I have been intrigued over the years by the large volumes of people travelling weekly across the water to support, in the main, Glasgow Celtic and English soccer teams. No expense is spared it seems as these die hard supporters make their weekly pilgrimages to London, Manchester, or Liverpool. My 10-year-old son, Johnny, is a supporter of Liverpool so I decided to source a couple of tickets for a home match in Anfield as a Christmas present. I booked the flights last December. Departure was from Knock on Saturday morning with the return flights booked for Sunday lunchtime. I discovered, however, sometime in mid January that Sky Sports, which dictates when matches are played, had moved this fixture to Sunday which meant I had to re-book our flights. When I realised what Ryanair wanted to charge me to change my scheduled flights, I decided to stick with my outbound journey and book separate flights home on the Monday. With an arrival time of 10.45am in Liverpool and loads of time to kill I managed to secure two tickets for the Manchester v Blackburn game on the Saturday evening in Old Trafford. Johnny had got lucky!
On arrival at Knock airport on Saturday morning I was astonished to see a large crowd of people waiting to board flights destined for football matches all over England. I met one man who was travelling over to see Leicester play at the weekend. This man, who had all his family with him, told me his wife had bought him tickets as a 50th birthday present a few weeks earlier. There was a great buzz of excitement at Knock as most, like us, appeared to be heading for their particular theatre of dreams supporting their respective teams. We arrived in Liverpool and were able to take a bus from the airport into Manchester city. Johnny was wearing his Liverpool cap and that drew a fair bit of attention. It was all good fun and we were enjoying the good humoured banter with many soccer- loving fanatics. We made our way out to the ground early to soak up the atmosphere. Every second person walking towards the ground seemed to be Irish and the atmosphere, hours in advance of the 5.30pm kick- off, was fantastic. I couldn’t believe the number of food stalls around the ground, serving what looked like amazing food to interested punters. There seemed to be hundreds of stalls selling flags, scarves, T-shirts, the lot. We went to our seats early and within seconds I had a senior steward running towards me advising me to remove the Liverpool hat I had borrowed from my son. I didn’t have to be told a second time! In the game Manchester United rode their luck and managed to win 2-1. There is no doubt in my mind that referees must be more than a little intimated when they officiate here, as Blackburn were denied a certain penalty late in the second half when one of their players was impeded in the penalty box. Nevertheless it was good to be up close to see these guys in action and I was left open- mouthed when Ronaldo managed, somehow, to bend the ball over the wall to score what was an incredible goal. I had two reasonably good tickets, sourced from a Crossmolina man who must have hit the big time over there as he fixed up another four people with tickets before the game. Unfortunately the crowd in front of me had little or no interest in sitting down during the match so I too was forced to stand for most of the 90 minutes. I didn’t feel I had enough support around me to tell them to sit down!!
Not the fairy tale ending
We stayed over in Manchester that night and took the train to Liverpool the following morning. We had to hide the Liverpool cap again as the train was full of Manchester city fans this time heading for Anfield. This also is a magnificent stadium and I have to say the atmosphere at this ground is far superior to that of Old Trafford. We were seated near the Kop end and the chanting and singing of various Liverpool anthems was incredible. Unfortunately there was no fairy tale ending to the weekend as Liverpool had to settle for the draw that surely sees the title heading in the inevitable direction.
Overall the weekend was a real eye opener for me as I met several people who are affected in so many different ways following their beloved teams. There are so many emotions on display; expectation, excitement, happiness, frustration, disappointment, despair, anger, depression. These football- mad supporters remind me of followers of the Mayo team in many ways! The thousands who filled the bars hours in advance of the matches are on a fascinating journey that has seen them reach the pinnacle of happiness and plough the troughs of despair. This emotional ride doesn’t come cheap, and in these economically depressed times it appears that these people will do anything to ensure they will have the opportunity of supporting their team every other Saturday. It was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend for us both, but I remain absolutely convinced that you cannot beat Croke Park for the complete package.
Dreams come to an end
I had to rely on texts from friends at home for the GAA fixtures and results last weekend. The fairytale came to an end for the boys from Dromcollogher-Broadford when they were annihilated by the real aristocrats of club football, Crossmaglen. The 18-point margin at the end must have been particularly cruel for them to stomach, as it somewhat tarnishes what was otherwise a memorable club season for them. Remember they shocked the football scene late last year by winning their first Munster club final, beating no less a team than Nemo Rangers en route to that historic title. There would have been no expense spared over the last two months in preparation for their big day last Sunday. After suffering such a huge defeat, maybe there might have been a few wishing they could have brought the curtain down on their season after their famous Munster success!
We need players like this
I hear that Pat Kelly has withdrawn from the Mayo football panel. It would appear that Pat became a little disillusioned after the Donegal match two weeks ago. Pat started that particular game at corner back and was subsequently replaced at half time in a move that saw Andy Moran move to wing back from corner forward, Pat’s preferred and, arguably, best position. Pat I suppose was frustrated, initially at his selection in the corner, and he would have assumed that Andy was being viewed as a better half back than he. He is a loss to the squad as I honestly feel Mayo needs players of Pat’s experience around the place as we continue to introduce new younger members into the panel.