My blog on the Latics Six in Tallaght met with great approval amongst the Hooperati, at a time when Rovers had hit a bad patch of results, the assistant manager had left and there was a lot of gloom around the Tallaght Stadium.
The purpose of my blog was to set out a cautionary tale for Latics fans, about the danger signs spelling out what could be the end of Oldham Athletic, with support for the Club continuing to dwindle – there but for the grace of ‘Three Amigos’ (more lately reduced to one). My example of 400-500 Rovers’ supporters stepping in to take over and bankroll their club, and the keeping of the faith by Hoopers throughout a period of over 20 years of a nomadic existence, had the unexpected effect of jolting Rovers’ supporters out of their gloom. They tell me it reminded them what they have achieved against all odds and made them realise once again the greatness of their club.
The Latics fans’ visit to Tallaght also seems to have prompted a resurgence in the team’s performance and, since watching Rovers beat FC Flora of Tallinn in the 2nd qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League, they have taken Europe by storm, while still being in the FAI Cup and having the destiny of the League title in their own hands.
Our latest trip to Dublin24 was different, in that we were to meet up with our son Matt and his bride Emma, who were touring Ireland on their honeymoon. We were up at 2:50am for the very early flight from East Midlands.
As we were about to go through the safety procedure on the plane, all the electrics went off, except for the emergency lights, and the engines died. We were advised that it was a fault in the motor controlling the air-conditioning and other electrics, causing the engine to cut out. The engines would need to be started by the ground-crew, but when this proved impossible, we were advised we would have to disembark and return to the terminal in buses. However, after about twenty minutes, it was “good news” as the engines had been re-started, albeit they sounded very strange, and there was no need to disembark. Gradually the engines sounded more normal and we took off an hour late, amidst a unanimous holding of breath by the passengers.
Because of our delayed flight we only had a short time to wait for fellow-Latics fan Jenny’s flight to arrive from Manchester, before we had breakfast. The Arrivals Hall had just about recovered from the amazing scenes when Rovers returned home from Belgrade, after making history by becoming the first Irish club to qualify for the Group Stage of the Europa Cup.
From us being honorary Hoops, able to watch the team only rarely, suddenly it seems that everyone wants to be associated with the club. The Irish game has been starved of resources and attention from the home media for decades, with the Irish public having a strange antipathy towards their own League, preferring to associate themselves with English Premier League clubs. Suddenly Rovers’ victory against Partizan Belgrade had altered attitudes towards the club at home and the Irish media now could not get enough of stories about the country’s European representative. Even supporters of other League of Ireland clubs had expressed their congratulations and respect about the historic breakthrough.
Our visit had been planned since April and was to take in two League matches, so we could not be accused of jumping on the new bandwagon which had recently started to roll.
The need to meet the increased demand for tickets for Europa League games had resulted in UEFA refusing to allow Rovers to play their Group games in Tallaght, in preference for the Aviva Stadium, which would cost the club at least 200,000 euros for each of the three games. However, strong representations by the Club, supported by the FAI and South Dublin County Council, coupled with the erection of a new stand in a matter of hours rather than days, had resulted in UEFA’s U-turn with the go-ahead given to play the games at Tallaght Stadium.
To kill time before checking into the hotel, we visited the stadium to buy tickets and managed to get a peek at the new stand being finished off by the contractor in readiness for the demands of the Europa League. We also bumped into the SRFC Chairman, who greeted Jenny by asking if she had received the signed Dean Kelly jersey (the ‘Latics Six’ Blog refers).
Lunch in the hotel was not up to the usual standard but the Guinness had improved since our last visit. After checking in, it was about 2:00pm and time to meet Big Dec in the bar. We were joined by a steady flow of Hoopers throughout the afternoon and wedding guests who may have been surprised to find the hotel filling up with Hoopers. At about 5:00pm, honeymooners Emma and Matt arrived, just behind Hooper John, through a crowd of wedding guests smoking outside the hotel.
Matt renewed acquaintances with old friends and he and Emma enjoyed the craic so much that they decided to return to the hotel after the match and delay their return to the Phoenix Park area of the city until the last tram at 11:30pm.
