Sunday 25 August 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: 'Summer is coming… The days are dark and devoid of football'


Illustration by Ben Hickey
Illustration by Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

The wife's out the back, sunning herself. She's sitting back; her face is tilted to catch the sun. She's like a tropical island out there, surrounded by a sea of surging dogs.

But something's not quite right.

There's no sun. And it's freezing here, in the kitchen. It's been one of those days, hot, cold, blue skies, then hailstones followed by more heat and steam. At the moment, it's like mid-winter in the a**e-end of Siberia. I can see now - I'm looking out the kitchen window, by the way: the wife is frozen stiff.

Charles E. Savage to the rescue.

I get the back door open; I'm already impressing myself. Down the two steps, no protests from the knees. Through the dogs - I'm Moses parting the water. It must be my face, my rugged determination. Because they step back, they reverse - and dogs reversing isn't something you'd see on a daily basis. It's almost biblical; they clearly think I'm Charlton Heston.

I reach my target, the wife.

- What's wrong? she says.

She looks up at me over her sunglasses. She's grand and that's a relief. But it also feels like a wasted opportunity. It's not every day you get to be heroic at my age.

- Are you not cold? I ask.

- Are you jesting? she says. And fair enough, it's boiling. In the four seconds it took to get me from the door to the deckchair, the sun's come back out and it's suddenly what we call a gorgeous day.

The E in my name is Errol, by the way. My mother was a big Errol Flynn fan. I've tried to live up to it. And I succeeded once, years ago, when I caught a lad climbing in the kitchen window. I turned on the light, jumped into the kitchen, and roared: "I can lick any man in the world!" His funeral was a lavish affair, I'm told; there were two TDs at it. Anyway.

It's that time of the year, the stew of weather we call the spring. Most people welcome the stretch in the evenings but football people can only see the last stretch of the season. There's a few games left but it's a bit like visiting a much-loved uncle in hospital. The visits will stop and the grieving will have to start. I've been following the football for well more than 50 years. That's a lot of dead uncles.

We grieve together, me and the wife. We look at each other after Match of the Day. We don't have to say anything. We're already dreading the Saturdays till August. I say it to her now, out in the garden; I say it every year.

- I wish we could f***in' hibernate.

She nods - she sighs.

She's a relatively recent convert to the football, the wife. She became passionate about the game around the time the glamorous managers started to arrive - Mourinho with his suits, Klopp with his glasses that match his hair, Pep Guardiola with that strange hoodie thing that makes him look like an extra from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But anyway, it was a season or two before she started taking an interest in the actual football and the addition - the extra pundit parked beside me during the match - well, it's been brilliant, and insightful.

She has a theory about Liverpool, for example. She says their success this season, their ability to carve through the opposition, has as much to do with the colour of their away kit as it does with individual talent or their strength in depth. It's purple, although the official website calls it "deep violet". Whatever it is, it's shocking - it's hideous - and the opposition defenders are afraid to go near it. Mo Salah and the lads just trot past them, looking like skinny beetroots.

So, a joyless existence stretches ahead of us. Tennis, golf, cricket, the GAA - it'll be like taking a couple Panadol for an amputated leg.

Vincent Price saves us. I meet him coming out of The Flowing Tide when I'm heading in. I timed it perfectly: I missed my bus, so I have to go for a pint. Anyway, I bang into Vincent. I went to school with Vincent. He's an undertaker but it must be his night off because he's dressed like a big parrot, in one of those Hawaii Five-0 shirts.

- Where're you off to, Vincent? I ask.

He takes a red and black scarf from around his neck.

- Dalymount, he says. - To the Bohs.

- Do they play on Friday nights?

- 'Course they do, he says. - Right through the summer.

I don't wait for the bus; I run straight home. I find the wife in the kitchen, staring at the fridge.

- D'you want you to go to Bohemians? I ask her.

She looks at me. She smiles, and grabs my hand.

- I thought you'd never ask.

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