Friday 17 August 2018

Billy Keane: I became a Dad instead of a lad and missed the bus

Some of us didn't make it to Germany to join Jack's Army on tour but famous tournament gave us memories that remain vivid from era before mobile phones, Twitter and Facebook

'Dad, who was a fanatical GAA man, bought a drink for the house. Bachelor farmers who were seldom kissed were covered in lipstick. Men who fell out over ditch and dyke boundaries hugged. The cars beeped as if we were in Brazil, and mad young lads hung halfway out the windows like Cossack trick riders circumnavigating the circumference of a circus ring.'
'Dad, who was a fanatical GAA man, bought a drink for the house. Bachelor farmers who were seldom kissed were covered in lipstick. Men who fell out over ditch and dyke boundaries hugged. The cars beeped as if we were in Brazil, and mad young lads hung halfway out the windows like Cossack trick riders circumnavigating the circumference of a circus ring.'
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

It was in the summer of 1988 and Herself was slightly pregnant. The baby was due in July and the Euros were scheduled to start in June.

One of my more misogynistic acquaintances said it was all a cunning plot to keep me from heading off on the lash with the lads.

Later on when he was married himself, the same man was seen wearing an apron and there were stories he was baking scones with cinnamon.

The finals were held in Germany and I was offered a berth in an old minibus that had been decommissioned because the children were always late for school. The mechanic said we would be fine provided there were no hills on the way to the ferry in Rosslare, or in Brittany, or in the rest of France, or in Belgium, Holland and Germany.

The tour cartographer helpfully suggested Holland and Belgium were known as the Low Countries so there wouldn't be any hills and we would be in Stuttgart in loads of time for the England game.

The plan was I would travel over on the bus and come back by plane, just in case.

So I get to asking Herself seemingly innocent questions like "is there any danger the baby might decide to come out early?"

So, says Herself, "not if she's taking after you, seeing as you were never in time for anything in your life except matches".

There was no Googling anything back then. So I check up our set of leather-bound Encyclopaedia Britannica in Dad's study. The fountain of knowledge was stretched out the full length of a 2.5 metre shelf. The father would have some laugh if you told him back then there would come a time when you could put the whole lot in your pocket.

That was the problem about going away back then. When you were gone, you were gone. Mobiles cost a fortune and they were as big as ghetto blasters. Twitter, Skype and Facebook weren't yet invented and the phone system at home was up there, or down there, with the communication system on the Titanic.

So I became an amateur gynaecologist. The gist of my research was that a second baby is more likely to arrive early than the first. We were expecting the second instalment of Irish twins. Our first was born the September before and I would be away for ten days.

This was the summer I stopped being a lad and became a Dad. Conscience kicked in and I stayed put. Although truth to tell I regressed on many occasions since.

I waved the boys goodbye and they were full of their fun. Ireland in a big competition at last and me left at home. I consoled myself with the thought of the state they would be in when the crew returned home broke and broken.

Two weeks of eating more cheese burgers than Elvis, getting buckled from drinking beer out of German glasses as tall as Big Jack, falling out of bunk beds and getting drowned wet in army surplus flea tents.

The good news was I wouldn't get to meet Joxer. Christy Moore sang a song called 'Joxer goes to Stuttgart' four years after the '88 finals.

We all knew a Joxer. He was one of these Dubs the Dubs avoid, constantly going on about Bang Bang, The Royal, and how his mother was knocked off the toilet when The Pillar was blown up, coddle, and the crack of his a**e forever showing because his pants were always at half-mast, and him not even a builder.

I knew there would never be a session like this again, ever. And I knew too we would be all on the one road. The fact was the Irish soccer fans really are the best. I did get to the Euros in France 28 years later and it was the greatest fun ever.

The team reared by Eoin Hand and managed by Jack Charlton played like the heroes they were. We were in a group with Russia, England and the Netherlands who beat us 1-0 with an 88th-minute goal. The Dutch went on to win the competition outright.

There was a call from the lads on the house phone at three in the morning on the night we beat England 1-0.

Invitation

The singing in the background was 'Sean South' and, curiously enough, Abba's 'Waterloo'. I was put through to a German fraulein who told me she loved the Irish and it was very nice of me to invite her to stay with us for the summer. I issued no such invitation.

My pal was living with his mammy and he thought I would provide a safe house. I hung up and went back to mixing the Milupa for the night feed.

I was allowed out to the pub on furlough earlier that night. The place lifted when Ray Houghton headed the ball in to the English net. The ball, slow as a fly fisherman casting a line into a salmon run, seemed to take an age on the loop before it reached the back of the goal. It was the slowest goal ever. The pub went mad.

Dad, who was a fanatical GAA man, bought a drink for the house. Bachelor farmers who were seldom kissed were covered in lipstick. Men who fell out over ditch and dyke boundaries hugged. The cars beeped as if we were in Brazil, and mad young lads hung halfway out the windows like Cossack trick riders circumnavigating the circumference of a circus ring.

It was a starry, starry night. Home then and happy I was alive at such a time. I met up with my neighbour John Leahy and we walked together. John had it figured. He said this was the night we were rid of the post-colonial inferiority complex and Ireland was finally a nation once again, more than 60 years after independence.

I had a peep in at little Anne, fast asleep in her cot, and I thought there was nowhere else I'd rather be.

The phone rang again. "We're all part of Jackie's Army," travelled from an Irish bar in Stuttgart. The German girl offered to act as au pair. She had done a first-aid course and knew loads about delivering babies.

And the baby woke. I told Anne all about the great win we had that night over the English, and her sleepy lullaby was the night time nursery version of the old Mexican favourite 'Olé, Olé, Olé'.

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