| 9.7°C Dublin

Watching Grass Grow

A chance meeting is less than thrilling, finds Eoin Butler

Break for the Border

Stephen Street, Dublin 2

It's thursday night in Break for the Border, a sprawling open-plan bar on split levels. There are pool tables and waitresses in hot pants. Rock'n'roll blasting from the speakers. Yee-haw! Why the hell haven't I been here before?

Aidan wants to play pool, but I refuse. I hate pool. Besides, he always beats me. We grab a table. On the dance floor, two heavy-set ladies are busy shaking what their mammas gave them. ("Those words on the sign aren't just the name of the bar," Aidan warned me earlier. "They're also what you shout at the taxi driver first thing next morning.")

He taps me on the arm. "I know, I see them," I say. But that's not what he's pointing at. Christ. It couldn't be. "Bill Byrne?" I whisper. "Groundskeeper Billy," he chuckles.

Bill Byrne is the groundsman at our football club. He is also one of the most intense human beings we've ever met. This might be the first time anyone has seen him not wearing wellies.

"You reckon that's his wife?" Aidan wonders.

"Oh, it's gotta be," I reply. "They both look bored stiff."

The most enduring legend about Groundskeeper Billy is that he has a metal plate in his head. Once, when he got caught out in a thunderstorm, I noticed he sprinted towards the clubhouse in a manic, zigzag pattern.

We wave politely. He returns the salute. Then he says something to his companion. She reaches for her handbag and they stand up. They're hardly coming over, are they? Christ, they are.

"Wouldn't have thought this was your scene exactly, Bill," says Aidan, after the introductions are made. "Oh, I'm a fan of the rock," he says. "The pop. The hip-hop."

"The hip-hop?"

He doesn't elaborate. There is stony silence. I try another tack.

"How long have you and Bill been together?" I ask Delilah. "This is our first night out together," she replies. "We met on the internet." There is an even longer, more awkward silence.

"Grounds are looking great this weather," I offer. Bill takes his job extremely seriously. "It's dry," he shrugs, "that's all-important. Because the powers that be wouldn't think twice about playing a match after 50 or 60 mm of rain. Then they wonder why the surfaces get cut to shit..." He shakes his head bitterly.

More silence. "The new nets are looking great," Aidan ventures. "The markings all seem to be in straight lines," I chip in. Bill just nods. Yet another silence. Then Aidan leans over.

"Here Bill," he says. "Would you say you have 99 problems but the pitch ain't one?"

He thinks about it for a second.

"Yes," he replies, deadpan. "Yes, I would..."

I stand up rather abruptly at this point.

"Okay," I say. "Who's for a game of pool?"

Catch up with Eoin's escapades on www.eoinbutler.com; eoinbutler@gmail.com