These are tough times.
A lot have it tougher than I.
All I have to do is stay locked up for a while.
It’s hard to think happy thoughts when all you see and hear on television and radio, is apocalyptic.
But this afternoon, having no sport to watch, that documentary on RTE about the Boys in Green took me back thirty years to one of the best times I ever had in my life.
I was there for the whole thing.
The then new editor of The Star Michael Brophy put everything on that World Cup.
He sent a full crew of great sports writers.
And he sent me to write about fans and Jim Walpole to photograph them.
It was a gamble. A brilliant gamble. And it worked.
So here are a few of the things I remember from that wonderful summer.
There was a Booze Ban. It was forbidden to sell alcohol immediately before or after the games.
And so, when I arrived late for lunch in Cagliari the day of the English game, I was resigned to having a glass of water with my food.
My colleagues were already at the table.
A waiter arrived.
He was holding a large Coke bottle and a large 7 Up bottle.
“Would you like Coke or 7 Up?” he asked.
I told him I wanted neither.
He asked again.
“Would you like Coke or 7 Up?”
Again I said I didn’t.
My colleagues were smiling.
The waiter leaned towards me and asked me again. This time the question was slightly different.
“Would you like RED Coke or WHITE 7 Up?”
I had the red Coke.
In Palermo, we went into a bar one evening during the Booze Ban. It was packed.
Half the customers were Irish, half were locals.
They weren’t hiding. It was noisy. There was singing.
I got myself a drink and sidled up to one of the locals.
“Why don’t the police shut this bar like they’ve shut the others? I asked.
“Because we ARE the police,” came the reply.
It felt like home.
Then, the morning after the night before – or rather the lunchtime after the night before, I made my way to the bar in our hotel in Palermo.
I ordered a Bloody Mary.
I sat down with some of the other lads.
“What good is a Bloody Mary without the vodka?” they asked.
But I distinctly remember the barman putting vodka in the drink. And I told them so.
“You imagined it,” they said. “We tried all sorts to get him to give us a drink but he said no, he couldn’t.”
So I went up to the bar. They followed.
I can’t remember his name – we knew him well at the time! – but I called him over and asked him if there was vodka in the Bloody Mary.
“Of course,” he said.
One of the other lads looked at him.
“But what about the Booze Ban?” he asked.
“This is not booze,” he said lifting my Bloody Mary, “this is food.”
It was Bloody Marys all around,
The night before the Italian match in Rome, there was a gang of us in a pub, singing and drinking.
A cop came in.
“No singing,” he said. “The American ambassador lives nearby. He says you are noisy. He must sleep. No singing.”
He left. We stopped singing. For ten minutes.
We were mid song when the policeman appeared again.
This time he was spoke more firmly.
“The American ambassador. He lives nearby. He complains of noise. NO SINGING.”
So we stopped singing.
This time, we stopped for maybe fifteen minutes.
And then we started again.
The policeman arrived in.
He was holding his baton in one hand and banging it into the palm of the other.
He was looking very serious.
“The American ambassador,” he said, “wants to know if you will sing Danny Boy.”
So we did.
And despite Germany claiming otherwise, WE won that World Cup.
(PS There’s lots more where that came from!)