‘Sent to Coventry’ after football tour mishap!

Our man Frank on football tours without football, a low point at Highfield Road, Cromwell and the curse of Connacht Rugby, and ‘fobbing’ off modern technology in cars…

I’ve told you before that I once got a job in the Golden Lion pub in East London, a pub that was being run by Creggs man Jack Grady, his wife Lizzie (who cooked the best steak in all of London), and their son Seamus. I had such a good time there that in slightly less than six months, I managed to nearly double in size! I arrived in London at a bit less than nine stone and headed home at a good and (un)healthy fifteen stone, a weight which I have carried to this day. My own father failed to recognise me on my return home!

In those days, the number of Irish in England was huge, and most of the customers in the Golden Lion were from Mayo and Galway. Up in Manchester, Birmingham, and Liverpool, there were huge Irish communities (as now), with the Irish being credited with playing a huge part in building Britain.

However, there were other cities in England that had loads of Irish people living in them (like Coventry), which never really get the recognition they deserve. When did anyone tell you that they were off to Coventry? From the local mountain (Mount Mary), Ward brothers Johnny, Jimmy and Bobby spent most of their lives in Coventry. Like many Irish before and since, they made great lives for themselves there and were all very successful.

This week in one of the national papers, there was a big article on Coventry City, a football club that had fallen on very hard times in recent years. The fact that there is a resurgence in the club’s fortunes was a source of great delight to their extremely passionate and committed supporters. Many years ago, a few of us used go on tour every year, and while they were mostly rugby tours, we did four tours to football matches.

I was the organiser. The first one, to Old Trafford, was a success. The second one, also to Old Trafford, showed a side of me that I’m not very proud of – flights and accommodation went according to plan, but at the last minute, my ticket supplier let me down and I had to decide what action to take. I finally decided to say nothing and let the lads off to Manchester while I cried off the trip due to a very bad flu and sat back waiting for the repercussions.

All was quiet, and I thought I’d got away with it, so I went up to Mikeen’s to have a couple of medicinal drinks. However, just as closing time came, my contentment was shattered when I received a phone call from a very irate tourist, and I was left in no doubt as to what he thought of my ticketless tour.

The following year I put together a trip to Anfield, which, for as long as I live, will go down as a trip that can never be bettered. We got good match tickets, and the singing of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ before the game is something I will never forget. To top it all off, we were such a hit in McHale’s pub that they had a special farewell party for us before we left on what they called Manic Monday. Most of the customers in McHale’s were in their ‘golden years’, but they were great craic.

That tour was such a success that we unanimously agreed to go back the following year and I was now flying so high, like Joe Walsh, that there was no discussion at all as to who would organise this tour. I decided we would go to see Liverpool versus Coventry, so I booked the flights, the same hotel, and fondly looked forward to the huge welcome Terry and his staff would have for us in McHale’s.

Friday night came and off we went to collect our tickets, delighted with ourselves. That was until one of our party (who was a bit brighter than the rest of us) suddenly declared that the tickets were printed wrong – they said the game was in Highfield Road in Coventry, while I was adamant it was in Anfield. Of course it ended up being in Coventry, and on April 28th 2001, we underwent the hour and a half train journey to Highfield Road, and were there to witness football history as a 2-0 victory for Liverpool relegated the Sky Blues after an unbroken thirty-four year run in the highest division.

It’s funny how football supporters can be so passionate about their club. To my dying day I will remember grown men and women standing on the terraces at the final whistle, tears flowing down their faces as they came to terms with their relegation.

After the game we took the train back to Liverpool, had a bite to eat and headed back to McHale’s, where to our huge disappointment, no one even remembered us. We were completely forgotten, it was as if we were simply deleted and confined to the dustbin. There was neither a welcoming nor farewell party for us. My touring party were so unhappy that our unexpected trip to Coventry was my last major tour undertaking.

A bloodless coup saw my brother, ‘The Rasher’, take over as the chief organiser, and apart from a whiff of corruption over the disappearance of the kitty in Paris in 2006, he has kept his position to this day.

As for Coventry, despite still being well populated by the Irish, there are no commercial flights that I can find from Ireland at all, so I imagine it’ll be a long while until anyone tells you they’re off to Coventry for the weekend.


Does Cromwell’s ghost still haunt Irish Rugby?

Cromwell was the first man in authority to come to the conclusion that Connacht was inferior to the three other provinces, when in 1654 he told Catholics from all over the country to go to Connacht or die, giving rise to the famous phrase ‘To Hell or to Connacht’.

For some reason, rugby authorities seem to have continued to follow Cromwell’s thinking down through the years when it comes to their attitude towards the western province. Who can ever forget the infamous attempt by the rugby authorities to get rid of the province altogether?!

Year after year, whenever Connacht face any of the other three provinces on Irish soil, there can be no doubt that all the big refereeing decisions go against them. Last Saturday’s game against Munster in Thomond Park is the latest to feature a long list of horrendous refereeing errors. I’m referring to the try scored by Chris Clote after the most obvious offside earlier in the move.

It would make you wonder if there is some (even sub-conscious) in-built desire by the authorities to ensure that the ‘big three’ aren’t embarrassed.

No doubt Andy Friend and his team feel they were very hard done by last Saturday in Limerick. Does Cromwell’s ghost still walk the corridors of the Irish Rugby Union?


And finally…

On Sunday last, I headed off in my trusty old Volkswagen Passat (which replaced my trusty, even older Volvo) to Clifden, where Creggs were once again to suffer an agonising defeat against old rivals, the Connemara All Blacks, in the Connacht Junior League.

Off I went through Moycullen, Oughterard, and Maam Cross until shortly before 2 pm, when Clifden finally came into view. At that point, I decided to pull into a shop to get myself some refreshments. When I came back, I realised to my horror that my fob wasn’t working and I couldn’t get back into my Passat.

Some old lad (about ten years younger than me) told me that a shop down the road sold the batteries that would sort out the fob, but just as I was about to head off, he said that because it was Sunday, they wouldn’t be open. I was so annoyed and upset at being locked out 100 miles from home that I started to hit the offending fob as hard as Tyson Fury hit Deontay Wilder the week before. To my relief and amazement, the rough treatment worked and the doors miraculously unlocked!

The rest of my journey was uneventful, but on my way home I decided that modern technology is ruining my motoring pleasure. What was wrong with the key opening the door? I recently drove a brand new car (definitely not mine) and you don’t even need a key to start it at all. Meanwhile over in the United States, they now have a car that drives itself! Where will it all end?

As for me, I shudder to think what will await me if and when the old Passat heads off to join all my Volvos in their Heavenly home in the sky!