From Croke Park to Vicarage Road is a one hour flight with Ryanair


Dublin’s Croke Park on the All Ireland Football Championship quarterfinal day is fantastic. During our tour of England, Ireland, France and Italy we’d see plenty of cathedrals but with O’Keefe ancestry in County Cork, this is a distinctive pilgrimage.

And while it’s Dublin and Roscommon clashing, a vivid afternoon unfolds. Taxiing to the ground, Dad and I see sky blue tops on scurrying local spectators and bright yellow on the visitors. We pass pubs like Quinns, Kennedys and The Big Tree bursting with blokes roaring and downing pints. Dad and I duck in for a lager. The Red Parrot is thunderous and frenzied but affable.

Our reserved seats are on the top deck of the Hogan stand and Dublin Bay sparkles across to the east. As the match evolves, two local supporters observe, ‘Our centre forward is too slow’, ‘We’re getting killed across half back’ and ‘the umpires aren’t doing us any favours.’ We could be at Footy Park, the MCG or Dutton Park in my hometown of Kapunda. Possessing an aural effect unlike soccer, the crescendo and fall of the GAA crowd is uplifting.

The game is attractive and fluent. The Dubs are quicker than Australian footballers, and as a matter of necessity, lithe and angular. Dublin controls the ball and the lush spaces. In the golden summery light, they tidily account for Roscommon, known also as the Sheepstealers.

Of course, the guilty were often transported to Australia. Leaving Croke Park, Dad and I evade a bony lad enthusiastically jettisoning a hula-hoop of amber onto the concourse. It is uncertain whether he is celebrating or commiserating Dublin’s victory, but there is jeering praise. We return to our digs at Browns Hotel near O’Connell Street, for an Irish music tour through Temple Bar.

I enjoy the dexterity and explosiveness the round ball allows but prefer our game’s elliptical ball. Its blissful and cruel unpredictability seems a candid metaphor for life, which is surely football’s noblest function. Additionally, our code allows and even celebrates goal scoring imprecision by permitting behinds.

How exquisite was Plugger’s famous point after the 1996 preliminary final siren? This, too, reflects an Australian ethos that speaks of our generosity of spirit and innocent effervescence.

Despite our resistance, sometimes sporting teams demand us as supporters. Southampton chose me not because of their soccer prowess but, curiously, their fans’ set list during a fourth round Carling Cup encounter with Watford at Vicarage Road. Some mates and I sit at the Away End and the singing is compelling.

Early in the fixture and expectant, Southampton praise their diminutive striker in blossoming tones

Sup-er Sup-er Kev Sup-er Ke-vin Phillips!

Still 0-0 late in a grim first half but their pride remains contagious. The contrast with the hyper-moronic, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi” is sharp.

We love Southampton, we do!

We love Southampton, we do!

We love Southampton, we do!

Ohhhh, Southampton, we love you!

At half-time the combination of glacial queues and gastronomic judgment makes me unable to buy a cup of Burton upon Trent’s finest yeast- based beverage, Bovril. Five minutes in, they’re down 0-2 to the second division side.

Maintaining the global custom of using ridicule to try to save face, they taunt

We’re in the Premiership

We’re havin’ a laugh!

Suddenly it’s 0-3 and getting grubby. Across the autumnal air of Vicarage Road, the Saints’ choir recites the dismissive,

You’re just a small town near Luton

And then yet another Watford strike and all patience is gone, so they turn cannibal, as Bob my mate in Adelaide says, and start devouring their own

We’re so shite

It’s un-be-liev-able!

Two late consolations for the Saints and the second half, seven goal orgy is over. It is a night of dramatic tragedy on the pitch and musical theatre in the grandstands. Then, this being modern soccer, we of the Away End are funnelled, for our own safety, through a human chute of mountainous policeman.

We’re flushed out of the Vicarage Road ground and along the Watford streets to our Vauxhall Corsa. My evening is emblematic of England: startling and faintly menacing but, as always, richly engaging.



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