I remember the first days when I first went to a Dublin GAA game. I went with my Dad to see National League games in the late 80’s. My Dad was in a wheelchair and that meant we got to go in front of the old Nally Stand, right onto the pitch side. It was incredible. Even though I was in my teens, I couldn’t believe how far and how hard these Dublin players could kick a ball.
I loved when someone would skew a shot and it would head our direction. Being the only abled bodied young lad amongst a gang of wheely chaired men and uninterested helpers meant that I could grab the sacred O’Neills football and kick it back towards John O’Leary.
It was one of the first times in my life I glanced at management to see if they noticed.
Some of the finest games we watched were the games against Meath. The four game saga back in 1991 was where I fell in love with everything Dublin and Croke Park. I was 14 at the time and in front of the OAP’s in the Nally with my Dad.
Pitch side. Tempers Boiling. Worm’s eye view. You could hear the grunts O’Leary made as he kicked out the ball, launching the fucker into orbit like a giant kicking a midgets haki sak.
You could smell the sweat, hear the clatters and crunches that can only be experienced in a cauldron of warriors doing battle.
TV is no substitute.
It was on these few days that I first found the Hill. The Hill. Hill 16. Hill 16 is a terrace at the north end of Croke Park which housed the Dublin supporters. It had always been closed during the National League and until these days I had no idea what atmosphere was all about.
This was back in the good old days. The good old days meant cramming as many lunatics as possible onto this terrace. I sat down behind my Dads wheelchair and looked up at the heaving masses. Bodies were crushed together in a mesmerising display of harmony.
Pockets of fans were chanting. Others were jumping up and down. Others were pushing forward causing a massive ripple effect swell.
And the noise.
Fuck me it was incredible. Ten or twenty thousand men chanting and screaming and singing. I was intoxicated.
Back in these days there were cops stationed up in the Hill. Little did I know at the time, but right behind the goals was where the headcase lunatics went. They went to chant and be tribal and abuse and make noise.
I was blown away when I saw skirmishes with cops. Hundreds and thousands of Sky Blue Dublin fans throwning bottles and plastic and chanting like something out of a mental English Soccer Hooligan scene.
Dad not feeling well.
Looking back I don’t know if he made it up or not, but it turned out that the next summer my Dad didn’t feel too well and I got the chance to go on my own to the games.
I had made a few friends in secondary school and off we went.
I remember the excitement.
We arranged times to meet up on buses along the coast road and jumped off at Fairview Park. The energy was so different now.
A group of young teens vs Man in wheelchair and obedient son is no small difference
And what are any young group of lads going to do before they go to a match?
A six pack of beer, skulled down fast in the park was what!
Man I felt so sick from it. A six pack of Harp was my choice. It tasted like metalic fizz fungal lemon. But fuck I felt a little loco afterwards. We joined back up with the masses who were heading into the stadium and the noise and alcohol started to turn me from quiet God fearing young lad, into a screaming sectarian lunatic.
The first time I made it to the behind the old Hill 16 I was blown away by the rowdy madness. Men were pissing all over the place – On walls, behind walls, without walls and over walls. The cops seemed to just stand there in a daze. The stench of beer and piss mixed in the summer sun, to fill the lungs with a new scent.
We were electrified and made our way over to the steps leading up to the terrace. The noise began to creep louder and louder as you got under the hulking mass of the Stands and Terraces.
Slowly as you got closer and closer to the opening, the volume would raise until the moment when you hit the fresh air again, and like a turtle coming out of a sea of ear muffling urine, you saw Croke Park in all it’s splendour before you.
The crush was insane. Bodies were jammed together. We squeezed our way over as far behind the goals as we dared to. The din a cacophony of noise I’d never, ever heard before.
”Hill 16 is Dublin Only……Hill 16 is Dublin only…..” pounding from the left
“Come on you boys in Blue, Come on you Boys in Blue”….from everywhere
“If you hate the Royal wankers clap your hands, If you hate the Royal wankers clap your hands…”
Fuck we were clapping and screaming and pushing and roaring. Right over behind the goals was where the die hard lunatics went. Ask any of them to name a Dublin player and he’d struggle, but fuck they loved the energy of the terrace.
“Gardai, RUC, Fuck your…..”
Coins were flying at the groups of cops. Everywhere fans were jumping up and down
“Let’s go fucking mental, let’s go fucking mental, la la la la, la la la la…”
Some of the crazys were pissing in bottles and throwing it at the cops. Gardai (name for Irish coppers) hats were being robbed from heads and the Hill would suck back the perpetrators and laugh and dance and chant in the face of oppression from the law.
I remember one Garda went running after some kid who was sucked away in the heaving mass and this Garda was surrounded in the middle of the loons. Everyone began to jump around him, chanting in unison, slapping him on the top of his head playfully
“Spot the looney, spot spot spot spot the lunatic”
These were the half hours or so before the game. Once the Dubs came out onto the pitch the noise went up. Right up. Crescendo mayhem. Orderly madness as we all saluted our heroes with every decibel we had in our guts.
I remember an old friend who has since passed away called Kevin O’ Malley. He jumped and screamed with every sinew in his body. We roared our hearts together in unison with tens of thousands others. We were banded together against the Gardai, the boggers and the world. I still remember his eyes looking into mine – blood shot, blue and wild with delight as we bounced around in the madness.
The Hill still echoes his heart and passion, every day that it is filled. And when it is empty, his soul will sit there alone, remembering the purity of those days.
We scorned the boggers with their simplistic songs – the lack of creativity was embarrassing.
“Laois Laois Laois Laois Laois…”
“Me-ath, Me-ath, Me-ath”
The Hill was armed with so many sweet old ditties saved for such sweet moments as when the opposition began to get on top in a game. It was a creative union. Imagination met menace, with energy and booze.
“You’re only sheep shagging ba$^^@@rds, sheep shagging ba$^^@@rds, you’re only sheep shagging ba$^^@@rds, sheep shagging ba$^^@@rds…..”
I remember them days. Those long hazy summers echo in my memory, down the red bricked houses of Fairview strand and the wide open battered streets of the Ballybough flats. The working class, the lower class, the upper and the middle, all forged together in a battering ram of pride, love and drunkenness.
Teenagers discovering the mesmerising mix of booze, adrenaline and the power of the brute group – understanding in staccato moments, that there are only moments in life.
Nothing more and nothing less.
Then those moments pass and it gets harder to remember.
Come on you boys in blue.