Reunited, and it feels so good, warbled legendary singing duo Peaches and Herb over the tannoy and, as Lionel and Karen’s relationship blossomed, it seemed that the only thing that could spoil the party was a downturn in fortune for Shels. Lionel had won her heart – and the other 22 stone of her – but since that balmy evening when Wexford Youths had been despatched to the corner of the classroom, the team had experienced a wobble not seen since Karen had dashed down the New Stand at half time to get to Burdocks before the crowd.
The mauling at home in the Cup by Dundalk had been an aberration, Karen said, as she nibbled his ear at the end of the match, leaving it like a shredded beefburger. Besides, she continued, the Cup was only a distraction. “Would you rather make love to me once on a white beach in Mauritius or regularly in my flat in Fairview?” she asked by way of an analogy and Lionel agreed that the latter was entirely preferable, as she might be mistaken for a beached whale in the Indian Ocean.
The break came. Not between Lionel and Karen whose love was as strong as that of Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslett in “Titanic,” but in the League season. Lionel spent the evenings in Karen’s apartment and they made glorious love on the floor all during the group stages of Euro 2008, pausing only to urge on their respective teams to further efforts.
Lionel had gone for the Croats because, as he explained, it was hard not to feel a great warmth towards them for their mauling of England in the qualifying stages. Karen had adopted the Italians because she “liked their food.”
One night, after debating van Nistlerooy’s offside goal for nearly an hour, Karen rolled on top of Lionel and said, with deadly seriousness, “I think we should get married.”
Lionel said nothing. It was as though the thought had struck him dumb and that he was grappling with his thoughts and emotions. Karen searched his face for the answer, even checking behind his ears, but Lionel made no reply. It was only by his frantic gestures towards his throat that Karen realised the problem and rolled back off him.
“Oh darling,” he gasped at last, as Eamonn explained how it was possible for a player lying four yards off the field to play the Dutch striker onside. “Do you think we can really make it together in this harsh and cruel world that we live in? What if Shels go on a losing streak and Dundalk surge past us, holding their thumbs to their noses and shouting “Na, na, na-na na?” Can our love survive the pain of losing out on promotion?”
Karen placed a tender finger on his lips, chipping a tooth. “If Bisto should get transferred back to Rovers during the transfer window,” she said. “If Roddy Collins should take over from Dermo and signs Robbie Doyle and Trevor Molloy. If Shels get demoted to the AUL and leave Tolka and ground share with St. Francis. If Shels become a feeder club for Bohs,” – here Lionel turned away and was violently sick into a discarded fried rice container – “If all of these things happen, will you still follow them?”
As Liam explained to a confused Bill that Pirlo had not technically left the field of play with the referee’s permission and was therefore lying on the touchline, playing everybody onside, Lionel could feel the tears welling up in his eyes and, curiously, in his nose. “That’s the most beautiful speech I have ever heard, since Gerry Collins made an impassioned plea for reform of agricultural policy in the Daíl twenty years ago,” he said. “Darling, do you think it can really work? You and me, alone in this mad, mad world? Just the two of us, building castles in the sky?”
Her lips sought his. They roamed over the settee and across the Chinese rug until at last they found them on his face just below his nose. As John explained that Don Revie had always said that the offside law should be dictated by common sense, they locked in a deep embrace. Lionel could feel his life force slowly ebbing away as he melted into a liquid world of warmth and contentment. What adventures lay ahead, he wondered, as he slipped slowly into unconsciousness?