Even Tosh Moher, the kindly and affable man that organises the supporters’ buses for Shelbourne away trips, drew the line at livestock. Irish Rail were similarly unimpressed, so Lionel was forced to hire a mini-bus to get himself, Zug (his Mongolian mail-order bride), her extended family and the family’s herd of goats down to Limerick for what was Shels most important game of the season since the last one.
“We win this and we go second,” he explained to Zug. “Then, all we have to do is beat Dundalk away and Waterford at home and Bob’s your uncle.”
“She already has an uncle,” muttered the old man passing behind them, pointing angrily at his own chest. “If this Bob shows up, I will slit his throat.”
“Oh you make it sound so easy, Lionel” sighed Zug, laying her head on Lionel’s chest. “If only it could be this way all the time. We’d soon be back up among the higher echelons of Irish football where we belong.”
Lionel stroked her hair gently. She really was perfect in every way, he thought. His life had really changed for the better that dreadful day three weeks ago when Karen had been swept downstream by a raging River Tolka, never to be seen again.
After the match, as they drove the minibus down to Henry Street Garda Station to collect Zug’s grandmother and the goats, she nuzzled up to him again. “This James Keddy, he is a great player, no?” she asked. “Why are you laughing?”
She slept beside him on the minibus on the long drive home, waking only when Grandmother and Uncle Reuben broke into a particularly rowdy verse of “We’ll keep the red flag flying here.”
As the Dundalk match neared, the tension grew. Grandmother wandered around the apartment muttering “G’wan Shels!” to herself and Cousin Genghis came down with a particularly nasty case of itchy bowel syndrome. Even the goats refused to give milk, though as they were all male, this was probably not too surprising.
“You must believe!” said Zug to Lionel, whenever he got into one of his pessimistic moods. “Have you never listened to Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers? We can do anything we really want to. He is not big in Ireland, no?”
“Darling, I really don’t know how I’d get through this without you,” said Lionel, nibbling her fingers affectionately.
“I wouldn’t do that,” she warned him. “I’ve just been trying to milk the goats.”
The day of the match dawned hot and humid. Well, it was hot and humid in Yemen but in Drumcondra it was overcast and grey. Lionel climbed over Uncle Reuben and the goat on the bathroom floor and put his head under the tap. After about thirty seconds he turned it on.
“We will win Lionel!” called Zug. “I felt the baby kick me three times. In Mongolia that is a sign that we will win 3-0. One for Bisto and two for Forsyth, I think. Believe!”
“You sure?” asked Lionel doubtfully. “Unborn babies can predict football scores? This is a proved medical fact?”
“In my country, yes,” said Zug simply. “In your backward Health Service, who knows?”
Buoyed by this premonition, Lionel’s mood lightened and even the grim discovery that one of the goats had eaten his vinyl copy of “Dancing on the Ceiling” during the night could not stop Lionel grinning. He whistled as the party tore up the M1 in the outside lane at 30kph and waved cheerfully back at all the drivers who waved their fists at him as they overtook on the inside lane.
Grandmother tethered the goats to the railings of the railway station and the party made their way into Oriel Park. “They have funny grass here,” remarked Zug wistfully, as the rain came down in bucketfuls. “No wonder it is so green with all this rain.”
When Dundalk went ahead on the quarter hour mark, Lionel looked quizzically at Zug. “Believe!” she said. “We can still win 3-0.”
When the second blasted past Dean Delaney, she shrugged and went silent. Lionel’s optimism evaporated and the tears ran down his cheeks, down his arms, twice round his midriff and finally streamed down his legs. Alan Keely’s consolation goal near the end set up a grandstand finish but it was not to be.
When the final whistle blew, Lionel just sat there, while Cousin Genghis shouted at the Dundalk fans and drew his finger across his throat. At last he spoke.
“Of all the liars,” he said. Zug blanched visibly. Then she blanched invisibly. Then she blanched in and out of vision.
“Of all the liars,” he repeated, “that there baby of yours is the worst I’ve ever come across. I’ll not believe a word out of its mouth when it’s born.”