Who should be standing at the bar when Matt was waiting to be served but Jason, apparently only their waist measurements having changed since they last saw each other in 1999.
The disco had started as we introduced the honeymooners to more members of the Hooperati. Conversation turned to Matt’s recollection of his last visit to watch Rovers at Dundalk, when referee Hancock was the only person in the ground who did not see a Rovers’ shot go into the net and out through a hole in the side-netting. The showing of the hole in the net to the referee only resulted in Tony Cousins being booked for his protestations. Ever since that day, we have always referred to the linesman’s checking of nets as carrying out the ‘Dundalk Test’. There was general amazement that such an incompetent official was still refereeing. Little did we know that when we got into the stadium, who should be the match referee but none other than the infamous Hancock!
By the stadium turnstile Margaret and Jenny noticed a poster advising that it was a flare-free zone and wished they had worn their straight-leg jeans.
We stood at the back of Block M in the East Stand to savour the atmosphere created by the young Hoopers who were unfailing in their vocal support throughout the game.
In the West Stand visitors from Catalonia had their own way of begging for T-shirts.
Time had not improved the referee’s competence, and throughout the first half he seemed hell-bent on punishing Rovers, regardless of whether the players deserved it.
This was a game Sligo needed to win to keep alive their title hopes, and in a bright first half, both sides failed to take opportunities as they arose. The referee amazed even the neutrals as repeatedly he only saw ‘offences’ committed by the team wearing hoops. For details of the match incidents, I have referred to the SRFC official match report.
The best chance fell to Sligo’s Doyle on 32 minutes when Ryan found him in the box and his first touch took him past Murray but somehow he managed to miss the target under pressure from Paterson.
Chris Turner was booked as the Hoops players’ frustration at Referee Hancock’s handling of the game grew, but on 42 minutes when it looked as Sligo’s Danny Ventre must be sent-off for a lunging high tackle, Hancock could only find his yellow card.
During half-time Matt renewed acquaintance with Tony, Tom and Ruairi, and was flabbergasted that the latter was the same person as the 12 year-old boy he remembered from 1997 in the Isle of Man.
It’s nice to see how some of us have hardly aged at all since those halcyon days.
Anyway, enough of this reminiscing, and let’s get back to the game. The second-half was four minutes old when Paterson whipped in a free-kick from the right and Chris Turner dived to head the ball on goal but Sligo ‘keeper Clarke made a brilliant one-handed save.
On the hour a harsh corner was awarded as Pat Sullivan was pushed onto the ball, forcing it out of play. Hancock then adjudged Sullivan’s punching of the ball towards the corner flag as dissent and brandished a second yellow card.
Just when spirits started to droop, Rovers scored with the next attack when Ricketts skipped past a defender to cross for Gary Twigg, under pressure, to head it into the net.
Our first reaction was to look at Hancock to see if he would disallow the goal, but he didn’t and the Hooperati went crazy.
Sligo then started to pile on the pressure against the ten men and Rovers’ keeper Ryan Thompson was called on repeatedly to save the day. On 65 minutes sub Blinkhorn was played into the box on the right and, although Thompson made a great save, the ball fell to Ryan just outside the box and his shot was goal-bound but Stephen Rice got back to clear the ball off the line. On 70 minutes Thompson was called on again to race from his line to block Blinkhorn as the Sligo number nine once again breached the Hoops’ defence. In the 77th minute Eoin Doyle was found in space inside the area but Thompson again was alert to deny the former Hoop.
Eventually the visitors’ pressure told and they equalised when Russell took a pass on the left-hand edge of the area and found the space to curl a fine shot past Thompson.
Pat Flynn was introduced as a substitute in the 85th minute, but four minutes later Referee Hancock adjudged rightly that his lunge on Davoren merited a straight red card. The still unanswered question is why was the same tackle by Sligo’s Danny Ventre in the first half only punished with a yellow card? Hancock only appeared to be consistent when it came to his mistreatment of Rovers.
It got worse for the nine men, as Sligo sub John Dillon headed in the winner at the back post two minutes into added-on time and, although nobody could deny Sligo their celebrations as the title race was thrown wide open, referee Hancock turned a blind eye to a Sligo player’s gestures of incitement to the Hoops crowd in the East stand.
