Smirking From Home

Turning ideas into words.

Kickin’ Fitba’

Way back, when you could accuse the local slapper for being a witch if she refused your advances and you threw your daily ploppings out into the street, I borked my knee playing footie in the front garden. Dewy grass has always been looked upon with suspicion since. I was 15 or 16 at the time and looking forward to playing in my first Open Week as a competitive juvenile delinqu….I mean, golfer. (I doubt if juvenile delinquency was even invented in the 1980’s and hoodies back then were reserved for the monks). Up until that point in time I actively played football, both gaelic and less-culchie version, at school and whilst not being terribly effective at either, enjoyed hurling myself about a field with youthful abandon. Then the knee thing happened and whether it was a self-conscious thing or not, the enthusiasm for physical sport diminished. It wasn’t a terribly gruesome injury but it did necessitate gallumping around on crutches and regularly lifting pound bags of sugar strapped across my right foot for 6 weeks. None of yer underwater recuperation for this Irish lump. Shortly after it had healed, I went to Rosses Point in Sligo with an old friend of mine from school, the journey taking what seemed like 4 hours. Stepping out of the car when we reached Ryan’s Hotel, my leg took the rest of the evening to straighten itself out, something, at the time, I imagined it never would. Therefore I can only assume that a deep-seated fear of a similar injury re-occurring took hold and my non-existent potential as a professional footballer subsided, never to be re-discovered.
 
Now that was a long-winded way of saying I’m not a running about a field chasing a lump of leather type of person. Watching football? Yes but getting involved in an actual game? No way Jose. Except for this week. And whilst the mind thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the avuncular heap of slightly overweight flesh that carries me about today, didn’t. It was my nephew’s eighth birthday and my own mother hosted a small party for him and his muckers from school. We were down in Carlingford, where I grew up, for the day in order to assist with controlling the mayhem that normally accompanies such gatherings. The goalposts were mercifully easy to assemble, although unfortunately, a little on the minuscule side. The vertically challenged would have struggled to score goals in them things. The general field of play was determined and we waited for the guests to arrive.
 
It’s remarkably easy to forget just how haphazardly young folks throw themselves into a game of football. You tend to have a ball with everyone stuck within a 3 foot perimeter of its position on the pitch. For the most part, this was the case except for one major difference. The tackling was ferocious. A short while after I had left university I undertook a spot of substitute teaching for the Ma whilst she was recovering from an ailment of some sorts. It lasted 2 weeks and, not being their regular teacher, the lessons and pupils were less stressful than I have previously imagined. PE was exactly as I had described it above. Hordes of 8&9 year olds, all running after the ball, trying to give it a whack, the direction of said whack being entirely irrelevant. It was all fairly harmless yet something has obviously happened since that time which has added a more focused element to the chaos. (I’m wagging my finger in the general direction of SKY on this one). Putting in mildly, when it came to snaffling the ball from another player, the tackles were vigorous and just a tad over-exuberant. “No fear” is the expression that springs to mind. Luckily there were no broken limbs either.
 
The last time I encountered such physical endeavour on the football pitch was back in 1995. I’m going back on myself here a little as I did initially say that I avoided “playing” fitba, preferring instead the leisurely meandering of the golf course. However that’s not 100% accurate. In 1995 I used to frequent Robinson’s Rockbottom in Belfast on a Saturday night. Dirty, greasy shithole that it was, I bloody adored that place. Rock and Metal, Shots and Pints, with a bloody big Harley Davidson on the back wall. Not a Limp Bizkit or a Slipknot in sight. If heaven were in fact a real place and not some mumbo-jumbo paradise invented by some beardy blokes in dresses 2000 years ago, Rockbottom would have been its earthly equivalent. My Sunday afternoons, following the previous evening’s alcoholic entertainment, involved a primeval game of footie in a grassy clearing in one of Northern Ireland’s most notorious estates. There’s not many with an Irish dispensation who can say they’ve mingled with residents of Rathcoole without having to visit the Royal afterwards. 
 
Those games were remarkably skillful despite the large number of flying tackles and studs up challenges that were on show. I learned pretty quickly to volunteer for nets. On the rare occasions I was required outfield, I adopted the traditional goal-hangers position for the terminally clump-footed. Even to this day I’m still amazed no-one ended up in A&E considering various areas of the pitch had more glass than a tomato farm. Although perfectly amicable, I’m pretty sure no-one would have been too disappointed had the Paddy gashed himself a little. Then again, when in Rome, don’t feed the lions.
 
Naturally enough there were a few tears this week as the game progressed, mainly involving uncomfortable grass burns and scrapped elbows from the pebble-dashed wall on one side of the pitch. Children’s parties rarely finish without a little gowling from one guest or another. Mind you, waking up the next day and wondering who had replaced my legs with concrete pillars, was excruciating in itself. I’ll readily admit to being perfectly aware that a paragon of physical perfection I ain’t, but the simple fact that if an eight year old can floor me with a hearty lunge, then I need to lose a few pounds here and there. Oh and everywhere else too.  
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April 9, 2010 Posted by | I Am What I Am, Sport, Times Past | , | 1 Comment

Gusty

The North Coast of Northern Ireland is the geographical equivalent of a schizophrenic. On the one hand it’s extremely rugged and beautiful, with a pervading sense of calm amongst the cliffs, peaks, dunes and valleys. There’s a real sense of getting away from it all up there, a place to clear what might ail you. Yet there is a harshness and lurking menace which is inescapable. One man’s scenery is another’s desolation, borne mainly of bitter winds and horizontal rain.

 IN the past 3 days we’ve encountered 17 different shades of bloody freezing. One minute the sun is splitting the skies and the next we’re battling blizzards. Interspersed between these fluctuations is a rain which tears the skin from yer face, so unmerciful in its desire to inflict physical pain. If the Yanks fancied a stop off on their International Rendition tour for suspected members of Al’ Qaida they could do no worse than alighting here. A few lashes of a wet tea towel on POrtsewart Strand should loosen a tongue or two. Even in the 3 years I spent at university in this neck of the woods, I cannot actually remember a time when there wasn’t a wind which sole modus operandi was to cut you in two.

 Admittedly when I lived here you did become accustomed to it. You had to. Weather-wise the place takes no prisoners, especially in the wintry months between October and March. Naturally these months also coincide with the bulk of the scholastic year at university so the majority of our 3 years here were spent either floating gaily downwind, hoping to stop in time before been hoisted into the ravaging waters, or tramping diagonally into a gale, our pockets weighed down with change for balance. Was it my imagination at the time but did the walk home from the Anchor always seem to be into a headwind no matter what way ye were heading?

 A good friend of mine at the time ended up with a broken leg having being physically lifted by the wind one evening in Portrush and deposited on the other side of the street. She wasn’t helped by the fact that she was six-foot tall and willow-framed. I can recall her saying at the time that it was both scarily frightening and bizarrely exhilarating. I’d lean towards the brown trouser sensation myself. It’s not something you expect to experience outside of the American Mid West although the funnelled streets of Portrush do create ideal channels for the cold North winds to wreak their mischief. Whilst I’ve never travelled to places where extreme cold was the expected norm, I can only believe that relatively speaking, the North Coast is the coldest place on the planet.

April 9, 2010 Posted by | Times Past | | Leave a comment