Crap title I know, but it’s better than “Stick a Cork in it”.
So, what is one to do during the close season? I suppose you could sit in the pub all day waiting for the CCL fixture list to be compiled by some bloke in his semi-detatched in Stanmore. You could watch the AFCW vs AFCW DVD all over again, each time looking for something new to happen. You could actually do something sad and outlandish and actually have a normal non-AFCW life. Or you can do what your humble and esteemed editor did and take a trip westward to partake in some hot Eircom action
Now, in case you are wondering what I’m talking about, I decided to leave the confines of south-west London and headed to south-west Ireland to watch Cork City vs Shelbourne, a pretty near as dammit top-of-the-table clash. This is the first season that the Eircom league has done summer soccer, so instead of watching games lashed with wet and windy weather in February, you can now watch games lashed with wet and windy weather in July. Slightly more civilised and you can still get home before it gets dark
Before I get on with the Turners Cross experience, a bit of background info (and no, I’m not going to mention that the SW19 clan originates from Cork) : many games are switched to Friday evening because of Sky/Premiership paying for floodlights to many games so that it leaves Saturday free to watch Liverpool/Man U etc on Sky. Why this should work for the summer I don’t know, though I suppose that Sky want the huge Irish support base for certain teams to watch meaningless pre-season friendlies instead of visiting their local team. Nothing really changes wherever you go.
Anyway, on this particular Friday evening I ventured to the southern area of Cork city itself, a city not unlike Nottingham. Very pleasant as well. I had arrived around Turners Cross earlier in the day, primarily to pick a good parking spot (which I eventually ended up nowhere near) and also to pick up my ticket. Yes, this was a big clash, or so the local radio station was telling me. As every schoolboy knows, Shelbourne are from Dublin, and Cork-Dublin clashes are a bit, ahem, passionate. The average Dub considers the Corkman to be a scavenger, inbred hillbilly and close personal friend of Roy Keane, whilst the typical Leesider reckons somebody from the capital to be a rich tosser, only capable of walking with head up anal passage, content with paying â‚¬5 for a pint of stout and who are all probably descended from the British Royal Family. Needless to say, the game had potential for some fireworks
Picking up tickets is an AFCW style experience, especially at 1pm on a Friday afternoon. Cork basically don’t have a ticket office (to pick one up on the night requires you to go to a portable garden shed), so a trip to the Horseshoe public house is in order to pick one up. Surprised we don’t try something similar, you could pop in mid-afternoon to pick up a stub for an all-ticket game and end up five hours later with plenty of Stella down your gullet. All for the stadium fund, naturellment. Still, â‚¬10 wasn’t bad.
The SW19mobile returned later that afternoon, having passed the nearby rugby ground (which I thought was Turners Cross) to a brick wall with a pub beside it (which was Turners Cross). Unless you look hard enough, you wouldn’t know that the ground was there, because it’s built in a hole in a hill. Bit like the Holmesdale Road end – you remember, Selhurst Park? Never mind. First impressions of da Cross is that it’s very very reminiscent of Plough Lane, or at least the slightly flaky paintwork on the turnstiles is anyway. Even the pub was the same proximity to the home end, though thankfully said watering hole was cheaper than the Sportsman and not so unpleasant. Better beer as well. And yes, that was a sacred cow being slaughtered there.
Parking up, and making a detailed map as to where I’d actually parked, I needed food. Badly. A quick trip to the local chippy, where a nice battered sausage or two (plus chips and peas) actually tasted nice. Better than the crap that the chippy next to Ks concocts anyway. However, my appetite was tempered with the rather horrific sight of somebody wearing a blue shirt with Emirates on it. Yes, Celsi were let out of their foster home for the evening. I swear they’re like bacteria – whether you’re in Cork or Colliers Wood, they’re there. I decided not to approach it.
This little incident aside, the place was starting to pick up a nice buzz about it. Stalls were being set up selling everything from burgers to sausages (please can we have similar at Ks?). And a stall run by a group of sprogs who looked like they were from Baden Powell’s boy brigade flogging 7-Up. Not to mention the portable garden shed selling tickets, which as it had started raining didn’t look quite such an object of my cynical and weary derision. To the pub it was, and a quick pint of Murphy’s (together with discussion with a local about Man United, spending Euro in Northern Ireland, spending Euro in general and just why you should never drink a bad pint of stout) geared me.
Entering the ground, Turners Cross is a nice stadium : I have been to Dalymount Park (home of Bohemians, another Eircom team) and it seems like the improvements in the League of Ireland are being mirrored off the pitch as well. The two side stands at da Cross are nicely rebuilt and look very nice. A bit like Ks, only newer. There are plans to roof and redevelop the end stands as well, and once fully finished it will be a ground that Koppout would be envious of.
