The other day, I had a near-death experience. My third wife, whom I had idly noticed had been coming home with her hair matted with semen, accidentally spilled some rat-poison into a homemade soufflé without noticing. As I fell to the ground in agony, my life flashed before my eyes, particularly that episode with the sheep. I felt myself floating upwards, and looked down to see my grieving wife searching frantically for my life insurance policy. Then I was travelling down a long tunnel, like the Jack Lynch Tunnel without the stationery traffic. I emerged into a blinding light which, as my eyes focussed, I recognised as a giant floodlight, shining majestically down onto a giant football pitch.
Great, I thought. Football in heaven. I nudged the angel next to me. “Who’s playing?” I asked.
“Catholics against Hell,” replied the other. “Cup Final. Christians beat the Mormons in the semis. The Mormons refused to allow the trainer on the pitch. Hell pissed on the Baptists. Literally.”
I settled down among the 500,000 crowd to watch. Pontius Pilate seemed to be dominating the midfield for Hell, and Hermann Goering was playing a blinder on the wing. Still Jesus in the Catholics’ goal seemed to be saving everything. Then I rubbed my eyes in amazement.
“That can’t be….” I said. “Pat Dolan the referee?”
“Logical choice for a game between the Christians and Hell,” replied my neighbour. “Can’t differentiate between good and evil, you see.” Then, seeing my quizzical expression, he added, “Undead. Didn’t you know?”
No, I hadn’t known, but it explained a lot. However, my idle musings were interrupted by the roar of the crowd. Hannibal Lector had just skinned the hapless St. Stephen and put over the perfect cross. Hitler’s header was well directed, but Jesus tipped it over the bar.
“St. Stephen not having a good game?” I ventured.
“Probably still stoned,” replied the angel, and went into paroxysms of laughter.
The game continued. Baron von Richthofen was winning everything in the air at the back, which was a blessing for Dracula, in the Hell goal, who seemed to shy away from long, high balls coming in from the wing. However, he was quite surprised when the obvious joke failed to materialise.
Satan, the Hell manager, was pacing his dugout. It was clear he was thinking of pulling off Attila the Hun, judging by the way Attila was backing away from him nervously. However, he was pre-empted by Genghis Khan who suddenly decapitated Mother Theresa with a scimitar. Even Pat Dolan had no alternative but to send him off. Genghis made the long, slow walk to the dressing room, giving the fingers to the Catholic crowd on the way.
Joan of Arc was on fire for the Catholics in midfield. The dismissal seemed to give her new heart and she gave Cardinal Richelieu a proper roasting. Lazarus had also seemed to have got a new lease of life up front and he led Salome a merry dance.
And then it happened! Brother Ignatius, a Trappist monk, who had been remarkably quiet throughout the game, slipped Oliver Cromwell and passed it inside to Vincent de Paul. Vincent de Paul fed St. Barnaby the Bloody Starving, who punted a long hopeful ball upfield. As Dracula came rushing out to collect, Padre Pio challenged him for the high ball. Somehow the ball sailed over Dracula’s head and bounced into the empty net.
Half of the crowd went wild with delight. Strangely enough, it was the bottom half, while their top halves remained perfectly motionless. But down on the pitch, the Hell players were contorted with fury. They surrounded Pat Dolan, [well, a quarter of him anyway] and gesticulated furiously. Padre Pio, wearing an air of injured innocence, was pointing at his stigmata and claiming it was the “Hand of God”. Satan came storming onto the pitch and had to be restrained by the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse. Dolan pointed at the centre-circle maintaining he had seen nothing wrong. Fu Manchu retorted that, as he’d had his face in a lemon meringue pie at the time, of course he hadn’t seen anything. Dolan gave him the yellow. Idi Amin challenged Dolan to a wrestling match. Dolan abandoned the game. God was furious and sent down a plague of locusts onto the pitch. The crowd started to move out.
“What happens now?” I asked my newfound friend.
“Replay next week at Hell’s ground,” he replied.
“Yeah, Richer. God, I hate that kip.”
All around me, angels and devils were filing out, still arguing over the match. Suddenly, I felt myself being hauled back by a member of Frontline.
“Ticket!” he bellowed in a thick Longford accent.
“No ticket? Okay, son. Out you go!”
“But I’m going out anyway. Are you brain-dead, or something?”
Unfortunately I seemed to have hit something of a raw nerve here for he gave me a dig in the head and a boot up the backside. The next thing I knew, I was sailing back down the paradisiacal equivalent of the Jack Lynch Tunnel before I landed in a crumpled heap on our dining-room carpet.
I groaned and lifted my head. Above me, my darling wife was biting her lip in sheer frustration.
“Hello, darling,” I said. “I’m back! And guess what? I have some good news and some bad news.”
“What’s the good news?” she asked, mournfully.
“The good news is that they have football in heaven. Isn’t that great?”
She looked unconvinced about the need for celebration, which was hardly surprising. “And the bad news?”
I hesitated. This was the person who had clapped with delight when Chukunyere scored the last minute winner against Shels in the Champions League. The person who had hung Paul Osam’s photo over our bed. The person who had said that Bohs deserved to win the League.
“The bad news is that Genghis Khan’s suspended for next week,” I said, rising slowly to my feet.
“Why’s that bad news?” she asked tremulously, uncomprehending.
“Simple, darling,” I smiled, reaching for the candlestick on the dining table. “You’re taking his place.”