(A very long poem of sin and redemption)
(The Middle-aged Shelbourne fan accosts supporters outside the ground)
The Tolka floodlights lit the night,
Four beacons to resilience,
To bring the faithful to the light
And bathe them in their brilliance.
Outside of Shelbourne Football Club,
The people started queuing,
Not for them the local pubs
With pints and pints accruing.
They’d come from points both east and west
To see their team performing,
For Irish Springtime snugly dressed
With hats both red and warming.
Along the queue there strolled a man,
As strange as strange could be.
It was a middle-aged Shelbourne fan
Who stoppeth one of three.
“Oh heed these words by silver’d moon,
And listen while I talk!”
“Lay off thy hand, thou bearded loon,
Or art thou Tom from Cork?”
Along the line he made his way,
Shrugged off with great disdain,
Trying but to have his say
With those who queued outside to pay,
But lo! he tried in vain.
Each third man turned with oaths expressed,
Each one without exception,
Until he spied a Wedding Guest
Who’d strayed from the reception
The shirt was creased upon his chest,
Carnation pale and sickly.
The wretch approached the Wedding Guest
And buttonholed him quickly.
He laid a hand upon his arm
And scratched his tangled beard.
“Do not recoil – I mean no harm,
Retain thy inner strength and calm
And do not be afeared.”
“Oh bearded loon,” the guest replied.
“Pray tell me now – what is it?
That you’ve a tale can’t be denied –
I hope it is exquisite.”
And, prey to this hypnotic spell,
The Wedding Guest grew still.
Deep within a trance he fell,
Subsumed by greater will.
The turnstiles clicked, the queue moved on,
Good-natured, not complaining,
Till all the crowd were in and gone,
Along with Tosh, the Papillon,
With but these two remaining.
The PA man announced the team,
Each name recived a plaudit.
The Wedding Guest, as in a dream,
Blinked slowly and ignored it.
And thus began the curious tale
Of wrong and retribution
That left the Wedding Guest quite pale
Until its resolution.
(The Middle-Aged Shelbourne fan begins to narrate his story.)
“A Shelbourne fan I am in truth
Way back since Harold’s Cross,
When as a pimply, fresh-faced youth
With Wicklow brogue and words uncouth
I mourned each Shelbourne loss.
“Then good times came, the League, the Cup,
What trophies Fortune gave!
Our star was greatly on the up
We crested ev’ry wave.
“For fourteen years, we led the way,
With e’er a forward motion,
As cutty as a Cutty Sark
Upon a cutty ocean.
“To Rosenberg and Hadjuk Split,
‘Gainst Brondby and ‘gainst Rangers,
We steadfastly refused to quit
And held heads high ‘mongst strangers.
“The rumours sneered behind our backs,
They claimed we’d overspent,
They said the great financial axe
Would wield great punishment.
“But on we sailed our charted course,
With ne’er a leak suspected,
A potent and impressive force
That everyone respected.
“My tale of unimagined woes
Began this last November.
The night that we defeated Bohs,
A night I well remember.
“Upon that cold and tension’d day,
A victory was vital,
To keep the Derry hordes at bay
And claim another title.
“Against an uninspired Bohs,
Great focussing was needed
But Williams dropped one on his toes
And lo! We had conceded.
(His first encounter with The Bird)
“And as great silence swam around
And angry mouths were foamin,’
Upon the stand across the ground
I spied a bird of omen.
“Hunched up he was upon the roof,
Surveying every movement.
A darkened shape, disturbed, aloof,
Immune to our improvement.
“Oh curséd bird,” I muttered soft,
“Become a happy wand’rer.”
And at my words, it soared aloft
And vanished o’er Dromcondra.
“Well, hist’ry shows we battled hard
And scored the goals required.
Our heroes sank down battle-scarred,
“The fireworks flew, the music blared,
The silver cup was lifted.
Throughout the ground great joy was shared
And many pints were shifted.
“Guinness, Guinness everywhere
And not a drop of water.
To sweet relief from deep despair –
We lurried down the porter.
(Drunk and deliriously happy, he sleeps on a park bench)
“Next morning, after quite a few
I woke up in the park.
The mist was on the morning dew,
Faint sunlight battled dark.
“I shivered as the icy morn
Attacked my beer-stained shirt,
My trouser legs were scuffed and torn
And stiff with matted dirt.
“I rose and bade my bench goodbye
(Oh comfortable bed!)
A lonely seagull gave a cry,
Above in a rumbustuous sky,
And circled overhead.
“My throbbing head could stand no more
“Shut up!” I faintly cried.
“Go seek the debris ‘pon the shore
Brought in upon the tide.”
“But no, the bird seemed joined to me,
As though it were a kite.
It squawked with an apparent glee
And mocked me from a height.
“I soldiered on, my head in pain,
Dogged by this witless bird
That piercing squawk, again, again,
Was all that could be heard.
“Through mist-strewn streets, I made my way,
Not knowing where I trod,
Untouched by that sweet light of day,
Half-hidden e’en from God.
