[In Ireland we tend to use the term ‘soccer’ to distinguish that sport from Gaelic football.]
We used to kick a ball around with Sean from the time he could walk. When he was about six we took him to a local club in Dublin (Leicester Celtic, where Damien Duff started) to play in a seven-a-side league on all-weather pitches. I remember that Sean played for a team called Albion.
At the time of the 1998 World Cup Sean was approaching his seventh birthday, and we were in the process of moving from Dublin to Cavan. Sean became infatuated with Brazil (encouraged by me), and sobbed bitterly for the last 20 minutes of the final as it became clear that they would lose to France.
He took an interest in the English club scene and, not surprisingly, began to follow Man Utd. He was thrilled with their late come-back against Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final, and ran around our rented house whooping with joy (which I didn’t share). Later he switched to supporting Arsenal (like me) simply because they played such attractive football. His footballing heroes were people like Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Zinedine Zidane and Roberto Carlos.
Each summer we used to play a lot of soccer on our lawn – we bought two sets of goalposts with nets. Sean would organize the games, and would call to neighbours’ houses to try to make up the numbers. Everyone available would be enlisted – girls, boys, women or men. At other times Sean and I would stand at each end and take shots at each other. We also played a frenetic one-v.-one brand of football on our patio.
Sean didn’t play for proper teams as much as he would have liked. He was involved from time to time with a club near Virginia but had other commitments, especially rugby. He played for his school soccer team in his last year of school; he appears in the team photo in the yearbook. He liked to play soccer in the yard after school, with other boys and teachers.
On holidays in Majorca, Sean and I played Astroturf football with other holiday-makers in the baking sun. Last year we began to play regular five-a-side matches on the local Astroturf pitch, once or twice a week, with a group of men and boys mainly around Sean’s age (I was by far the oldest regular). In the car on the way, Sean used to stop whatever music was playing and put on something that he thought would get us ‘pumped up’, such as AC/DC. I don’t think it worked for me.
Those games, with Gary, Nigel, Craig, John, Jamie, Simey, Brian, Tommy, Paul, James, Mark, Stephen K, Stephen S, Terry, Brendan, Andy and many others, over the course of a few months, were fantastic fun while they lasted … fast and competitive. Sean and I always seemed to be on opposing sides. I eventually got injured and Sean moved to an apartment in Cavan town; the scene fizzled out.
There was no football on our lawn this summer … the players we had on those happy, sweaty, laughter-filled summer nights have grown up or moved on. The goalposts no longer have nets; they are battered and stand facing randomly on the lawn. At one end, the dry-stone wall I built was weakened badly in places from years of football-related abuse and, as I mentioned, partly collapsed a month or so ago.
As the late Bob Marley sang in one of Sean’s favourite songs, everything has changed … nothing remains the same.