Saturday 21 September 2019

Tommy Conlon: 'Ultimate injury scare more about being morto than muerto'

Fernando ‘Lazarus’ LaFuente
Fernando ‘Lazarus’ LaFuente

Tommy Conlon

While in death it might be considered something of a bonus to have an obituary written in your honour, it is surely the ultimate bonus to find yourself still alive when said obituary is published.

This may be the definitive example of having your cake and eating it. They're saying you're dead while you're reading the words that are saying you're dead, which probably means that you have not in fact joined the majority, the choir invisible, the army of the night.

Now, if you're the careful type you might be inclined to double-check by vigorously patting yourself down and looking in the mirror and going online. When sportsmen say they have to pinch themselves to believe they've won x, y or z, they normally don't actually do it. But in this case you might literally have to pinch yourself just to be sure you haven't suddenly and irrevocably stiffened.

Because it is all very well to dismiss everything as fake news, until the news concerns your own demise. Next thing you know you might have Ciarán Mullooly turning up outside your house to announce the grim tidings on RTÉ, or have your name and address read out during the roll call of the dead on local radio. Do not send to ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

Happily the dead arose and appeared to many last Wednesday morning. I'm alive! I'm alive! declared Fernando LaFuente on Seán O'Rourke's radio show. And he certainly sounded convincing.

Fernando had been consigned to history the previous week in an unfortunate attempt at fixture avoidance by a representative of Ballybrack FC in south Dublin. Allegedly this official sought to have a match with Arklow Town FC in the Leinster Senior League (LSL) postponed and was apparently so desperate to do so, he invented the storyline that one of their players had been killed in a road accident on his way home from training on Thursday night.

The news was posted on the club's social media; the LSL was contacted and duly postponed the fixture. In other games that did go ahead over the weekend, teams wore black armbands and a minute's silence was observed. Clubs posted messages of sympathy on social media.

It was in trying to do the decent thing that the LSL rumbled this macabre ruse. They placed a notice in The Herald offering the League's "heartfelt condolences" to everyone concerned, and followed it up by contacting Ballybrack to ascertain the funeral arrangements. They were looking at sending a delegate and, mindful that Fernando was Spanish, also investigating the possibility of offering some financial assistance with the expenses involved. The LSL's evident sincerity and thoughtfulness makes the deception seem all the more reprehensible.

Inevitably, the last week has been an excruciating embarrassment for Ballybrack FC. On Wednesday, they released a statement that showed commendable humility. They issued apologies across the board. They said they'd already been in touch with LaFuente and were "thankful for his acceptance of our apology on this matter." The person responsible had been "relieved of all footballing duties and roles within the club itself." He had made a "grave and unacceptable mistake."

But the statement also contained a note of compassion that was equally commendable. The person in question had been "experiencing severe personal difficulties unbeknownst to any other members of the club. The club will continue to provide a duty of care to all parties and offer the support that may be needed at this time. This person had previously contributed greatly to the senior team within the club in recent years and to the wider football community across Dublin for decades."

Most organisations publicly exposed for wrongdoing are happy to produce a fall-guy and abandon him thereafter. If Ballybrack FC follow up on their "duty of care" in this situation, they will have done the honourable thing.

We were informed in a statement from the Leinster Senior League that investigations are complete and sanctions have been imposed on Ballybrack FC for failing to fulfil the fixture. The club and the individual involved have also been sanctioned for bringing the game into disrepute.

Obviously it is no laughing matter for the senior officers in the League, in Ballybrack FC and for the person at the centre of the controversy. But there is no denying that the entire episode is a black comedy of sorts too. And it seems no one has been more entertained than LaFuente himself. In the grand tradition of the cliché, rumours of his death were greatly exaggerated. Perhaps anyone targeted by these ancient rumours would be greatly amused too, if not downright flattered.

If the club can take any comfort from the farce, it is that he went on record with O'Rourke to say how well they'd looked after him. A stranger when he arrived in Dublin 12 months ago to take up a new job in IT, the universal brotherhood of soccer brought him to Ballybrack FC, where his team-mates became friends. "There was like a really good vibe, and the coaching team was exceptional, they have a bus and they drove us to the matches and it was a really great experience, one of the best things (I ever did)."

Having moved to Galway with his work in late September, he was no longer involved - until someone rang him last weekend to tell him he'd had an accident, if anyone asked. And he was okay with that because "I thought it was gonna be (a) breaking leg kind of accident." Then suddenly it was all over Facebook and elsewhere that he was muerto. Which left some people morto and many more people mirthful.

But the Spaniard was fully entitled to the last laugh. "I'm finding it a little bit funny because basically I'm not dead," declared Fernando 'Lazarus' LaFuente, as he whistled past the graveyard.

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