Travelling to Limerick to watch Bray Wanderers wasn’t an option for me on Friday last due to family and work commitments, but I did manage to get to Tolka Park to see the Shelbourne versus Longford Town game in the First Division.
Normally it’s only my son Blaise that accompanies me to games these days, but on Friday my daughter Elizabeth decided she wanted to come too. She’s well aware of the tale in our family of how her mother and I were watching Bray Wanderers versus Shelbourne in 2005 at Tolka Park when my wife went into labour with Elizabeth. As far as Elizabeth is concerned she’s the ultimate Bray Wanderers fan because she was almost born at a Bray game [we did make it to the Coombe in time for her arrival!]. She’s been a bit puzzled by my regular trips to Tolka as a neutral this season so decided to check the place out for herself.
We bought The Red Thread on the way into the ground [a ‘doubler’ that had also done for the previous Friday’s 4-1 reverse to Cabinteely] and something different jumped out of it at each of the three of us. I saw ‘The Nolan Family’ at the bottom of the front cover and thought for a brief moment that The Nolan Sisters were maybe going to be the half-time entertainment. Elizabeth saw ‘Macron’ and, not realizing they were a manufacturer of sportswear, wondered if the new French president would be in attendance. Blaise saw the colourful array of Abbey Seals products on the back cover and thought they were wristbands that we could buy in the Club Shop. He looked puzzled when I said they were seals for gaskets.
We stood right behind the goal at the tunnel end during the first half. Blaise took it upon himself to explain to his older sister how the game worked. ‘’The Reds need to score into the Yellows’ net down the other end where the green goalie is, and the Yellows need to score in here past Spiderman’’. Technically he was correct, but I wondered why Dean Delany had become Spiderman. Spiderman’s alter ego was Peter Parker, not Dean Delany. I asked. Blaise pointed to the shot-stopper’s gloves which had spider webs printed on them. We had a bird’s-eye view of Dean’s hands as he got down to make a few fine saves.
The game was level at half-time but with James O’Brien sent off just before the break the odds were stacking up against Shelbourne. We sought cover in the stand over the tunnel from a swarm of midges [possibly attracted to our chocolate and Capri-Sun] but Blaise and Elizabeth were giving out that some of the seats had cobwebs under them. I had a look. Quite a lot of the seats had cobwebs under them. You couldn’t help but notice when you went to pull the seat down. Under-use, maybe. Or maybe Spiderman practices his tricks up here during the week!
I dusted down a few seats and got out my phone to check how Bray were doing. The stadium-announcer was quicker on the draw than I was and told me and everyone else that Bray were losing 2-3 in Limerick. So the odds were against Bray too for the second half. The stadium-announcer, who presumably double-jobs as the disc jockey, then made up for the bad news by playing two of my all-time favourite songs. ‘The Joker’ by The Steve Miller Band was followed by ‘Echo Beach’ by Martha and the Muffins. It’s the small things that make a big difference!
I went into a bit of a daydream at the start of the second half, helped by the words to ‘Echo Beach’. That line in the chorus that goes ‘’far away in time’’. I thought of the time we were here just before Elizabeth was born. A time far away now. Back then Shelbourne ruled the roost and were the Dundalk of the day. Bray were playing Limerick tonight and I thought of the time, even further back than 2005, when the driver of the supporters’ bus had got lost trying to take us to a game in Galway. We ended up in Limerick and on the front cover of some of the papers the next day!
David O’Leary’s dismissal snapped me back to reality. Shels were now down to nine men. I bet Blaise a new fidget spinner [‘’one with lights, Dad’’] that they would hold on. He took me up on the bet – he’d never seen a team playing with nine men before and thought there was no way even a Super Hero like Spiderman could keep out Longford now.
But survive Shelbourne did, for a moral victory. The season hasn’t gone well but they’ve played some decent football at the games I’ve attended. Shelbourne’s glory days may be ‘far away in time’ but that can come around again. Look at Huddersfield Town. Back in the top-flight in England for the first time in 45 seasons. I bet they couldn’t see that happening in the 1980’s when they languished in the fourth tier. Tolka Park itself has seen better days but hopefully the next two seasons will see bigger crowds back here, when Bohemians come to ground-share. Less cobwebs on the seats.
It finished 5-3 in Limerick, in the home-side’s favour. Bray dropped to fourth, having been overtaken by Derry, and we have Shamrock Rovers and Limerick themselves breathing down our necks. Time for the mid-season break.