Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used To Be

Hemmed in during half time in Section D at Tolka recently, I was verbally mugged by the old man sitting next to me. He was wrinkled and wore a dark, shabby coat and I estimated his age to be around 108, although a Pats fan would probably put it nearer the 200 mark. When he started talking, I knew I was in for a long fifteen minutes and settled back to listen.

“You know what’s wrong with footballers today, son?” he asked. “Too much money and too much free time. And no characters. I remember all the great players, years ago. Did you ever hear tell of Badger O’Shaughnessy? Badger played for Drums in the twenties and thirties, great big ox of a man, muscles on his muscles, played left back. In those days a left back was a left back, none of this poncing up and down the wing overlapping,” – here he stuck out his arm to demonstrate the concept – “no, in those days it was the left back’s job to mark the outside right, stop him getting to the line and whipping the ball over.

“Do you know why people called him Badger? Some people said it was on account of the grey streak down the middle of his hair, and other people said it was because he used to eat mice and crap in the woods. To settle the matter, I decided to ask him. “Badger,” I asked him, “Why do they call you Badger?” and do you know what he said? He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Because that’s me name.” Oh, he was a gas man, was Badger.

“Anyway, myself and Badger went to school together, he was a big lad even in school, and we left at fourteen to work down the Inchicore Rail Works and I’ll always remember it, one day, Badger was pulling two carriages into a siding, when this swanky geezer in a sheepskin jacket and a big cigar came over and introduced himself.

“I’m Jimmy Gregory, Badger, but you can call me Fat Bastard,” he said. In those days of course. Fat Bastard was a term of endearment. “There goes Jimmy, the Fat Bastard,” people used to say. Anyhow, Badger turns around and says to him, “Hello, Mr. Bastard” – always the true gentleman was Badger, even when he was sending an outside right into row 17, he’d always apologise afterwards – and Jimmy turns around and says to him, “Do you know who I am?” and of course, Badger knew full well who he was, but he didn’t let on, see, and so he turns around and says, “Yes, I know who you are. You’re Jimmy Gregory, you’re only after telling me. Other than that, I don’t know a thing about you.” And Jimmy Gregory turns around and says, “I’m the manager of Drumcondra. I’ve heard you’re a pretty decent left back. I’d like you to come and play for me,” and Badger turns around and says, “That’s very interesting, Mr. Bastard,” he says, “How much are you going to pay me?” Oh, he was the cute hoor, was Badger, you couldn’t catch him out on anything, and Jimmy Gregory looked him in the chest and said “Thruppence a week in winter and tuppence a week in the summer. Do we have a deal?” – which was a huge amount of money in them days. You could travel around the world for sixpence – and Badger turns around and says “Fourpence,” and Jimmy Gregory turns around and says “Thruppence ha’penny” and Badger says “I won’t be browbeaten over a ha’penny. Its fourpence or nothing,” and Jimmy turns around and says “Done.” And they both shook hands and then they both fell over, what with turning around so much.”

“Now Badger had a brother, see, and his name was Dormouse, on account of him being so small, see, and Dormouse used to play outside left – did you ever hear of him, no? – and Dormouse always told the story of the time he went for a trial at Bohemians, and the Bohemians manager turned around to Dormouse and said, “You’ll never make a footballer. You’re too small and too skinny.” And Dormouse used to tell that story everywhere until people started avoiding him. And the gas thing was that the Bohemians manager was right, he was too small and he was too skinny and he never made a footballer after all.

“Anyway, back to Badger. Badger was a left back, a big barnstorming man, built like a brick shithouse. I remember one time Drums were playing Sligo in the Cup, and Sligo had a winger called Jimmy Bestall, little whippet of an outside right, and he was up against Badger, and Jimmy Gregory had told Badger to stick close to Jimmy Bestall, so Badger did. He stuck to him like glue from the very first whistle, never gave him a kick of the ball, and half time blew and the teams went in for their oranges and Jimmy Gregory turns around and says, “Where’s Badger?” and the next moment there’s a big commotion in the corridor and isn’t it Badger being physically ejected from the Sligo dressing room. Always the gentleman was Badger. Thick as shite but always the gentleman.

“Badger played over 300 games for Drums and never got booked once. Normally he’d just get sent off straight away. Not that he was a dirty player. He was a pussycat, with a heart of gold. He just hated outside rights, that’s all. They kind of brought out the worst side of him.

“There was only one winger who ever got the better of him, Jimmy McIlkenny, played for Fordsons in Cork. Badger liked to let the outside right know early that he was around, so he used to go clattering in to him at the first opportunity. “They won’t skip past me, if their leg’s broken in four places,” he used to say. He was a howl was Badger. Anyway in this game, after a few minutes, the ball gets played out to Jimmy Mac on the right wing and Badger comes charging in, and Jimmy Mac does a kind of a swerve and a sidestep” – here he stuck out both arms to demonstrate – “and Badger does a crunching tackle on…..nothing! By the time he’s collected his thoughts and turned around, Jimmy Mac’s thirty yards away down the line. Anyway, this happens again, and again, and Badger’s getting more and more worked up, but try as he might he can’t lay a boot on Jimmy Mac, whose making Badger look a proper eejit. And in the end, Badger gets so wound up, he pulls a Smith and Wesson out of his shorts and shoots Jimmy Mac in the thigh. “That’ll slow you up, you little bollix,” he says to him, which it did, true enough. He was fortunate though, because the referee didn’t see it, and of course there was no video evidence” – here he spat out the words – “in those days, so he got away with it, and there were very few wingers tried to get past him after that.

“Did you know that in all the years he played for Drums, Badger never scored a goal? Not one! “My job’s stopping goals,” he used to say. “If you want me to score them as well, you may pay me double.” “I leave the hero stuff to the namby pamby forwards,” he used to say. “Dribbling here and sidestepping there. They should be in ballet school, not on a football pitch.”

“Despite all this, he very nearly scored in the last game he ever played for Drums. They were playing Waterford and didn’t Drums get a penno? And Drums were 5-0 up at the time, and the Drums captain Arsey McGlynn, he says to Badger, “Go on and take it” and Badger says no, he’s not a ballet boy, and Arsey says, “Are you scared?” and this rises Badger, and he says “I’ll take your penalty for you” and their keeper had been injured in the first half –but of course there weren’t any substitutes in those days, so he had to stay on the pitch – so the keeper’s there on his line in a wheelchair, and Badger’s running up and everyone’s thinking, he’s going to score his first goal for Drums, and just as he’s about to kick the ball, bugger me, doesn’t he get hit by a meteorite? Flattens him into the turf. That was the end of Badger’s career. End of his life too, actually. Pity, because he had another couple of years left in him. The ref didn’t know what to do. Badger was buried under a half a ton of rock in the penalty area, so he couldn’t be taken off. Every time after that, when Drums played the ball up, the whistle’d go, because Badger was in an offside position, although the Drums players were going mad, saying he wasn’t interfering with play. That’s what’s missing in today’s football. Characters like Badger. Hard but fair, and always a gentleman. Hush up, now, the teams are coming up out for the second half.”

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