Matt said he felt a personal sense of responsibility for Hancock’s half-hours of incompetence, as this man had officiated badly at both of his last two visits to watch Rovers. Under threats of a ban from Big Dec, Matt tried to reassure everyone that if it was another twelve years before he watched Rovers again, Hancock should have retired!
Back in the Maldron, the disco continued and stories were exchanged with Fergus long into the night. I declined the request of an Australian woman wedding guest, who like the Catalonians, was giving away kisses and asking me to let her have my Rovers jersey. Eventually we got to bed at 2:20am, just half an hour short of 24 hours since getting up to start our Hooping day.
It had been a hard day’s night and by the time we opened the curtains on Saturday morning the Hooperati had already been queuing at the Stadium for up to two hours for Europa League tickets.
We had missed breakfast and, when our lift reached the ground floor, Jenny appeared out of the other lift as we all arrived to check out of the hotel.
We had brunch in Eddie Rocket’s Diner accompanied by classic rock ‘n’ roll music, before heading off to catch the LUAS tram into the city centre. On the journey I sat with the Rovers’ supporter who wore the ‘Hoop suit’ in Tallinn (the ‘Tallaght to Tallinn’ Blog refers). With the help of a Vocalzone, my hoarseness eased a little and, as we exchanged stories from the Isle of Man to Belgrade, the long journey seemed to pass very quickly.
As Margaret and I were staying until Tuesday, we checked into a hotel near the bus station, before going with Jenny to The Pint pub on the banks of the Liffey. The pub interior has an ecclesiastical theme and the floor includes sunken grave stones.
That day it was the venue for a heavy metal battle of the bands event, and with live music coming from upstairs and recorded music from downstairs, it was enough to wake the dead.
Our next port of call was Chaplin’s pub, where news of Latics scoring the equaliser against Stevenage lifted our spirits. Around the time when the ‘Sports Report’ theme tune would be playing back home, we were joined by Hoopers Big Dec, Mark, Joe and Gerry, celebrating Rochdale’s victory.
Margaret went back to the hotel to wash her hair in readiness for our night out and then Jenny headed off to the airport for her flight to Manchester.
We were joined in the pub by the honeymooners, with Matt still embarrassed about his Hancock-guilt-by-association.
Eventually I went back to the hotel to get changed and we headed off to a restaurant to meet our daughter, who was in Dublin for the weekend. Then the three of us joined the honeymooners in the Porterhouse, before we all went out of our way to Chaplin’s for 8:30pm, when I had arranged for Big Dec’s much-requested introduction to our daughter. We arrived at the pub but Big Dec had gone, so it seems they are destined not to meet.
Two taxis were hailed and the five of us went to the Rovers’ enemy territory of Phibsborough to see Dublin’s own Garage / Pop / Psychedelic band, The Urges, playing as part of the Phizzfest programme. This part of the city is the home of Bohemian FC, the Hoops’ arch-rivals, but the pub crowd was a musical one, with no need to guard the tongue against mention of the club from Tallaght. Although the crowd was small, the gig lived up to our expectations.
A comparatively early night saw us off to bed by 1:30am before spending Sunday afternoon in the seaside town of Howth at the end of the DART railway line. A large crowd of visitors checked out the food and craft markets, the harbour and marina, the Marconi tower and not forgetting the Bloody Stream pub, built into the railway station, where the Guinness, seafood chowder and smoked salmon were excellent. The harbour’s biggest attraction was some seals looking up with appealing eyes for punters to throw them fish pieces bought from one of the adjacent shops. The seals were so laid back that, by the time they had rolled over, the hovering gulls had swooped in and taken some of the fish.
Sunday evening was one of our most memorable ever. We were drawn into the Celt Bar by the PA system in the street relaying the beautiful voice of a young male bartender singing a rebel song.
He sang another before the session musicians and singers continued to provide great entertainment, while we talked to a couple from Alaska….as you do.
