Thursday, May 07, 2009

Guest Post: Rev. Ian Paisley (Reminisces)

I was never a rugby fan. I hated it. Rugby was a shite game for thickos.

The rules were more baffling than cricket. A load of fat fellas huddling into each other every two minutes, throwing in and lifting each other into the air and all in all, utter wank.

Then i got a number stewarding at Lansdowne Road when i was dossing in Dublin's premier homeless hostel.

It was a uniquely Irish set up. There were two types of steward, voluntary and paid. The vols were all Leinster Blackrock chaps who brought their own packed lunches and fruit, and worked in the stands showing (more pointing really) people to their seats.

They exuded an earnest and serious manner, there to cheer on the BOD (captain of the irish rugby team, brian o'driscoll) and the boys, a hint of blue sticking out of the standard issue orange flourescent jackets handed out at the start of the match to both sets of stewarding staff. These boys were not messing about. They were there for a civilised game of rugger, whilst doing their civic duty for the paying fans, mainly blokes and the odd stunner, from all over Europe and beyond who teemed in radiating well heeled and wealthy bonhomie, never leary and a sizable minority with painted faces and double scarves which displayed the name and colours of both teams - flogged outside the ground by the canny dub street traders for a tenner a pop.

A day out for the celtic successes spending two hundred quid at least, on watching 30 fellas throwing themselves into each other for no visible reward other than whatever cash it brought them, hearing 40,000 people roar them on and a chance of gaining immortality in the pantheon of sporting legends were the Irish greats gaze out in fading sepia tint from behind glass as young scangers size up the frame working out how best to have it away and sold to some dodgy nutter addicted to owning a piece of history.


The paid staff however, where a wholly different breed of stewarding professional. One could immediately apprehend by visual identification alone, whether an orange clad worker was paid or vol.

The paid blokes (for it was inevitably thus) stood by the step-entrances to the stands, within the grey concrete bowels of Lansdowne, making sure the tickets of the punters who had already shown them coming through the turnstiles, were in order (which they inevitably were) and our only view the jacks, burger vans and practice pitch (if we were lucky).

To secure this role of immense responsibility, it was necessary at first to go and que up outside the portacabins with the rest of the casual drop-ins and drinkers who congregated there before the match to secure a few hours work.

A bit like the old dockers' pens, the whiff of ale present, the faces betraying what our primary interest was. The lads.

The difference between us and them, the paid and the vols, was obvious, plain to see. We were the baggy, craggy faced pissheads, and they, ones who could have been playing on the pitch if things had been different: if the gods of sport had smiled more kindly and not put them out of contention in the final year at Blackrock. The docks versus D4.

And also almost to a man, we couldn't give a toss about rugby. The motivating reason for our attendance, 45 quid, cash in hand at the end of the match, which meant a night on the lash in town straight after coming from the game a whole nation of sport nuts would have sold their least favourite granny's ghost for being at.

The first game was Wales Ireland, and a very strange thing happened, because a fellow (welsh) steward who was a rugby fan, as the action was happening, gave me the low down on why they were stopping, throwing in, scrumming and all the rest of it. And though little of it stuck, enough of the bare bones were dilineated to make it comprehensible.

Interesting, but still, i wasn't getting stiff watching the cream of Irish talent and fantasy objects in a fair few wet dreams, tossing the ball about in tight shorts.

But at the end of the match, we all had to assemble in a cordon on the pitch for the final few minutes, theoretically to repel any attempt at invading it, which never happened, and so more of a ritual than serious activity.

And it was then, being close up, feet away from the physical action, the beauty of it all hit me and I got to see what all the other nutters were wetting their nickers about.

There was grace, great skill and athleticism, a benign trace of the old cattle raiding spirit, something alive, something from the ancient yore of long ago still present. As though the men on the pitch were the thoroughbred inheritors of some sporting celtic flame which had once possessed Cúchulain and Ferdiad at the ford, or Finn McCool on the slopes of Ben Bullen.

Live, close up, I saw the soul in rugby and fell for it hook line and sinker. At least, enough to watch it now on the TV and remain interested. Strange, before never, now, i caught the second half of Leinster Glasgow at the RDS, and witnessed some of the best passing game ever. No long balls, all flow and physical running skill.


The most memorable game was Munster Leinster in the European cup semi final, the one before last. A day the gods of sport laughed at Leinster Blackrock public schoolboys of D4 as the dockers of Limerick grabbed the game by its scruff of the neck and stuffed the opposition from the off.

The sun itself had conspired against the East coast team, as the bulk of their fans were housed in the West stand on a freezing cold late spring day, sunny and warm in the East Stand were the Munster lunatics had gathered, and yet sub-zero the shade of the West stand were the huddled and cold mass of blue turned the colour of their shirts as the Munster riot-squad let rip.

Led by a man (i will never forget) singing The Fields of Athenry through an electric megaphone, at the edge of the hardest of an already infeasabley harcore bunch of red painted bodhrán wielders in full vocal frenzy, and then turning to the tier above and motioning them by way of swinging his full body and free arm upward into the air, as if punching the head off a paedophile in his child's playpen, and roaring they adopt his behaviour as a template for their own.

I had been drawn away from my station at the bottom of the steps, because on hearing this very tinny yet abnormally loud voice singing The Fields of Athenry, i was at a sheer loss to work out what it was, until spotting the ringleading cheerleader.

And as I was taking this short scene in, the voluntary Leinster-fan steward responsible for maintaining peacable order in that section of the East stand, his freshly scrubbed glowing healthy non-smoking, un-alcoholic face, had composed itself into one which clearly signalled displeasure and on the verge of vomitting disgust.

He was glaring at Munster's most intelligent fan, with all the ferocity of Mary Harney or Rosanna D, being asked for a quick ham-shandy in the cubicle of the East wing bogs, and it was at this point I decided to pledge my support to the red team, as being a plastic whose loyalties are 3/4 far west Mayo and 1/4 deepest Desmond Munster, i too had caught the buzz of the clearly most passionate bunch.

Ah, happy daze..

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