Twas the night before Christmas and the only sound in the crisp Dublin sky was the lash of whip on reindeer flesh. Not a creature stirred abroad, although there were plenty of them stirring in Ireland.
Ollie Byrne, director and ardent follower of Shelbourne F.C., tightened the pyjama cord on his strong, muscular stomach and drew the curtains. Ah, the old ones are the best, he said to himself, as he proceeded to colour them in. Above the four poster bed hung a large red stocking, secretly pocketed from Dave Mackey’s sports bag after Shels’ last game before the holiday. And, next to the stocking, a piece of paper was thumbtacked into the wall. It was headed “Ollie’s List Christmas 1985”, followed by a long list of requests, including “more fans”, “Tolka Park” and “a decent team”. Ollie sighed. One day, he thought….As he fell into the arms of Morpheus, he was vaguely aware of dogs barking in the back garden. Funny, he thought drowsily, I don’t have a garden….
Ray squeezed carefully between the slightly open curtains in Ollie’s bedroom. He was small and composed entirely of light and radiation from our solar system’s dominant body. In fact, he was a little ray of sunshine. Ollie twitched at his sudden appearance. He had been dreaming about Tolka Park again, only this time it had suddenly become covered in water. Ollie had been sitting on a throne in the middle of the pitch, ordering the waters to recede, when……Christmas!! The word penetrated Ollie’s brain quicker than the rustle of banknotes. He jumped onto his knees and turned around to check his stocking. Nothing!
Somewhere somebody was playing a sad violin and a big tear trickled down Ollie’s cheek. The strange thing was, it was the cheek of his arse. He couldn’t believe it. He’d been a good boy all year. He hadn’t attacked any referees or got points deducted from other clubs. How could Santa forget him?
He was just about to take pen to paper and give “The Red Lad” a right bollicking, when a curious sound caught his ears. Then it caught his nose and the bit of his neck under his earlobe. It was a mixture of a scowl and a moan. A sort of a scone. He dashed to his window and stood there, staring uncomprehendingly. All he could see was flowers, big swirling blue and green flowers standing proudly in a sea of magenta. Tutting loudly, he pulled back the curtains and looked out.
There, pawing at the fresh snow in the garden, were two of the finest greyhounds he had ever seen. Lean and hungry-looking, they gazed up at Ollie with pleading eyes. “Oh, boy!” he yelled, and dashed barefoot down the wooden stairs and out into the snow. The greyhounds leapt on him immediately, licking his hands, his face, his wallet. Ollie laughed out loud and hugged them tightly. He had never had a friend before. Now he had two. “Thank you, Santa!” he yelled at the top of his voice in the clear morning air.
Ollie played barefooted in his garden with his two greyhounds all Christmas morning. The neighbours eyed him suspiciously from their upstairs windows, and contemplated calling Grangegorman. One of them, remarking that the dogs were actually of the feminine gender [through no fault of their own], coined the phrase “Two Bitch Ollie” to describe the Shelbourne director, a sobriquet which stuck faster than a wasp in honey. Over Christmas, Two Bitch Ollie was a regular feature of the Dublin streets, as he walked his greyhounds. It was as though he had found a sort of inner peace at last.
Training recommenced at Harold’s Cross the day after Stephens Day. The players cursed and groaned as an over-indulgence of mince-pies came back to haunt them. Johnnie Byrne showed them no mercy as he directed a punishing routine from the comfort of his armchair.
Suddenly, Ollie appeared, the two dogs at his side. The players immediately stopped and crowded around him, glad of the excuse to stop training for a second.
“Hi, Ollie, How’s tricks?”
“Nice dogs, Ollie.”
“You all right, Ollie?”
Ollie indeed was not all right. The barefoot frollicking with the dogs on Christmas morning had proved to be his undoing. He had caught a chill, which in turn had become a cold, which had become influenza. As the players all gathered around him, he gave an almighty sneeze, which Freddie Davis just managed to tip over the bar.
“Think you’re coming down with something, Ollie,” said Mick Byrne, wiping a large globule of snot out of his hair. Ollie smiled weakly. “Best of luck for Saturday lads,” he said, “Rovers, isn’t it?”
Indeed it was Rovers on the Saturday. Or rather, it was supposed to have been Rovers. Unfortunately, Ollie’s highly-infectious appearance on the Harold’s Cross training ground had serious repercussions. When the team assembled two hours before kick off on the Saturday, there was scarcely a fit man amongst them. Eyes and noses running, sneezing, aches and pains, the Shels players now looked like they played – bloody awful. Arriving at the ground, John Carpenter, the referee, took one look inside the home team dressing-room and immediately ran out, clutching a handkerchief to his mouth. There was a smell – the foul smell of disease clinging to the walls of the dressing room, and Carpenter, for once making an uncontroversial decision, called the match off.
The players made their way home to their lemsips and their beds. Johnnie Byrne was standing outside the door of the empty dressing room, when he saw the now-familiar sight of a man and two dogs approaching across the pitch.
“Do us a favour, Ollie,” he piped up. “I want to head off. Will you stay behind and let the Rovers lads know the match is off? Isn’t it a shame mobile phones haven’t been invented yet?”
Ollie agreed, and went into the dressing room to ease his weary bones, accompanied by his greyhounds, as Johnnie dashed home to see the last half hour of “The Great Escape.”
Twenty minutes later, a coach pulled up outside the now deserted Harold’s Cross stadium. The Rovers’ players looked at one another puzzled. It was a bad turnout, even by Shels’ standards. Something was obviously wrong.
Jim McLoughlin, Rovers manager, held up a hand. “All right, lads, stay where ye are. I’m going in.” And he stepped out of the coach and strode in through the gates.
A minute passed. Then another. The Rovers players eyed each other nervously. Then, suddenly, the Rovers manager came running out through the gate, a handkerchief over his mouth. He dived into the bus and yelled, “Quick! Reverse! Get out of here!” The coach driver slammed the bus into reverse, screamed past the Greyhound Bar and out on to the Harold’s Cross Road. As he sped off towards Terenure, the players crowded around their manager.
“Boss! What’s wrong? What is it?” asked Dermot Keely.
Jim slowly removed the hanky from his face and gazed around at his worried players. He gulped, and then, in a voice like Sergeant Fraser in “Dad’s Army” said,
“Tis disease, an’ Two Bitch Ollie.”
And the players all replied, “Tra, la, la la, laaah, la, la, la, la.”