Last weekend was disappointing in rugby terms, both for Father Gareth who is Welsh, and for myself as a Scot. On Saturday Father Gareth went down town to find a big screen to watch the Wales v England match, only for England to snatch it in the last 5 minutes; and then we both went together after the morning Masses on Sunday to watch the France v Scotland match, only for errors and injuries to hand it to the French late on. We trudged back together for the Sunday evening Mass consoling each other. Still, undeterred, Father Gareth has a ticket for the Scotland v Wales match in Murrayfield on the 25th – and if Wales win he needn’t bother coming home.
Being from the Welsh Valleys, Father Gareth is very much a rugby fan and is very knowledgeable about the game, he even understands the rules, whereas I’m much more of a football fan. The only time I ever played rugby was in my first year at St. Mungo’s Academy when I was asked by the Marist Brother in charge of the school rugby team to take a trial, which I failed miserably. From an early age however I played football at every opportunity, so long as there was still daylight. Spilllers Mills was at the bottom of our street and we used one of their delivery doors as one of the goals, and from a lamppost to a wall as the other goal. There could be any amount of kids on each side and it is a fact of life that our mothers would throw jeely pieces wrapped up in paper out of the window for us to catch, so that precious time wasn’t wasted having to trudge upstairs for mundane things like food.
It was a petty offence to play football in the street so we posted a lookout to watch for police. If the lookout saw the police approaching he would give a signal and we would run like the clappers. Hugh and I used to take refuge in our granny’s house in Partick Bridge Street until the coast was clear. This worked very well until one day we were confounded by two plain clothes officers whom the lookout never recognised. Some of the group managed to scatter but six of us were booked – 2 Keevins’s and 4 Kelly’s – which resulted in us getting a 5 shilling fine each. That was 10 shillings our mother had to pay out, and £1 that Mrs. Kelly had to pay out, and that would have been a fair bit to them, but I don’t really remember it stopping us returning to the scene of the crime for more kickabouts.
My playing days ended as a Passionist student in Dublin in 1982. Vocations were in decline so the Passionists and the Discalced Carmelites combined to put a team together to play in the seminary league, which we regularly won. During that period, Father Lawrence, a member of the present community, was our goalkeeper, and a good one too; and Father John Craven, recently departed for Ardoyne in Belfast, was a scoring midfielder. He was like a very upper-class character in the Hornet called Gorgeous Gus who was too posh to run around, but if you put the ball at his feet he could score from almost anywhere. Father John was older than the rest of us so he didn’t like running around either, but he had a fantastic shot, so all we had to do was deliver the ball to his toes and he would score. One year we got to the Devine Cup Final, a prestigious college tournament, where we played St. Patrick’s Teachers’ Training College. The final was played at Tolka Park, Shelbourne’s home ground, and the week before, George Best, who was playing on a game for game basis for Cork Celtic at £1000 a time, had played on the same ground. The headline in the paper the following day was “Best at his worst as Shelbourne win” The 2-1 defeat turned out to be his third and last game for Cork Celtic. Despite that, as we had the away dressing room, I like to think I hung my strip on the same peg that was used by the great George Best – all comparisons end there. We lost the final, by the way.
Sport is one of those subliminal areas of life we don’t always mature in, but here’s a lovely, mature, prayerful, sporting reflection by a 5th year pupil at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Orlando, Florida:
There is no “I” in team. In other words, nobody can carry a team on his or her own. You need to trust and have faith in your coaches and teammates. Win or lose, a team needs to stay together, have faith, and believe in one another. If you can trust your team and coaches, nobody can stop you. One of the best feelings in sports is to get that extra support from your team mates. Your team is your family, and that’s how you should treat them. On and off the pitch you stay one and nobody can split you apart. Having faith in your team members is an important part of being successful. What I particularly love about being an athlete at Sacred Heart is that we pray before and after each game. We rely on God for strength and confidence and give back humbly our glory or our infamy to God. We are trained to always remember to play fair.