Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dublin's Fair City

This is how football should be. Four thousand Wales fans travelled to Dublin for yesteday's match and received a welcome from their hosts that I haven't experienced in 32 years of following football. From the moment our party stepped off the early morning ferry at Dun Laghoire till we boarded the slow boat back to Holyhead late in the evening, we were enbosomed into Dublin's thriving pub life with open arms.

A few weeks ago, Croke park's polite response to the English anthem astonished observors. It was an epoch-defining moment, which forced the rest of us to re-assess our petty behaviour when visitors are in town. They received the Welsh anthem yesterday with nothing less than enthusiastic fervour. It was a humbling moment which was repeated after the game when the clientelle of a rough-arsed pub in a Dublin back street cheered our rendition to the rafters.

If you like a drink, then Dublin is Nirvana. As a new visitor to the City, I wasn't too sure what to expect. The City doesn't have the best reputation amongst its countrymen, and some Welsh friends of mine dispute its status as the party capital of Europe.

There is a pub in Liverpool called The Philharmonic which is legendary amongst pub fans. Well Dublin has a hundred Philharmonics. Intricate tilework, mahogany bars and marble toilets are ten-a-penny. You really feel like you could dance to the architecture.

But it is the manner of the Dublin drinker which I found most satisfying. Before mid-day, the Brendan Behans were ensconsed in their bum-dented chairs, emitting an easy, comforting aura of contentment and companionship that isn't so easy to find now on the mainland, where snugs have been replaced by leather settees. If I was a Dubliner, I would find it difficult not to drink all day, and so it seems, do many of the natives.

The approach to Croke Park was not unlike so many big English grounds. The sun was out, and it was a pleasant stroll to the ground buried deeply in a residential area. It reminded me of Highbury in that respect.

Inside, it was the biggest looking ground that I've visited. The field is so large that it seems the stand opposite is situated on the other side of the City. The football field was marked out with about 3-5 metres still available to use on the touchlines.

Welsh fans were placed on Hill 16, which was built from the rubble of the Easter Rising, and which has had temporary seating installed for the football. Some fans complained of the view. It was difficult to get a good perspective of the game from such a deep viewing position. But in truth, this proved to be more of a blessing than a hindrance, as both teams served up a shameful display of ineptitude.

Such was the paucity of entertainment and the distance from the field, it was difficult to stay involved. The atmosphere was akin to watching a village cricket match. Between two villages you've never been to and don't care about. But I got a sun tan and looked forward to the pub.

The trip back was a chore, particularly thanks to the performance given by a group of 15 lads from Llangefni, who spent the whole 3 hours with their shirts off, arms stretched wide, inviting all and sundry to "come and 'ave a go", insulting the Polish barstaff, and generally making me look whistfully towards the West, where the Irish once again set a standard of civility that we can only aspire to. "Ceud Mile Failte". Never a truer word was spoken.


Jet Set Matt said...

It was good to see you again, albeit much too briefly. The joys of following Wales eh.

Gareth said...

So true. The welcome we received was amazing, all the taxi drivers etc anxious to hear whether we'd had a good time.

Can we play them every away trip? ;)

Gary said...

I don't like Dublin and I dont subscribe to this charicature of the Jolly Irishman which is akin to the Sweaty Socks' Tartan Army being a bunch of jolly japesters.

Living in Holyhead I think I've been to Dublin more times than I've been to any other City (except maybe Bangor) and it's okay, but it's not the party city it's made out to be.

I also, don't think that the lads beaten up in the pub on the walk to Croker will agree with your Cead Mille Failte assessment.