League of Ireland football is comparable with National League football in England. Small clubs rooted in the community with intimate grounds where player and spectator are in close proximity.
Sitting in the stand at Richmond Park with sheets of rain coming in from the west, attending the pre-season friendly match against Cork City seems not as wise a choice as the alternative which was to stay in the warm watching Ireland play Wales.
Then there comes a moment when time seems to slip.
The smallness of the ground allows the possibility of being seated within a few metres of the players’ tunnel. The pre-match warm up finishes and the players return to the dressing room. There is the echoing sound of studs on concrete.
Suddenly, it is not a bitterly cold February afternoon in Inchicore in 2022, instead it is a bright Saturday morning in Devon in the mid-1970s.
The sound of studs on concrete is the sound of teenage boys walking through the archway that led to the backyard of the school after Saturday morning football. In memory, boots had to be swapped for shoes under the archway. In memory, there are wire cages in which the boots are placed. Whatever the details, the stone would echo with the clatter of the boots and the loud conversation of boisterous adolescents.
It was a sound of joy, a sound of exuberance. After changing, there would be lunch and then the few hours of freedom brought by Saturday afternoon. The school bus would draw up at the end of the drive at two o’clock, those over-fifteen years old would be allowed to get off the bus in Torquay, the younger boys had to go to Paignton.
Of course, our upbeat mood was irrational, there was nothing about which to be excited. Torquay would be the same place it was the previous Saturday, and we would do nothing we had not done on many previous occasions. We would go to a cafe, look at records, mooch around the town.
In retrospect, it all seems very dull, but at the time there was a sense of something indefinable, something that we could not have articulated, and which defies articulation even now.
Perhaps it was about optimism, about anticipating the undiscovered country that lay ahead. Perhaps the sound of football boot studs on concrete was the sound that announced a taste of the freedom we hoped to enjoy in the world beyond our years at the school. Perhaps there was a deep and irrational sense of hope that never quite dies, no matter how distant becomes the memory of those Saturday mornings.