“And though my heart was swelled with pride
At how we’d won the League,
Each time that dev’lish sea bird cried,
It doubled my fatigue.
“Till, looking up I’d spied the place
Wherein we’d celebrated.
‘Twas Tolka Park – sweet field of grace –
Now cold and dark and gated.
(The Middle Aged Shelbourne fan kills the bird and is instantly seized by remorse.)
“Upon its gate, the seagull perched,
With squawk now quite distended.
Once more, my head and stomach lurched
And then the mist descended.
“I bent and snatched a sharpened stone
And, glancing all around me,
Made sure that I was all alone,
With just that bird to hound me.
“I flung the stone with fearsome force,
My mind still dull and blurred
And thus, without the least remorse,
I killed that mocking bird.
“I tapped it with a nervous toe,
As all my fury fled.
I urged it to rise up and go,
I wished it were not dead.
“But as my blood began to pall,
I clutched my necklaced cross.
‘Twas not a seagull after all –
It was an albatross.
“I knelt there ‘neath the darkened sky,
And cursed the shifting sands,
Then gazing down I found that I
Had blood upon my hands.
“I sprung to feet, aghast at how
Much pain I had incurred.
‘Twas not so much a sacred cow,
‘Twas more a sacred bird.
“I clasped a hand against my head
And gave a gasp of pain,
For, burned upon my skin, blood-red,
I etched the mark of Cain.
“I staggered off in mighty haste,
Down streets now dark and blurred,
While in my mouth the rotting taste
Of coarsely-murdered bird.
Oh how my soaring pulse-beat raced
When that foul deed occurred.
“I stumbled home and fell inside
And groped for the hand basin.
I filled it up both deep and wide
And plunged my burning face in.
“But though I washed and scrubbed and scraped,
The bloodstain burned out stronger.
And from my mouth a scream escaped
When I could scrub no longer.
“Upon the bathroom floor I fell,
My mind thrown vicey-versey,
Descended into living hell,
Wherein there was no mercy.
(There are repercussions)
“The bird, I heard (‘twas quite absurd,)
Lay untouched for a week.
A testament to what occurred,
A portent sad and bleak.
“Eventually the Council came
And threw it in a sack,
Well-heralded as Shelbourne’s shame,
A mark now murky-black.
“And one by one, the players were gone,
Their loyalties transferred,
Though no-one seemed to blame it on
The fate of that poor bird.
“They said we had too many bills,
They said we could not play.
Lack of money oft instils
The urge to run away.
“The manager packed up his things
And headed out the door.
Hark! How loud a dead bird sings
It’s squawk turned to a roar.
“No players, coach, a crippling debt –
The FAI then acted.
Relegated, no regret,
Their pound of flesh exacted.
“The Euro spot, so hardfought won
Was given o’er to Derry.
All our good work come undone –
‘Twas quite extraordinary.”
“I fear thee, middle aged Shelbourne fan,
I fear thy skinny hand,
Forsooth it is a troubled man
That stalks this troubled land.”
“Oh listen well, oh Wedding Guest,
I mean to thee no harm.”
And here he beat his bony breast-
His racked and starving rib-strewn chest –
With one long skinny hand.
“The clouds remained o’er Tolka Park
With smouldering persistence.
The future insecure and dark.
Would be lose our existence?
“In smoke-filled rooms, the talks went on
While we all gathered waiting,
Hoping for a sun that shone,
Some fresh air enervating.
(He seeks to atone for his wrong)
“Now I’m a middle-aged Shelbourne fan,
The club is my religion
And God, I thought, regardeth Man
The way I view a pigeon.
“He turns His head whene’er we kneel
And studiously ignores us.
And, in our turn, we can’t conceal
The fact He often bores us.
“But such was our predicament
And such my tragic guilt
I heard a voice – “Thou must repent
For sacred blood’s been spilt.”
“I entered slow a holy place
And knelt before the altar.
My eyes were locked on Jesus’ face
And never once did falter.
“I told him how I’d exorcised
That creature from above.
His face, benign and unsurprised,
Smiled down with radiant love.
“And as I these sad words did speak,
I felt my stubbly beard.
The blood-stained mark upon my cheek
Grew dim and disappeared.
“From then, I know all would be well,
I knew I was forgiven,
Plucked from that satanic hell
To which I had been driven.
“And now I stand by Tolka Park
When fans are lined up queuing.
I hope my warning shines out stark –
Think well on what you’re doing
Or you may end up ruing
The guilt you find accruing.
“Be kind to man and beast and fowl
And honour thy departed
And face the world, not with a scowl,
But good and open-hearted.”
The Wedding Guest said with a growl,
“The second half has started.”
But as he walked in through the gate
He turned and waved back sadly.
“Good luck,” he called. “What you relate
Has touched me rather badly.
“Farewell, oh middle-aged Shelbourne fan,
Your tale I long will ponder.
I know God smiles upon you, man,
Wherever you may wander.”