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I sprinted like mad through the old ticket gate
With my bag swinging over my back.
But up on the platform I cursed cruel fate,
As the train chuffed away down the track.
And I stood there despondently all on my own.
Now what could I do for two hours in Athlone?
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I decided that maybe I’d go for a stroll,
While some light still remained in the day,
To try and work out if the town had a soul,
Or whether ‘twas lifeless and grey.
And so I stepped out without procrastination,
Away down the road from that old railway station.
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My walking was random, no target I set,
And I chose every street on a whim.
The dull, faceless houses I soon would forget,
And the fact’ries lay empty and grim.
But as the bland afternoon slowly turned dark,
I found myself standing outside St. Mel’s Park.
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The gate lay wide open, so I wandered in,
For I hadn’t been there for a while.
I walked round the pitch to that shed made of tin,
With my lips fondly pursed in a smile.
An old man was sitting down one of the flanks,
Alone in his thoughts on the worn, painted planks.
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As I climbed up the steps and sat down by his side,
He offered a faraway greeting.
The wild, swirling wind with ferocity tried
To lift off the rusty tin sheeting.
The pitch spread before us so luscious and green,
Our mem’ries unfurled, we both drank in the scene.
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‘Twas nearly ten minutes ‘ere I at last spoke,
And then ‘twas to mock this “museum”,
“Ramshackle shed,” I observed, as a joke.
“It’s a bit like that old Coliseum.
I heard that the plan is to pull it all down,
And move the whole ground to the far side of town.”
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“I’m seventy six now,” he answered and smiled,
With that dewdroppy look in his eye.
“I’ve been coming down here since I was a wee child,
And it’s maybe not long till I die.
And this ramshackle stadium, battered and worn,
Saw the first light of day in the year I was born.
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‘I’ve spent my whole life with the black and the blue,
I’ve shared all the highs and the lows.
I know that this club may mean nothing to you,
No reason it should, I suppose.
But for me, it’s my father, my sister, my wife,
And the only true love I have had in my life.
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‘I remember one day as a middle-aged man,
A dreary wet day in September,
This stand was packed out to see A.C. Milan,
In a game I will always remember.
‘Twas proudly we hosted those footballing giants,
But they were surprised by our stubborn defiance.
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‘I suppose that St. Mel’s is a piece of waste ground,
When you play mostly in the San Siro,
But are lads were impressive and knocked it around,
And every man jack was a hero.
They bravely attacked the Italian defence,
Who resorted to fouling when things became tense.
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‘Albertosi, the goalie, had plenty to do,
With the Milanese backs in a panic,
And Larkin and Duffy and Dougie Wood too
Were each so composed and titanic.
I pitied the poor old Italian, Benetti,
Who spent the whole night running round getting sweaty.
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‘The Italian tackling was coarse and extreme,
And some of their tactics quite sordid,
But then the whole evening turned into a dream,
As a penalty kick was awarded.
I barely could watch with the ball on the spot,
But the massive, great keeper saved Minno’s weak shot.
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‘Daly and Humphries tormented their backs,
But we couldn’t convert any chances,
Wave after wave of strong Irish attacks
Were repulsed in quite cruel circumstances.
It was the most marvellous and splendid nil nil,
And there’s many round here who remember it still.
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‘Of course, we were trounced when we played them away,
But somehow it just didn’t matter.
The lads gave the town such a glorious day,
Served up on a great silver platter.
And then in the eighties, we won the league twice,
Which in my old age was exceedingly nice.
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‘This stand that you mock has seen many great men
Turn out for the black and the blue,
Turlough and Michael O’Connor and then
Pat Whelan and Harry McCue.
Larry Wyse, Joey Salmon and bold Denis Clarke
Have all entertained us down in St. Mel’s Park.
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‘And now this old stadium’s gone to the dogs,
This tin shed will rattle no longer.
And sure, ‘twon’t be long ‘ere I pop my own clogs,
For I surely won’t get any stronger.
And here on this pitch, where my life truly mattered,
I’ve asked that my ashes be solemnly scattered.”
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I glanced at my watch lying tight on my arm,
And a warning shot lanced through my brain.
“I’m afraid I must go,” I announced with alarm,
“Or else I might miss the next train.
But thank you, good fellow, for putting me right,
I’m sorry my words sounded flippant and trite.”
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I left him there musing, and lost in his thoughts,
As I made my way back to the station,
But my mind was distracted and quite out of sorts,
As I pondered our long conversation.
And as I passed by a wall of graffiti-strewn brick,
I doubled in pain and was violently sick.