It’s never over until it’s over, a lesson learned at Buckley Park. An old article by Ian Plenderleith in When Saturday Comes left Póg Mo Goal pondering on the football phenomenon of crowds leaving before the final whistle. No matter what might be happening on the pitch, you always get those who will file out of the stadium to ‘beat the rush’, often serenaded by the winning fans with ‘Cheerio, Cheerio,’ or even their fellow clubmen with ‘Loyal, loyal, supporters.’
Plenderleith was inspired by a last-gasp Scotland win over minnows Liechtenstein and surprised that so many had stayed on when excruciating embarrassment seemed imminent.
“Whether it was a desire to see the winning goal or just morbid fascination, it seemed that at the end of the game, the stands were heaving with jubilant, and massively relieved, fans. Who will now always be able to claim that they were there “the night we almost lost to f***ing Liechtenstein”.
Póg Mo Goal has vowed never to leave a football game before the final whistle has blown. It stems from a cherished childhood memory of being in Buckley Park in Kilkenny. Many memories regarding Kilkenny City FC tend to be painful because there were some horrible football games played in the final days before the club eventually folded. The glory days, however, were the stuff of dreams.
In 1997, the Cats’ charge towards the First Division title was entering the final stretch. Under the former Irish international and League of Ireland legend, Alfie Hale, the football club from the hurling mecca was making national headlines. In a rare barren patch for the county’s hurlers, Kilkenny folk found the unlikeliest of heroes in Hale’s band of merry men.
In a tussle at the top of the table between fierce local rivals Waterford United and Drogheda, it was the visit of Galway to the Marble City that cemented in young Póg’s psyche that leaving before the game was up was sacrilege.
Unbeaten at home, (a record that would remain unblemished for the entire season), City trailed 2-1 with the 90 minutes up. With the ground packed, the home crowd willed the Cats to grab an equaliser as they pummelled the United defence. Classy midfielder and captain Paul Cashin turned on the edge of the box with bodies everywhere and rifled a shot to the net from twenty yards. Cue pandemonium.
Sensing a real turning point in the season and the quest for promotion to Ireland’s top flight for the first time in their history, Kilkenny followers celebrated wildly. Yet the final whistle had not sounded. Galway resumed the game and suddenly City fans wanted the win. Like a champion pugilist, Kilkenny had pounded the visitors’ goalmouth, grabbed a stunning equaliser, but now the players could sense a knock-out blow. United were capitulating as the game entered its sixth minute of injury-time.
Suddenly, a through-ball put the division’s top scorer, and nephew of the manager, Richie Hale past the last defender and bearing down on goal. Shooting star Hale had been blazing a trail in the previous weeks, even scoring eight goals in two matches, prompting home fans to relate this stellar streak with the appearance of his namesake, the Halle Boppe comet, over Irish skies.
Now warping towards the Hill End, the diminutive striker coolly slotted the ball past the ‘keeper and a near riot ensued. The quaint rural ground on the outskirts of Kilkenny trembled to the sound of the Buckley Park roar followed by ‘Championes, Championes’ ringing in the evening air.
Two goals in injury-time, the winner coming in the sixth added minute. No one wanted to leave at all, let alone get out before the crowd.
There have been plenty of matches since in stadiums across the globe, when the Gods have not been smiling and escaping early from the torture has been appealing. But it’s like eating a meal. The last bite is always the most satisfying. If you dropped that final morsel, you’re left with this horrible feeling of unfinished business.
Our appetite for football also needs nourishing, but in the life of a fan, disappointment can be hard to stomach. It requires effort. Plenderleith agrees:
“You have to work for those moments of collective glee. As in life, you endure hours of tedium and disappointment, but just occasionally you’re rewarded with a treasured moment of surprise and delight. In fact, it’s all we live for.”
Jack Charlton once said of Ronnie Whelan’s glorious volley against the USSR in 1988, that the best goals are the ones that come as a surprise, and those are the things you remember.
It is the fear of missing out on something unexpected, however far-fetched, that keeps us in our place until the fat lady has exercised her vocal chords. Games and players come and go but it’s when you look back at the ‘best bits’ video reel in your own head that you’re glad you’ve waited until the credits have rolled.
Thanks for the memories, City. They’re never far from our mind.