I first started to follow soccer (called by that name in Ireland to distinguish it from (Gaelic) football) around the time Chelsea played Leeds in the 1970 FA Cup Final. I also started to play it, informally, having acquired my first pair of football boots.
The field behind my house on St Conlan’s Road in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, which has long since been covered in houses, was owned by an elderly farmer named Sonny Hogan. There were no markings, and jumpers served as goalposts in the time-honoured manner. Two arbitrary captains picked teams from whoever showed up – local kids named Toohey, Fahy, O’Regan, Whelan, Hogan, Bergin, Kennedy. There was never a referee.
Sonny used to chase us. Luckily he wasn’t very mobile, but sometimes he would get quite close before being noticed. Someone would shout ‘Sonny!’ and we would pick up the jumpers and the ball and scatter in all directions. Once he left a note on a cigarette packet that said ‘Keep of the grass’, which was ignored.
We played there an awful lot – sometimes morning, noon and night – and must have retarded the growth of a good-sized rectangle of grass, although the field was mown every summer and haystacks appeared (which lent themselves to other games). I often heard the corncrake’s rasp there, but never saw one. Continue reading