Posted by Tom Humphries on November 12, 2001 at 10:32:06:
Caught in a sleep that doeth me head in
LOCKERROOM: Saturday night. 1.0 am: I lie awake, naked, sweating and writhing on the sheets (oh, come come ladies, don't pretend you haven't imagined it). The latest nightmare is retreating slowly. As usual it concerns the football team. This business with Iran and the conditions met by the visiting journalists.
A stadium, all old and ramshackle and higgledy-piggedly. The soccer people say it doesn't belong to them, what can they do? The mobiles don't work here. The press box is primitive, no TV monitors, no phone lines, no electrical sockets. Downstairs there is an intimidating press bunker where all the domestic hacks crowd in to natter in the local lingo. A couple of hours after the match finishes everything will shut down whether the journalists are finished working or not. Deadlines are pressing. Nobody cares.
I cry out. What is this place? "Welcome to Lansdowne Road," says a chirpy voice, "home of the Republic of Ireland, Sponsored by Eircom." Take me now Lawd, take me now.
2:45 am: My Dream of Mick. We are in the bandroom in the corner of Lansdowne Road. We have just beaten Iran by two goals to nil, Hartey and Keane Óg the scorers. We are sweating over deadlines. Mick McCarthy is taking an inordinately long time to arrive.
Suddenly the lights in the bandroom go out. Those of us who work for this paper instinctively reach into our pockets for 50p to put in the meter, but suddenly a soft light appears and Mr Chirpy of the Lansdowne PA voice says: "Show your appreciation please ladies and gentlemen, for the king of croon, Mick McCarthy, Sponsored by Eircom."
Slowly Mick hoves into view on a revolving stage. He's wearing a top hat with white tux and tails. He's seated at a Steinway grand Sponsored by Eircom. He has sparkly rocks on his fingers. He gazes down at us, winks, turns back to the piano, and, looking like Liberace but sounding like George Formby, he begins: There May be Trouble Ahead.
We write down every word. Then I notice the figure in the background. He's naked except for his cane, his ermine posing pouch and his nipple rings. He's performing an immaculate soft shoe shuffle. Mick Byrne, you never lost it.
3:17 am: Awake again. Make some cocoa. Suck up a little crack cocaine and fall asleep on the sofa, braced for what dreams may come. The horror that follows makes me fear sleep.
Finally a man wearing a floppy Mr Motivator hat over yellow vest and shorts stands up and acknowledges their applause with a razor-thin smile. The chant just grows greater. Keano! Keano! Keano! Roy Keane turns his eyes down from full glare to default glare and the red dots disappear. I fall to the ground in a heap. I can hear the spectators. Roy this. Roy that.
"Who was the other poor guy?" one of them asks.
"I think it was Richard Dunne," says his friend.
"Slower than he looks."
3:58 am: Have a quick draft of laudanum, and a stiff brandy. Drift off again. Suddenly we are in Tehran. The game begins and the Iranians fly about like characters from Harry Potter playing Quidditch. After three minutes they score. Mistake in our defence. 2-1 on aggregate. Mick McCarthy comes out of the dugout to roar but all that comes out of his mouth are pretty bubbles and some butterflies.
Iran continue to swarm us. The game lasts forever. Finally just a minute left, 30 seconds, 15 seconds. The Iranians launch a high, hopeful ball. The defender who gifted the first goal, he who shall henceforth be known to Iranians as The Great Santa, strides out, slices it woefully. Bagheri heads home.
4:56 am: Gossamered in cold sweat. Try several opiates. Find sleep. We are in Tehran again. Trailing by three goals with half-an-hour left. Roy Keane pulls one back. They score again. Two minutes left. Roy makes a crunching tackle near his own penalty area. Pop! A large spaghetti of ligaments, cartilage and general debris explodes from his knee, yet he gets up and chases the ball, his cruciate ligament trailing behind him now. Iranians are trying to stamp on it, a cocker spaniel is chasing it. He beats one, beats two, beats them all before slotting it home. He turns to his team, his subjects, with his arms raised. He is looking a bit pale but otherwise fine for a man who has just lost four pints of blood and half his leg. Mark Kinsella respectfully hands something to Roy. His kneecap.
And lo, as the angels sing we realise that verily it was as the Herald had it. Roy Keane has sacrificed his knee and his career that the Irish nation might go to the World Cup and sing merry songs about itself. Tá an Celtic Tiger ar ais arís. Olé x 3. We are once again the greatest little nation on earth.
Roy holds his busted patella aloft. The Azadi stadium is silent now as he surveys his trusty kneecap. With a rueful smile Roy crumbles his knee in his hand and scatters the dust on the Tehran wind. 120,000 Iranians fall to their knees chanting Ayatollah Keano! At home, people weep into their beer. Pete Saint John, now known as Mustapha Ali, composes a hit song, The Knee He Loved So Well.
6.45 am: The merciful dawn discloses a cold, crisp day, but stark headlines on the paper which hits the screen door early. Staunton, Quinn and (say it ain't so Roy, say it ain't so) Keane, all casualties of war.
Shivering, I turn in the bed to face Juanita, my Mexican serving girl, and ask her in my rustic Spanish to pinch me, I must awake and put an end to these infernal nightmares.