I made my way to the unfortunately named Shed end, though unlike the Celsi equivalent the clientele in the Leeside version of the Shed did have a collective IQ running into double figures. A glance around showed lots of people wearing UK-related football memorabilia : apart from the aforementioned Celsi, there were of course predominantly Celtic, along with some Man U, Liverpool, and for some reason Leicester City. Not to be left out, I decided to colour myself up for once and spend some money on a Cork City t-shirt. Well, it was a training top type thingy, with the City logo on it and a splash for Guinness (their sponsors) directly underneath it. Quite nice clobber, though some of the stitching on it did mean that I was walking around with “Guinnes” for a while. Oh well, at least the sponsors logo doesn’t fade out, unlike some teams I could mention 🙂
Further observations were forthcoming : firstly, why is it that every member of the Garda (Irish police, for you imperialists) looks about 12 and unable to fight his way out of a paper bag? Certainly the ones at the game fall into this category, though such fresh faced youthfullness didn’t stop a couple of optimistic young colleens hoping to examine his protective weapon. Secondly, there were loads of kids about. Seriously, about 20% of the entire crowd must have been under 13 (at least the Garda felt safe amongst his own kind), which for the future of soccer in Ireland has to be good. Thirdly, unless I am totally dumb, I was particularly unable to get a cup of tea anywhere inside the ground. I could nip outside and down another Murphys, or drink the usual coke and/or water, but given that at this stage I was getting quite wet (it had started to rain a bit heavily) and cold I could have done with some warming up. And perhaps most interestingly of all, somebody had bought a Basque flag into the ground with embroided badges of City, Celtic, Cliftonville up in Belfast and – wait for it – St Pauli. Wonder if they knew of AFCW’s unofficial links with the Hamburg side? More to the point, wonder if they were prepared to hear the (legal) goings on in Hamburg…?
Kickoff approached, and in another old-fashioned AFCW/WFC nostalgia trip, any loose footballs/beachballs were kicked into the (now full) Shed End and given a rather nice game of volleyball inbetween the fans. Come on, if your memory is long enough you’ll remember this. Such old-fashioned camaraderie almost bought a tear to my eye. Or was it the weather? The singing was good and loud, and best of all there was a nice, ahem, welcome for ex-City and now Shelbourne player Ollie Cahill. No idea what he had done, but I don’t think the banners proclaiming him to be a character in the Bible were entirely complementary. And guess what – he didn’t start either.
The teams walked out to a helluva racket, and the game started. City’s manager, one Pat Dolan, looked like he’d just visited his bank manager. From a distance, he looked like Sam Allardyce (who started his managerialship in Ireland, along with our mates Sanch and Steve Cotteril). Now, as regular SW19 readers will know, I am no good on concentrating on the match in hand, so here goes : basically, City did most of the running, had most of the shots and certainly put in most of the hard tackles. Now, Eircom league standard ain’t the Premiership, though it is better than people give it credit for : Glen Crowe of Bohs can get into the national side, and (inbetween suggesting that Cahill not only gives head but masturbates at the same time, an impressive feat I’m sure you’ll agree) plenty in the Shed were calling for John O’Flynn to be picked by Brian Kerr. The skill on offer wasn’t too bad, and in a largely uneventful 75 minutes we were also treated to a nice bit of AFCW style on-field rucking. No injuries, maimings or death though
Around the 76th minute, things kicked into life – literally. The Shelbourne #5, one Jim Gannon (yes, that is the same ex-Sheff Utd Jim Gannon you’re thinking of), did a tackle that I’m sure would have got him done under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and got red carded. Even the Garda stopped trying to buy sweeties and considered making an arrest before his mum called him home for tea. Suddenly, the pressure rose and so did the anxiety. Like our game against Wallingford, every time the opposition attacked there was a horrible feeling they were going to snatch it.
As the game draw to a close, City made another foray forward. Another hard challenge and …….. twack. Penalty to City, and cue much Man U style harrassing of the referee by Shelbourne. One of their players shoved somebody – whether it was a City player or the ref is unclear – and was rewarded with a yellow card, which was his second. So, Shels were down to 9 men, conceding a last minute penalty and heading for defeat. Surely, everyone bar the 150 Shels fans making their way down to Rebel Country were to be going home happy?
Up stepped John O’Flynn, and the anticipation was electric. Surely all City’s hard work was going to be rewarded? Anyway, a step forward, then another step forward, then a run-up by the man all of City wanted to be wearing the green of the national side, a sweet shot and ………………………………………………………… the fucking Shels keeper saved it. Git.
The silence that greeted the save was frighteningly sharp, and after that the life seemed to go out. The full time whistle went, and ended 0-0. Despite stopping Shels it did feel like a loss, that’s how the game went. It’s early in the season but this can’t have helped City’s championship one bit. To further compound it, despite playing well City ended up falling to fifth in the table…
Still, I enjoyed myself. The game wasn’t that bad, despite the claims of the Irish Examiner proclaiming that the game “did little to enhance the Eircom League’s image”. Compared to some of the dross that the self-important Most Exciting League In The Worldâ„¢ serves up as entertainment anyway. And at least it had passion
And City play better PA music than AFCW…….