Travelling in hope, disappointment en route = business as usual

25 03 2007

Republic of Ireland 1 Wales 0
Euro 2008 Qualifier

Friday 23rd March

I felt anxiety this week; the weather had been less than perfect. Consequently the ferry I was due to go on today had been cancelled on Monday and Tuesday. An early start today meant that I was on the train to Holyhead, it was a cool and crisp morning, my earlier worries unfounded. I’m not a Michael Fish, so how could I possibly know what the weather would be like anyway?

The train was actually on time too, and it was a Virgin train! Surely this was a good sign. As I looked for the toilet I entered one carriage and strong alcohol fumes were in the air. Blokes in Welsh Rugby shirts (an irritating sight at Welsh football matches; it’s like they can’t accept Wales plays football or something) were playing cards and knocking back a few. As I returned to my seat two blokes in front of me were cracking open a couple of bottles. Was the world going mad? It was only 7:30 AM!!

It was a pleasant enough crossing, luckily I wasn’t near the bar to hear the classic beery mickey taking. I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to take part in that. My food was served by a person of restricted growth, I wondered whether this was a health and safety policy as the ceiling didn’t look too high. We docked and I had to retrieve my bag. Several sightings of a stick with hooks convinced me that I should look somewhere else, I’d gone to the wrong carousel. At least the queuing meant that there was less of a queue for the train.

A DART left as I was queuing for tickets, looking on the bright side again; there would be even less people waiting for the next train. Whilst waiting for tickets a Porthmadog fan told me that it was probably better that I was going to see Shelborne instead of Farrar Road tonight because Bangor were shit apparently, we were playing Porthmadog.

I disembarked at Landsdowne Road to see the historic ground before it’s demolished. You can see why they need a new ground, I’ve never been a fan of concrete buildings anyway although this one has a lot of history. Then in to Dublin. I was staying in the lovely Four Courts Hostel again, a short Hike from the station and a quick stop to drop my bag off and I was ready for a ramble.

Croke Park was the first destination. The museum was quite good but what was even better was the chance to whack a ball with the stick and pretend you’re a big shot. You can also boot a Gaelic football around. As I was leaving the museum the Welsh Team went past in their coach, I was feeling confident about tomorrow.

One thing I noticed on my journey back to town was how friendly the people were whenever I asked for directions. Some even managed a conversation although most of the time this resulted in people telling me how large Ireland’s victory would be. It was also Daffodil day today in Dublin. Beautiful timing for the visit of Wales, that’s what you call hospitality!

I killed couple of hours by getting lost before I returned to the hostel to get changed. I arrived in my room to find an American, fortunately she was the well-travelled intelligent kind so we had a nice conversation. For some reason she failed to see the attraction of going to watch Shelborne.

I had to catch a bus but it was late. I asked a policeman if I could walk there but he smiled, smiled!!!, and said that it probably wasn’t a good idea. That old cliche about waiting for buses gained some evidence as two turned up at the same time. Now A journey into the unknown.

The bus wound it’s way through Northern Dublin before the Driver informed that I was at the right stop, he even gave me directions to the ground, Tolka Park.

Shelborne 0 Dundalk 2
Eircom League Division One

The Welsh fans’ message boards had given me the impression that few Welsh Fans would be going to this game. Therefore I wasn’t sure that I’d have much company. I also failed to realise the circumstances that Shelborne found themselves in. I thought that it was a misprint in the free paper that claimed they were now playing in the first division, I thought they were the champions.

It was 15 euros to get in and this struck me as a bit much but at least there was a crowd and atmosphere. The Shelborne fans staged a display involving a large banner and some fireworks, and it looked quite good. Why don’t we have this kind of thing in the Welsh Premier? I tried to put the flag up but it wasn’t allowed to obscure any advertising, the stewards were helpful though. I tried at the opposite end to the home fans, an unpopulated stand but this was forbidden also. Finally I tried the Away Fans end. A steward suggested draping it over a load of mould encrusted seat but I chose a wall instead.

Just after I had settled to watch the game two men approached me. “Is that your flag?” they enquired. And there we have it, two more friends for the Jet Set; Rhys and Ian. As we were chatting convivially about the state of Welsh football a rather inebriated Dundalk engaged us in conversation, apparently we had no chance of victory tomorrow, This was confirmed by one of his mates. We were introduced as the “Cardiff Souls”. I don’t think that they were up with the latest casual trends as my trainers were two years old and my jacket was last year’s design. A second drunk Dundalk fan beckoned us over to partake of “the craic“, as it is known.

Our conversations became difficult as the Dundalk fans were fairly vociferous. Even so we covered all bases. The conversation was punctuated by the two Dundalk fans asking how the “Souls” were. I started to find it all a little threatening to be honest. The match was OK but there were no goals by half time.

The second half went quite quickly. Dundalk scored first, cue much jumping. Much taunting about Shelborne’s financial plight entered the ether. Ian explained that their situation mirrored Barry Town’s. The drunk Dundalk fans enquired if we liked it and I did. Dundalk scored their second and towards the end of the match the second drunk Dundalk fan asked us; “Do you want to come and wreck the bar with us?” Despite the tempting offer we made our excuses and left.

The standard seemed fairly high for this level, probably slightly higher than some Welsh Premier sides could manage. My impression may have been influenced by the atmosphere as much as the actual play though.

