I’d love to be in Twickenham this weekend.
Sadly two things prevent me from being there.
My health. And my lack of a ticket.
It’s a great occasion and I’ve been lucky enough to be there a few times for the clash between those two great rugby friends and rivals, Ireland and England,
I’ve loved the Five/Six Nations since I first played rugby for the under eights in Willow Park.
So it’s been a journey of almost 60 years and more than half a century of standing on terraces and, eventually, sitting comfortably in stands watching our team in green winning and unfortunately, losing.
Tickets were, and still are, like gold dust.
So what happened in 1988, was a one off.
It has to be said at the outset that weren’t having a great season.
We had beaten Scotland at Lansdowne Road – but lost to Wales and France in the subsequent matches.
That’s no excuse for what I did a few weeks later.
I have always believed that we should support our team through thick and thin.
So I am still ashamed of what I did. Or at least, a little bit ashamed.
It was March 19 and I was in Twickenham with a ticket for the game in my pocket.
I was early. So I wandered into a pub in Twickenham village.
I couldn’t tell you which one I just know that on a cold spring day in London, it more or less invited me in.
Once inside, I could see that it had a roaring open fire.
It was thronged with rugby fans, almost all of them Irish.
And they were tucking into pints and some had plates of stew as they watched the build-up to the afternoon’s games on television.
I should have had my pint and left. But instead, I engaged the man who appeared to be running the pub, in conversation.
I broke the ice by asking where he was from. And he said Tipperary.
And then I asked if he was staying open while the match was on – it was at a time when London pubs shut until 5.30.
He assured me he was.
And he said the fire was staying lit, the telly was staying on and the stew would still be served.
I took a sip from my pint.
Then I looked out the window. It had started to snow.
Temptation got the better of me. And I gave in.
And then, for the first and only time in my life, I did something with a ticket which was totally out of character.
I held it above my head and asked out loud: “Anyone want a ticket for the game?”
A few people looked around. One guy in the far corner stared across at me and then he stood up and he came over.
“How much do you want for the ticket?” he asked.
“You can have it,” I said. “There’s no charge. I’m not feeling the best,” I said, already making excuses for my behaviour.
He looked at me. He was finding it hard to believe. A ticket for Twickenham. Free!
“I’ll give you something for it and…”
“No,” I said. “It’s yours. Gratis.”
He shook my hand, and went back to his mates showing off the ticket.
The pub emptied as the fans went to the match. A few of the ticketless ones, which now included me, hung on.
I sat at the bar and ordered another pint and a plate of stew. The fire blazed on and, well, so did England.
We lost 35-3.
It was almost two hours after the match that the guy to whom I gave the ticket returned.
He looked cold.
I smiled at him as he came in and shrugged my shoulders.
He stormed over to me.
He looked me in the eye.
And with real anger he spat out a string of expletives indicating what he thought of me. “Ya f*****n’ b******.” And worse.
I had given him the means to go to a match and see Ireland rightly thrashed. And he wasn’t one bit happy.
You could see, no hear, he thought me the lowest of the low.
And looking back, maybe he was right.