League Secretaries trip to Ireland

AN EVENING AT THE DROGS

Or

“If you ever go across the Sea to Ireland –  Part Two

Having sampled the South of Ireland and the National League Division One last season it was the turn of the Premier Division and Bray Wanderers – Bray is about twelve miles east of Dublin – and a Friday evening this time round. That was the plan with flight tickets purchased and accommodation booked until looking at the League website some three weeks and finding that Bray were in imminent danger of folding through a total lack of finance. A mild form of panic set in as I examined the other three fixtures available for the evening – most matches take place on Saturday evenings – with plane ticket clutched in sticky hand. Of the other three scheduled one was in Cork, 150 miles south, one in South Dublin (not the best of areas) and one in Drogheda. And no, I didn’t know where Drogheda was either!  Fortunately, it turned out to be north of Dublin and easily reachable by bus or train so a change of accommodation and Drogheda it was.

An eighty minute flight from Southampton and arrival at Dublin Airport – though judging by the distance walked from the plane to the Terminal – the plane must have landed somewhere near rather than at the airport. A bus into Dublin itself, lunch and a walk round a lovely City visited on more than one occasion in the past. A bit of a trek to the Bus Station for onward movement to Drogheda and a problem. You do not buy your ticket on the bus, you do not buy your ticket from any individual at the Station, you have to buy it from a machine. And machines and I do not go together. Full Stop. However, I surprisingly managed to insert the correct destination and my money and even got some change but no sign of a ticket. At the machine next to me was a lady of distinctly Chinese origin with a small girl around six years of age who must have been watching my losing battle with the machine, for suddenly a very small finger leant across, pressed a button and a ticket shot out. Fiendishly clever, the Chinese.

Drogheda was a pleasant Town and I was assured by the Hotel receptionist that a ten minute walk would find the ground. Ten minutes it was coming back but rather longer going with yet again a Cowes type hill to climb. 12 Euros bought a Terrace ticket (concession rate) and a further 3 Euros a neat and well produced Matchday Programme which in total was considerably dearer than my earlier Division One visit. Once inside the ground it was immediately obvious that there was no standing or watching from behind either goal since the ground was closely bordered by a road at each end. Furthermore, you could not walk round the ground on the inside either. The main side had a Stand straddling the halfway line with covered terracing to the corner flag at one end and a large building with “no standing” in front of same at the other. This contained the Clubhouse – no entry from inside the ground – and the dressing rooms with an outside staircase reminiscent of Swanage and Herston (roped off) that presumably gave access when necessary to whatever was on the upper floor. Despite the (sort of) splendour of the building the teams and officials crept out from round the back of same by the end wall. There were dugouts either side of the halfway line but some way from same – the Visitors one was actually nearer the corner flag – which meant the Fourth Official stood in lonely isolation on the halfway line during the course of the game. The far side also boasted a Stand in the centre with uncovered terracing on either side, which on the night was very sparsely populated.  There was, thankfully on the main side, a well visited tea hut that sold first class chips! The view from the Covered Terrace was not good so I asked a friendly Steward if I could pay and transfer to the stand – he said I could not pay but to “go on up”.  All credit to him and his Club.

The visitors on the evening were St Patricks Athletic and with Drogheda bottom of the table with 18 points having lost their last thirteen matches, and their opponents just five points better off –the leaders Cork had 64 –it was never going to be a classic. St Patrick’s are based in Dublin so a short trip for them – one hopes they coped with the ticket machines – and a good number of their supporters were in evidence including sadly one with the ubiquitous Drum! The home side wore a kit best described as a sickly green with St Pats (local lingo) in an outfit vaguely resembling that of Arsenal. The visitors made all the early running with a number seven named Conan Byrne terrorising the home left flank and crossing at will and when a cross was converted after eleven minutes they had already hit the post twice. In the first four minutes the ball went out of the ground three times and this continued non-stop throughout the evening. One can only assume that they had a travelling band of ball finders out on the streets or a supply of balls something akin to Nike. The home side did their best to demonstrate why they were bottom of the table and how they reached the break only one down will be a long held mystery to all. In fairness however they did improve considerably in the second half and produced a corner routine not seen before whereby they parked seven attackers inside the six yard box. The opposition responded with six defenders and presumably the goalkeeper, though he was totally lost in the crowd, but as to what was supposed to happen was never known as the corner was so over hit it went into touch on the far side first bounce having cleared the massed players by miles. With St Pats having withdrawn the number seven into midfield and seemingly confident that one goal would be enough – given the lack of skill and confidence in front of goal shown by the home side it was a fair assumption –the game began to drift though the referee did his best to liven things up by twice awarding the home side corners when goal kicks were the obvious decision. In comparison to his predecessor on my last visit who used the “free kick” spray at every opportunity, this one used it not at all though unlike most officials who attach same to the back of their shorts he wore his on the hip in true Wild Bill Hickok style. The Fourth Official, who occasionally broke his lonely vigil by striding down the line to admonish the visiting manager for placing his toes outside the technical area, was suddenly forced into action as all six substitutes took the field individually in the space of a couple of minutes. Incidentally, as in Scotland, at half time and full time the Assistant on the dressing room side does not go on to the field to escort the referee but races to the tunnel area presumably to adjudicate on, report on or join in any shenanigans that may occur en route to the dressing rooms. Finally, in stoppage time, the home side produced a powerfully struck volley that was superbly turned over the top by the visiting keeper – but too little too late. So only one goal – one more than last time – whereas the game was played at Bray and resulted in a best of five victory for their visitors. But never the less a very enjoyable evening and trip.

Just two further things of note. At 5.15 am on Saturday the whole town was, I imagine, woken by an almighty din caused by a lorry inching its way round cleaning the roads. One can only hope that his route did not take him anywhere near the cemetery!

And the Ticket machine was defeated without assistance from the Far East en route back to the sunshine of Dublin and the pouring rain of Southampton.

This could be habit forming!