Lionel and Karen emerged from the narrow turnstile and found themselves bathed in the glow of the Tolka Park floodlights. It was Karen’s first league match and she was lost in a whirlwind of emotion, deaf to the 500 Dundalk suppoerters singing harmonically in the Riverside, deaf to the ticket sellers and the programme sellers, deaf to the stadium announcer and his eloquent rendition of the two line-ups. She felt that she was going to faint in the emotion of it all and she has glad when she felt Lionel’s strong hand slipping in to hers.
“This way,” he whispered and he led her along the front of the main stand and into Section D. “These seats okay?” he asked. She nodded mechanically. “I have a perfect view of both goals if I squint around those two stanchions,” she answered and he squeezed the wart on her bottom lip playfully.
The match began and Karen could sense Lionel’s nervousness. She knew that he wanted this to be a perfect night and she was afraid of his reaction if things didn’t go quite as planned. She wanted to reassure him that it didn’t matter if the net didn’t bulge, that there would be plenty of time for that sort of thing.
Instead she said, “Isn’t Alan Keely the spit of his oul’ feller?”
Lionel nodded mechanically. “There has been no decent beards in football since Tony Grealish,” he mumbled and then lapsed into a long silence.
The match to-ed and fro-ed and then fro-ed a little more before resuming its to-ing. Suddenly Bisto was put through. Both Karen and Lionel were on the edge of their seats. Strangely, it was the bottom edge. Bisto went down under Chris Bennion’s challenge and the ref’s shrill whistle pierced the night sky like… well, a whistle.
“He’s off,” panted Lionel. “Two-footed tackle.”
“I’ve never seen a two footed tackle,” whispered Karen excitedly, before cottoning on to Lionel’s meaning and blushing deeply. Lionel pretended he hadn’t heard. “Don’t think he was the last man,” he continued, “but he has to go!”
Sure enough, the goalkeeper began the long slow walk to the tunnel and Karen could sense Lionel’s confidence begin to rise. She wished Shels would hit the back of the net soon and relieve his agony.
Half-time came and Lionel disappeared quickly down the steps, reappearing several minutes later with a hot dog, which the two lovers commenced to eat from separate ends, oblivious to the sounds of vomiting coming from the back of the stands.
The second half resumed and Shels were dominant in all areas of the field though only a magnificent Deano save prevented Dundalk from taking an undeserved lead. “Lacking penetration,” Lionel muttered and Karen eyed him warily. Suddenly, Philly Hughes was in the clear, he steadied himself and stroked it home. “Gooooooooaaaaaaaalllllll!!!!!!!!” yelled Lionel wildly but his ejaculation proved premature as he had not seen the raised flag.
He slumped down shamefacedly in his seat. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I just wanted this to be perfect. I wanted the ground to move for you but its been something of a damp squib, hasn’t it?” And he held his head in his hands, not daring to look at her.
“It doesn’t matter, Lionel, really it doesn’t,” she answered. “These sort of things happen from time to time. Okay, the net didn’t bulge for us this time but there’s still Kildare and Monaghan and Athlone.”
“I can’t make Kildare,” replied Lionel. “I’m having my ears syringed.”
“But I’ve already booked two seats on Tosh travel.”
“Look. Go on your own. It’ll be alright. Maybe you’ll have better luck without me.”
“Oh darling, you know I want nothing more than a Bisto screamer but I want you to be there to share it with me.”
“Send me a text from the ground if we score.”
“I promise, darling,” she sighed. “And don’t worry about the other thing. Even Pele failed to score on occasions.”
However, as he lay in the cubicle in the hospital the following Friday night, a beaker full of ear wax by his side, Lionel was forced to concede that the three texts he received notifying him of goals by Brennan, Flood and Freeman did not send him quite into the unadulterated paroxyms of delight that they should have.
Karen would feel great fulfillment, he thought, but not with him. Three goals. It was practically an orgy.
He wondered who was sharing her ecstasy.