Then we went in the Confession Box pub to hear more live music. An overweight Christy Moore lookalike and a guitarist/backing vocalist went through their repertoire of traditional, rebel and popular Irish and English songs and they were joined at times by other customers, singing/narrating their ‘party pieces’. Many of the songs evoked great emotion and I don’t mind admitting tears were shed. The customary lock-in prolonged the evening once again, and when I thanked ‘Christy’ at the end of the night, our conversation ended abruptly when he revealed that he was a Bohs’ fan before walking off to the gents.
On the way back to the hotel we bumped into a German guy who had been in the Confession Box all evening. The drink had caused him to lose direction and, as he said he was staying at our hotel, we guided him back safely, only for me to see him heading off back out of the door as soon as we left him…..very strange.
Monday saw us visiting the City Hall for the 1000 years of Dublin exhibition. With some difficulty, we managed to stay upright in the remains of the hurricane and also visited the Porterhouse pub, to sample the gold medal-winning Plain Porter, before having a late lunch and sampling the in-house beers in Messrs Maguire.
Then it was time to meet up with Hoopers in Chaplin’s in preparation for the trip to Richmond Park to see St. Pat’s take on the Champions. Big Dec, Robbie, Mark and Jimmy were still complaining about referee Hancock before we hailed a couple of taxis to go to the match.
As we arrived at the ground Big Dec seemed to be helping a police dog with its enquiries.
As in the case of Sligo, St. Pat’s needed to win this game to keep their title hopes alive and, in very blustery conditions, Rovers needed to defend well before taking the lead in the 18th minute. When Gary McCabe’s corner failed to beat the first defender, the clearance fell to Stephen O’Donnell 25 yards out, and his low strike went through a crowd of players and under “dodgy keeper” Rogers into the corner of the net.
Rovers almost extended their lead on 67 minutes when McCormack won a corner and McCabe’s kick was met by the head of Sives, but Rogers made a brilliant one-handed save.
The teams were level two minutes later when a cross from the left was miss-judged by Enda Stevens and North capitalised to shoot low past Thompson for the equaliser.
In a very entertaining game, both sides went looking for the winner and both keepers were called into action to keep the score level, as they settled for a point each.
The match saw us meet up with Ultras’ Forum’s Hooperman’s No.1Fan and Karen whom we had met in Tallinn, and I caught a glimpse of Fergus up the pole….as you do.
A taxi-ride took us back to Chaplin’s where, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, our space became invaded by a ‘barstooler’ giving us his opinions. Soon he outstayed any polite welcome he may have imagined and, when he exceeded my short tolerance limit, I felt it necessary to explain to him the difference between himself and the Hooperati, which the likes of him would never be able to comprehend. After putting him, and subsequently his son, in their places, they retreated to the bar and left us alone.
After another much too short night’s sleep, we had breakfast and checked out from the hotel, before taking in another of the sights on the tourist list, with a visit to the Dublin Post Office Museum.
We collected our bags from the hotel and caught the 747 bus to the Airport. Ryanair’s late departure was assisted by the leftover hurricane acting as a tail-wind, but we were still ten minutes late landing at East Midlands. As time was crucial, we had pre-booked a ‘meet and greet’ service to have our car waiting as we came out of the terminal. However, it was the best part of ten minutes before the car appeared. It was then a swift dash via the A50 and A38 and then a crawl along the speed camera-laden A461 to the Banks’s Stadium, Walsall to watch Latics.
We managed to meet up with Lynda and Peter, our two Walsall-supporting friends, in the Saddlers Club for a chat (despite being hoarse as the long weekend’s excesses of talking, shouting and singing took its toll). We also met Rob, the Wrexham supporter, who was in the Isle of Man in 1997 (at the birth of all these shenanigans) and had planned to be in Dublin the previous day for the St. Pat’s match, only for his flight from Manchester to be cancelled due to the high winds.
One of the best performances of the season saw Latics take all three points with a 1-0 victory, the supporting and celebration of which only harmed my throat even more.
The blurring of the picture illustrates my tiredness and hoarseness and, after going back to Peter’s house to continue the throat-aggravating conversation, the early hours of Wednesday morning arrived, and it was only the adrenaline of the Latics victory that got me through the drive home.
To survive five days of the craic in Dublin is no easy feat, and although we’re a bit frayed around the edges, we can’t wait to go back again.