Afterwards, in Central Dublin, a few more drinks were consumed and more inter-club bonding took place. We met up with Haz, and she said that she liked Bangor, a very nice young woman in my opinion. Harry was also in the Arlington (Like the Zanzibar another Tardis-like pub)and I also met people from the Milan trip. As Ian said Welsh Football fans are small in number but large in their atmosphere so it tends to be a small well-knit group. I left after a couple of hours in very pleasant surroundings with very pleasant people, including the Swansea fans.

Saturday 23rd
Republic of Ireland Vs Wales

I awoke with a nagging sensation, I needed credit for my phone as I’d inadvertently used up all my credit last night pressing buttons in my pockets. A quick phone call home sorted out that problem. Now I could call Ged and Garth and the others. They coming in today from Dun Laoghaire, that was the plan anyway. Only a slight detour was needed to find the pub, Kate’s Cottage. It was a very pleasant place and we found several more on our leisurely progress to Croke Park.

In one pub we started to watch England U21s. The Irish people seemed surprised that we all cheered when Italy scored the first goal at the New Wembley, yes we don’t like England much. This feeling is probably not as strong as the Irish but then we probably have less reason to. The atmosphere was building as more Irish fans entered our pub.

I got the feeling that we were in some kind of Irish theme park when the music started, it was all the stereotypical bollocks. At about 2:15 we left for Croker. On our way I was separated form Ged et al as I saw my friends from Cardiff again outside our pub and Carl, from the Graz trip, nearer to the ground. Our tickets and bags were checked 5 times, Irish efficiency.

I knew what to expect from Croke Park; a great atmosphere. I was also looking forward to some good backing for Wales with plenty of singing and a good Welsh victory. Unfortunately the day didn’t turn out as we would have liked. Firstly there was no place for my flag, only room behind others. When I arrived at my seat, it didn’t exist, no seat 13 on my row. When I looked over to the teams before the anthem you needed binoculars, not a good sign and a problem magnified when the ball went to the end Wales were attacking in the first half, the opposite one from us. We were on the mythical Hill 16. Other letdowns were the fact that we didn’t hear both Irish anthems and the Irish crowd looked flat, they didn’t perk up until they scored.

Ah the game, what a nightmare. The centrepiece of all our trips and Wales never turned up, they were there in body obviously. The first half was a turgid affair; neither side looked good. Several of Wales’ youngsters seemed out of sorts or tired. Wales never looked likely to create a chance never mind score, it was difficult to see the intricacies of Wales’ attacks as we were in a different county from the pitch. Ireland hardly looked capable of scoring themselves and then they did.

Stephen Ireland, the scorer, strode past us with a taunting gait and arms outstretched. The erstwhile lifeless Irish fans took to taunting us as well, including one tosser who seemed to be be watching us as much as the game. How did I know this, yes, I was watching him. Surely the second half would be better.

It wasn’t. Even though we gave our support to the full a scoring chance wasn’t forthcoming. Like the first half Wales had the majority of the possession but could not find a way through. Ireland didn’t look much like scoring themselves but nearly did again; they hit the post this time. Giggs came in for some criticism about his effort but I felt that this was a little harsh as it wasn’t only him under-performing, it was most of ’em.

There can’t be many more infuriating sights for a football fan than taunting opposition fans, especially when their team is crap. The tosser from the first half carried on as we attempted to lift Wales with some singing; he just kept turning round and tell us the score with his fingers. This time he had some disciples. You just want a goal to unleash the frustration in an orgasmic outburst of joy, the sight of previously gesturing fans turning away adds to the satisfaction. Unfortunately the nearest we came to scoring was a relatively tame free kick from Giggs. No satisfaction was gained and we all trudged off through the green waves of jubilation. I had a nice chat with an older Irish fan and his humanity shone through, he offered me his hat in consolation. All I had to do now was to find the others.

A quick phone call after saying hello again to my friends from Milan solved my destination problem, ironically the phone call cost less than a text. While walking to Kate’s Cottage the worries of the world were upon my shoulders, after a couple of drinks and a burger this burden was lifted. As I was outside the rounds I noticed that the price of a bottle of Bulmers (Magners in Britain) gradually rose the closer you got to the Temple Bar. After the 4th bar it was up to 6 Euros 10, over £4!! Jesus, it comes from Ireland as well. If we carried on I’m sure we may have broken the 20 Euro mark by Sunday lunchtime.

The evening progressed by watching football matches in snippets on our tour of the pubs of the Temple Bar. We even had a bit of a sing-song in one of them. As I was escorting them back to the station at about 11 one scrubby scally told us that “Fuckin‘ English stink” and someone else told us the way to Dun Laoghaire “That’s right, Dun Laoghaire’s that way” I got the impression that he was taunting us, he wasn’t wearing an Irish Rail uniform. So we had seen the full gamut of Irish people today; jovial ones, friendly ones, musical ones, drunk ones and finally twattish ones.

Sunday 25th

Jesus what a depressed feeling. At least the papers in Ireland are as bad/good as formulating pun-based headlines.

A lovely day killing time followed. I met Ian again in the HMV on Grafton street, bought some books and had a look around Trinity College. It had been a very enjoyable weekend apart from the result, obviously. They should really have away trips without the football as this tends to get in the way of having a good time. In my 6 away trips Wales have only won once and scored twice. Why do I bother? you may well ask. One day I will be there when we win again and all of this character building activity will have been worth it. Keep the Faith!!

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