That Friday Feeling: The garden or the game? I'll get my boots...
I’M better at writing about football than I am at playing it.
“That’s not saying a big pile,” I hear them that has read what I’ve wrote remark.
“Aye, you’re right there,” I hear some who have seen my efforts on the football field agree with enthusiastic nodding of heads.
Anyway, as I was admitting before I was interrupted by those imagined jibes, I’m better at writing than playing but that will never stop me enjoying it. And even though my list of interests now includes turning the little patch of grass behind my house into a perfectly manicured lawn (which I suspect is a sign of old age creeping in) I still like nothing better than kicking the ball around.
Throughout many incarnations starting from my local club’s underage teams up to senior level (which began as a skinny 16-year-old), to a game for Newry Tech against Armagh Tech that I recall ended in carnage, a run-out with the Humberside University Fifths against Huddersfield Polytechnic Thirds, signing for Banbridge Rugby Club sixths and on to a spell as a no-nonsense centre-half for the now sadly defunct Irish News FC (which included famous wins over the likes of Friends of Paddy Heaney (5-2), BBC NI and The Belfast Telegraph and the mighty Xtravision) I’ve happily pulled my boots on at the possibility of a game.
But time moves on and injuries, family commitments, work and lack of motivation (AKA laziness) all take their toll and the opportunities for five-a-sides diminish as what little fitness, timing and control we have fades away.
And so it seemed that, without ever making a formal announcement, I had called it a day. This time two years ago I was retired. The boots (that I had borrowed off some fella a year previously) were hanging in my shed beside the lawn seed, lawn feed, lawn fertiliser and the spring-tined lawn rake, gathering dust.
Then a friend of mine who was still fighting the good fight rang and was adamant that I still had more to give and so, out of the blue, I recovered the Puma Kings from the shed and went along to a recreational game of Gaelic Football at the Armagh Harps club.
Lo and behold, I finally stumbled on a game that suited my pedestrian pace.
There were family men, single men, natives of Tyrone, Armagh, Dublin and elsewhere of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and levels of fitness and ability. Some of them are steeped in the GAA tradition, some could have played county football, some might never have played senior football or been involved with a club in their lives and there are some lads who had probably never heard of Gaelic Football until they came to this country who would walk onto senior teams now.
It’s non-contact (more or less), goals only and it’s competitive enough to keep you honest but it’s not about winning or losing – it’s about getting a run-out and a bit of craic and enormous credit is due to the guys who organise games like these. I must admit there are times when I didn’t feel like getting off the sofa and going out into the cold on a wet night but no matter the weather I always drive home glad that I did. And all for only £2 a night!
As we all know, sport was shut down everywhere during the lockdown including the thriving recreational scene in the Cathedral City which includes GAA twice-a-week, soccer twice-a-week and, on another night, basketball.
I missed it. When I was a lad I used to drag my father out to play football in the garden, during the lockdown I dragged out my son and eldest daughter out for a kickabout. We played soccer, football, rugby and cricket and it was as much to get me out of the house as it was getting them out.
There was plenty of clamour to get kids back playing sport and rightly so of course but nobody mentioned their oul boys and this is a shout-out for them. After lockdown we’ve all added a few pounds to our waistlines, the pubs are closed, many people will be concerned about their livelihoods and we see our friends and families less often. Mental health can suffer.
And so the lesson (not a lesson, more a bit of encouragement) is that you’re never too old. Forget about the lawn, work issues, or whatever your worries are for a while, put down the phone, clear the head and spend a bit of time on yourself by getting out there and having a go whether it’s with a ball, or on a bike, or going for a walk and the more people who are involved the better because a bit of banter is important too.
I was playing the other night and the old magic still isn’t there. I caught a few, I dropped a few, I scored a couple and I missed a couple more but sure, like I said, I’m better at writing about football than I am at playing it.
Anyway, I’d better get back to me garden…
THE arms of an entire community wrapped around the Reel family after the untimely death of their beloved James last week.
James died long before his time in a tragic accident. Universally popular, the 35-year-old was a genuinely friendly, decent and generous man who did no end of good deeds (the majority of which he never thought to mention) for so many people around his native Silverbridge.
He leaves behind a grieving wife and a young family. To them and to his heart-broken father, his sisters, brother, his brothers and sisters-in-law, mother and father-in-law, his nephews and nieces, the wider family circle and his many friends, there are no words of sympathy that can ease the pain of his loss.
The conduct of the Silverbridge Harps club has been exemplary throughout a harrowing time. They stood tall for James, their former player, and his family who are staunch supporters of ‘the ’Bridge’.
On the night when clubs around the country finally opened their gates to children after lockdown, those at Silverbridge stayed shut in an unquestioned mark of respect.
With a thick cloud of sorrow hanging over south Armagh and no wake permitted, the club organised a socially-distanced candlelight vigil outside the Reel home.
It was attended by hundreds of people and clubmen and men and women in blue and gold provided a guard of honour at Glassdrummond chapel last Wednesday when James was laid to rest.
His death has left a chasm in his family and in their community that no amount of good wishes or kind words could ever fill but the solidarity shown by Silverbridge Harps during a truly heart-breaking period is a reminder of what the GAA really is all about.