Grandad! Grandad! Where are you?”
The young girl’s shrill voice seemed to cut a swathe through the gloomy atmosphere of the garden. Ted Carroll raked some more crispy brown leaves onto the pile and straightened up slowly. God, he hated gardening. He was only doing it because the author wanted to re-enforce the idea of old age through the autumnal metaphor. Bastard! A few seconds later, the girl’s flushed face appeared through the strands of the weeping willow.
“Grandad! There you are! I have a question for you. Mr. Doherty said to ask you. Who was Wes?”
“Wes?” The old man took off his cap and scratched his balding head thoughtfully.
“Yes, Wes. Teacher said you’d know. He was a footballer years ago, I think.”
“Ah, Wes.” Ted Carroll smiled to himself warmly. He laid the rake carefully against the weeping willow and sat down gingerly on a sad old tree trunk. Beckoning the young girl to him, he lifted her with an effort onto his spindly leg.
“Wes,” he repeated. “Yes, madam, I remember Wes. In a nutshell, he was quite simply the best footballer I ever saw. And not only in a nutshell. Anywhere! He could turn on a five Euro piece. There wasn’t a defender could stand up to him, when the mood was on him. Sheer class. Do you know what they used to call him? Wes. Yes, Wes by name and Wes by nature.”
“Who did he play for, Grandad?”
“Well, my poppet, I first saw him playing for Shelbourne back in the noughties. When he first appeared, we all thought, who’s this ten year old kid? He looked like he’d be more at home in the school playground. But when he got the ball, he was poetry in motion. People said, ah, he’s too small, defenders’ll kill him. But they had to get near him to kill him, heh, heh, heh.
Anyway, after a couple of years, he got transferred to a team in England called Blackpool….”
“Why would he want to go to England?”
“Ah, my sweet,” Ted laughed. “I know its hard to believe, but once upon a time, if a young footballer in Ireland wanted to get on, he used to have to go to England. England had a big league in those days. They paid their footballers silly money. Thousands and thousands of Euro a week, just to kick a ball about. And truth be told, most of them were not much better than the players who stayed behind.”
“What was bound to happen. Too much money going out of the game. The whole set-up in England went kaboum. Clubs went bankrupt, owing millions.”
“Wes was with Manchester at the time. You wouldn’t believe how big they were. They were the Limerick City of their day. Had their own television channel and everything. Then it all went pear-shaped. Wes came back to Ireland. Signed for Athlone Town. Athlone had qualified for the Champions League and they were looking to Wes to strengthen their squad. This was a long time before Irish teams started winning the Champions League, of course. In fact, no Irish team had got past the qualifying round, when Wes signed for Athlone.."
“Ah, go away…”
“No, I’m serious, we never used to do very well in Europe. In fact, it was Wes who started it. Him and Ronaldo. Ronaldo was a Brazilian coming towards the end of his career when he signed for Athlone. Together the two of them forged a partnership that has gone down in history. Wes’d bamboozle the defenders, leave three or four of them sitting on their backsides, then knock it sideways to Ronaldo and bang! Ronaldo’d stick it away. Funny looking feller, buck teeth and a dodgy haircut, but lethal in front of goal. Sheer poetry to watch. That first season, Athlone got to the semi-finals of the Champions League, and I reckon they’d have won it if Wes hadn’t been injured for the away leg against Sliema. Of course they won it the following year, then Sligo won it the year after that, then Athlone again.”
“Did Wes play for Ireland, Grandad?”
“Did he wha’? He was only the best player ever to wear the green jersey. It was a shame though that for much of his career, he was playing with carthorses. Oh, we’d qualified for a few World Cups, and I think we got to the quarter finals once, but we hardly set the world alight. Then we appointed a manager by the name of Noel O’Connor. He’d brought Limerick City to the UEFA Cup Final, where they only lost on penalties to Barry Town. The man was inspirational. The best manager Ireland ever had. The only trouble was it all came too late for Wes. You know that Ireland won the World Cup for the first time in 2018? Well, the competition before that in 2014, proved to be Wes’s swansong. Ireland were red-hot favourites to lift the trophy after winning the European Championships two years previous. Great team we had then, Wes, of course, captain, O’Shea, Ryan, Goulding. Anyway, 2014. Ireland cruised through to the last sixteen. We then played Germany…”
“They were a good team back then. Then we beat Iraq and then in the semis we were up against the Faroe Islands. And two days before the semis, didn’t Wes and Noel O’Connor have an almighty row. I think it was about biscuits. Wes liked Rich Teas while Noel preferred digestives. Anyway, Wes told Noel what he thought of him, and the upshot was, Wes was sent home. That’s what started the Civil War. Once upon a time, there were only two jurisdictions on this island. Ah, things were a lot simpler then.”
“Who was right, Grandad?”
“Why, Wes, of course. Anyone knows you can eat Rich Teas till the cows come home, whereas digestives get too filling after five or six. Everybody knows that. Except for them bastards down in the Republic of Limerick of course. Of course, without Wes, the Irish team went to pieces. Faroes won 2-0, went on to beat the Florida Republic in the Final. By the time 2018 came around, Wes was just a fat hape, drugged up to the eyeballs and living on past glories. O’Connor destroyed him. The greatest Irishman never to win a World Cup winner’s medal, was Wes. Oh, but you should have seen him in his heyday, waltzing through the opposition midfield like they didn’t exist, a body swerve here, a drop of the shoulder there…”
“Oh, Grandad, you’ve wet yourself, “ exclaimed the young girl gleefully, hopping off the old man’s leg in excitement.
Ted looked down mournfully at the dark patch on his trousers and then glanced up bitterly at the author.
“Happen you’re right, love,” he sighed. “But you should have seen him in his prime…”