was. Cocky, probably, and pleased. Cocky, though, because they were Liverpool and they were the best and they'd win it forever and ever and ever...

And that was 1990. And that was the last time.

It's the hope that kills you, but it was the hope that kept me going until other things took over and football became something to drink to, to talk about in the pub, a little more abstract and a little bit less of the everything.

Now, though, I feel like I'm nine again. I could be 10 again. Six games to go and the sense that it's happening, but you don't want to mock it, and even though they're a bunch of overpaid millionaires kicking a ball around a field I want to visit harm upon anyone who might make it small for me. Not that anyone dares.

Not that anyone dares, because it's brought me back to Fairfield Road and my granny telling me something Des Cahill told her on the radio about yer man, "what's his name? What's his name Finghín? Molby is it? He's injured for Saturday."

She'd enjoy this, the sense there was a point to this 24 years, and even if it doesn't work out she'd have just said that there's always next year, they'd get there in the end.