From Croke Park to Vicarage Road is a one hour flight with Ryanair

Like a buzzing beer garden in twilight, All Ireland Football Championship quarterfinal day at Dublin’s Croke Park is fantastic. During our family tour of Ireland, France and Italy, we see a conclave of cathedrals but with O’Keefe ancestry in County Cork, this becomes a special pilgrimage. And while it’s Dublin and Roscommon clashing, a vivid afternoon unfolds.

 

Taxiing to the ground, Dad and I notice sky blue tops on scurrying local spectators, and bright yellow on the visitors. We pass pubs like Quinns, Kennedys and The Big Tree, bursting with blokes roaring and downing pints. We duck in for a lager. The Red Parrot is thunderous and frenzied and affable.

 

Our reserved seats are on the top deck of the Hogan stand and Dublin Bay sparkles across in the east. As the match evolves, two local supporters observe, ‘Our centre forward is too slow’, ‘We’re getting killed across half back’ and ‘the umpires aren’t doing us any favours.’ We could be at Footy Park, the MCG or on the forward flank at Dutton Park in my hometown of Kapunda.

 

Possessing an aural effect unlike soccer, the crescendo and fall of the GAA crowd is uplifting. The game is attractive and fluent. The Dubs seem quicker than Australian footballers, and lithe and angular. Dublin controls the ball and the lush spaces. In the golden summery light, they tidily account for Roscommon, known colloquially as the Sheepstealers. Of course, the guilty were often transported to Australia.

 

Leaving Croke Park, Dad and I evade a skeletal lad enthusiastically jettisoning a hula-hoop of amber onto the concourse. It is uncertain whether he is celebrating or commiserating Dublin’s conquest, but there is jeering praise. We return to our digs at Browns Hotel near O’Connell Street, for an Irish music tour through Temple Bar.

 

I like the dexterity and explosiveness the round ball allows, but prefer our game’s elliptical ball. Its blissful and brutal unpredictability is a candid metaphor for life; arguably football’s noblest function. Additionally, our code concedes and even celebrates goal scoring imprecision by permitting behinds. How exquisite was Plugger’s famous point after the 1996 preliminary final siren? This, too, reflects an Australian ethos that speaks of a generosity of spirit and raw effervescence.

 

Despite our resistance, sometimes sporting teams demand us as supporters. Southampton chose me not because of their soccer prowess but, curiously, the fans’ set list during a fourth round Carling Cup encounter with Watford at Vicarage Road. We assemble at the Away End and the singing is instantly compelling. Early in the fixture and expectant, Southampton praise their diminutive striker in blossoming tones

 

Sup-er

Sup-er Kev

Sup-er Ke-vin Phillips!

 

0-0 late in a grim first half and their haughtiness persists. The contrast with the hyper-moronic, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi” is sharp.

We love Southampton, we do!

We love Southampton, we do!

We love Southampton, we do!

Ohhhh, Southampton, we love you!

 

At half-time, the combination of glacial queues and heightened gastronomic judgment makes me unable to buy a cup of Burton upon Trent’s finest yeast- based beverage, Bovril. Five minutes in, they’re down 0-2 to their second division host. Maintaining the timeless custom of trying to save face, they taunt

 

We’re in the Premiership

We’re havin’ a laugh!

 

Suddenly it’s 0-3 and getting grubby. Across the autumnal air of Vicarage Road, the Saints’ choir recites the dismissive

 

You’re just a small town near Luton!

 

And then yet another Watford strike and all patience is gone, so, as my mate Bob in Adelaide says, they turn cannibal, and start devouring their own

We’re so shite

It’s un-be-liev-able!

 

Two belated consolations for the Saints and the second half, seven goal orgy is over. It is a night of dramatic tragedy on the pitch, and musical theatre in the grandstands.

 

Then, this being modern soccer, the Away End is funnelled, for its safety, through a human chute of mountainous policeman. We’re flushed out of Vicarage Road and along Watford’s streets to our Vauxhall Corsa. My evening is emblematic of England: surprising and faintly menacing but, as always, abundantly engaging.

 

 

About Mickey Randall

Late afternoon beer, Exile on Main St playing. Sport like cricket, most types of football, golf, squash, horse racing. Travel, with Vancouver my favourite city, but there’s nowhere I’ve not happily been. Except Luton. Reading. Writing about family, sport, music, the stuff that amuses me. Conversation. Wit. Irony. McLaren Vale cabernet sauvignon, Barossa shiraz, Coopers Sparkling Ale. Jazz and especially Miles Davis. Lots and lots of music. I live in Adelaide with my wife Kerry-ann and our boys Alex and Max.

Comments

  1. miels of dick says:

    Beeeutiful!

    Roy and HG (in particular HG) have met their match.

    I am sure you are pleased the Crows have finally cemented their rightful place in the AFL now they have been exposed doing what the Vic have always done.

    Skeeta Reid has been unnaturally quiet.

    Hope all is well with the family.

  2. Super Kev-in Mak says:

    Very evocative Mickey…have you thought of switching professions?

  3. Stadium Management fees at the new Adelaide Oval have risen in estimation by about 6 million eating into the coffers of the sporting bodies that are their clients. The footy clubs and SACA appear to be powerless to curb the gravy train set up by the Labor Govt. Did the SANFL bosses and Crows and Power CEO’s not read their contracts? When the SANFL sells the licenses back and the Crows and Power take them up, members will be given a vote in the running of their clubs and heads will roll over mistakes like these!

  4. mickey randall says:

    kev- we have a long tradition in adelaide of doing things the hard and expensive way and could probably learn a few things from how infrastructure is developed here in singapore. anyway, roll on friday night- crows v bombers and black caviar. I’ll be watching in bali.

  5. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Great Write up Mickey you have. Unique ability to bring us along for the ride found the Gaelic Part of the article fascinating having Spoken to the Norwood Guys years ago they were profound in there praise of the atmosphere re Singing etc at the International
    Rules Game re Croke Park . Soccer wise I love the atmosphere at the soccer with there
    Dittys re singing but hate they have to separate spectators of both sides I would hate to have that at the Footy banter with opposition supporters is a huge part of the experience re Footy keep up the Good work Mickey

  6. mickey randall says:

    Hello there Malcolm. I found so many connections between our game and the Gaelic one. Not a surprise really, given the links which exist culturally, historically, socially. The crowds in both countries even seemed to share outlooks and behaviours, unlike the Australian sports audience, and for example, our English and American counterparts.
    It will be a bleak day if Aussie Rules supporters have to be segregated under police supervision. Let’s hope we don’t arrive at this point.

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