Blaise was looking forward to his trip to Tolka Park all week. We knew in advance we wouldn’t have the car that day so would be staying local. The Easter holidays were starting to drag out, and in the absence of school he needed a diversion. It was too wet all week to play football in the garden, and there’s only so much sitting in front of the telly eating Easter eggs you can allow as a parent.
We passed the ground during the week, on one of the days where it actually stopped raining for enough time to go for a walk. Blaise made a comment about how football grounds only come to life for 90 minutes every other week. Having grown up close to Bray’s Carlisle Grounds, a place I haunted on a daily basis, I assured him the opposite was the case. There’s always something going on in a football stadium. The groundsman is tending the pitch, there are activities and preparations aplenty going on before the game can take place. The match itself may be the showpiece, but did he think his dinner just arrived on the table without someone having to shop for the ingredients and cook them up for him, not to mention clean up afterwards?!
There was plenty of soccer on television to pass the time during the week. Watching Real Madrid against Juventus, we witnessed Ronaldo’s superb bicycle kick. ‘’Do you think Dave O’Sullivan might try that on Friday against Athlone, Dad?’’ prompted me to show him some footage of the Colin Healy one and the Paul Keegan one against Bray for Bohs which also showed Blaise some footage of the old Carlisle Grounds ‘shed’ he’s heard so much about.
In my opinion, Ronaldo’s effort was technically better than Healy’s or Keegan’s, as well as having being done on a bigger stage, but anyone who thinks that top-drawer stuff only happens in the Premiership or Champions League needs disabusing of that notion.
Walking down to Tolka on Friday night saw a change in the weather. The rain had stopped and the sun was out. The clocks had changed since the last home game there, meaning the floodlights were an extra spectator in the first half. The 667 paying spectators were treated to a feast of first-half goals, two for Alan Evans after Dave O’Sullivan had opened the scoring. Shelbourne’s third, and Evans’ second, came after some lovely footwork by James English. Blaise’s only quibble was that the arrival of the first goal on 20 minutes put us out of the ‘Golden Goal’ pontoon, in which we’d drawn 40 minutes.
Half time was spent answering a question that was troubling Blaise. I’d given him a brief history of Athlone Town before the match, including the famous tie with AC Milan. Blaise knows his soccer jerseys, and wanted to know why they were wearing Inter Milan colours, and not AC Milan. I tried my best to explain. They’d only played AC Milan, not twinned with them. Blue and black were their colours, nothing to do with either Milan.
Talking of the AC Milan jersey, we’d seen the footage during the week of Baresi paying tribute to Ray Wilkins. I’d shown Blaise some clips of Wilkins’ finest moments. I was sad to learn of his death. He was an iconic figure in soccer when I was growing up. His list of achievements in the game are the stuff boys like Blaise dream of. He made his Chelsea debut at 17, and was made Chelsea captain when he was 18. He won the FA Cup with United in 1983, scoring a wonder-goal in the final. He played for an A-list of European clubs, including Chelsea, United, PSG and AC Milan. He played in Manchester derbies, Milan derbies and Glasgow derbies. He played in 2 World Cups and a European Championships. He played for England 84 times and captained his country 10 times. After playing he helped coach Chelsea to the double in 2010. Carlo Ancelotti in his autobiography talks about Wilkins having ‘’real blue blood, Chelsea flowing in his veins’’. No further words needed.
Back to Tolka and the half-time music included a couple of 80’s classics. There was ‘Mary’s Prayer’ by Danny Wilson [who, I explained to Blaise, were a band and not a person, albeit a band named after a person] and ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ by Tears For Fears. When the second half got under way the Shelbourne fans kept the 80’s theme going with an improvised reworking of Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’.
There was a party atmosphere for sure, as Shels added four more goals. O’Sullivan got his second and then Evans got his hat-trick. When O’Sullivan converted a penalty to secure his own hat-trick [his second of the season] Blaise had another tricky question for me. ‘’Dad, if the player scoring a hat-trick gets to keep the match ball, what happens now that two Shelbourne players have got hat-tricks?!”. Time to improvise again. The match ball isn’t one ball, it’s part of a set that go in and out of play, so both players can keep one. He bought it.
By the time Dave O’Sullivan added another penalty, and his fourth goal of the night, we’d begun to feel sorry for Athlone. 7-0 is an awful drubbing. Coming from Bray I could relate to their predicament as we are in a similar situation in the Premier Division, with just one draw all season. We’d lost heavily on Friday night too, going down 5-0 in Inchicore in what turned out to be Dave Mackey’s last game in charge. As for Shels, they’re vying for top spot with Drogheda and UCD now, which means the re-arranged home fixture between themselves and Drogheda will be of huge importance. No date has been announced yet.
We left Tolka having witnessed a feast of goals. It was a clear night and we could see the stars. Fitting, as we’d entered the ground as the Simply Red song ‘’Stars’’ was playing.