Before I start, I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m not special and I know some of you will be the same as me and have had worse than this. This isn’t a cry for help or some deep insight into the inside of my head, It’s just another low level rant about something I’m a bit sick of. I’m just letting it out…. I’m sharing… I’m a sharer….
I’ve seen a lot of death in my time. Not the ‘old relative dies’ type death, I’m talking the ‘gone too soon’ type death. The worse kind of death. When an elderly relative dies we deal with it in a reflective way. Of course it’s sad but it’s also joyous in an particularly Irish ‘celebratory’ way, as you look back at what was achieved and not what wasn’t.
You know this…. and I know that….
For my sins, and they have been frequent, very bad (in some cases ‘Cardinal’) and many, I have been involved in the running of a football club for about 28 years. I’ve been a player, a captain, a secretary, a chairman, a barman and a target for fists and hate throughout that time. It’s my choice, I can take it and I can give it.
During that time I’ve made some of my greatest mates and had some of the best laughs imaginable…. Can anyone forget Amsterdam?… the prostitute with the Adams’ apple, the violence free nightclub exit, the pissed 180, The Cryuff turn against the Dutch, the vibrating bag at the airport, the friendship pennant made from a McDonald’s place mat which was handed to a bemused Dutch centre half at the kick off…. Comedy Gold…
One of the downsides of being involved more than the average a player is that you become emotionally involved with the membership. You get to know all the members and not just the ones you share the Ralgex with and stand naked in the shower next to.
Soon after putting myself forward as a Captain for the club I was in a meeting of the overall Old Boys Committee and they announced that a member of the club had committed suicide. It was my first memory of dealing with non family death. I was 20. The guy in question was older but no older than 50. It was quite shocking at the time as you can’t fathom the mind-set to do that when you are young. It affected me. I only met him once but I still remember his face and his name and I imagine I’ll never forget it.
A few years later when I was Secretary I had to announce to the football committee that one of our old teachers had died. He wasn’t young. He had retired. I never liked him. He was brutal to boys in the lower school, a real nasty bully however when you went to middle school he called you ‘friend’, presumably as he thought he might get smacked in the mouth in retribution for past crimes.
I announced his death to the assembled captains and there was a ripple of applause tinged with relief and joy . We all had a drink to toast his death. Not my finest hour but we all agreed it was necessary. I had a Heineken. It was great, he was not.
Over the following years I attended several funerals of players of the club.
John was the first one. He was one of my first skippers. He was 10 years older than me and in reality a bit of a pompous prick who manage to stay in the side because the youth, which included me, won the games for him. We never saw eye to eye as he was more stroppy than me at the time and he made bad footballing decisions. He was a tactical wasteland who thought he was a genius.
Anyway, tragically he developed a rare form of terminal bone cancer which took him fairly quickly.
He was a biggish man who liked his food but when he arrived at the club annual dinner, gaunt and with tubes attached I saw him in a different light. He was brave…braver than me… he wanted one last club dinner and he wouldn’t miss it for anything. I was talking to my best mate Bunny at the bar and I could see this guy over Bun’s shoulder as he struggled to walk in the club. I told Bun the bloke was coming and that we should act normal. Sounds harsh but he’d gone from 15 stone to about 8 stone in a few months so the natural reaction would have been to be shocked. Bun turned round and greeted John as if nothing was wrong… a true professional then and now.
When John finally left for the night due to exhaustion Bun and I toasted him and drank till dawn…. We normally did that anyway but he was in our thoughts that night and we regularly raised a glass in his honour.
Three months later John was gone… I went to his funeral where his 12 year old sang a Gaelic Ballad next to his coffin. It was chilling and cannot be forgotten.
In more recent years I’ve attended three funerals that I never thought I’d see. Walshie, Sean and one of my oldest friends Rob.
Walshie was a giant of a man both physically and by personality. He’s the only man who could make me run as you didn’t want to let him down. He was a warrior. Again cancer was the cause.
Walshie’s coffin arrived at the cemetery during a thunderstorm but during the prays by the graveside the sun came out and the grass steamed and the atmosphere became hazy. At that point a fiddle was produced and everyone sang ‘The Fields of Athenry’. It was pure theatre. During the singing I looked about and saw his 90 year old father, his ex wife and new girlfriend consoling each other by the grave as he was lowered in while his kids dropped gifts into the hole. A Celtic shirt, a toy car some letters and pictures… gut wrenching stuff. I’ve never cried so much at a funeral.
At the wake grown men openly wept when we were shown a video of Walshie which consisted of pictures of him over the years to songs his kids had personally picked. I walked home smashed off me head crying… I was a mess…
The guy who arranged Walshie’s funeral and gave a speech of such emotion previously unheard of from his mouth was one of his oldest mates. Tragically he died a few years later.
Sean was another football club legend. Originally a trappy scaffolder he carved out a career as a trappy financial advisor. I loved him, lots didn’t. He had a roguish charm and was a great player who I spent many an hour laughing with and at over the years.
Illness didn’t get Sean, medical malpractice did so I’ll say no more. There were less tears at Sean’s funeral but a lot of shock. A needless loss of life rather than a drawn out affair to that a bastard of a disease. Three months before Sean’s death we were on the lash in Brighton oblivious to what was about to happen…. it still seems slightly unreal..
The third great man I have lost in the past three years was one of my oldest friends.
Rob was a fireman who was killed in a motorbike crash on his way to work. Another tragic waste of a great man, gone too soon leaving a child fatherless and a family empty. I had some great times with Rob. We worked together in pubs, drove around at night looking for kebab shops, we waited for him outside his girlfriends house when we were kids, we went to Ibiza in 1988, I even drank a pint of my own urine in a pub because he proved to me that he had…. turned out he hadn’t…. he did a pint of orange cordial and warm tap water but no matter they were glory days. Those glory days are merely words now, confined to memory only…. no more talks… just thoughts.
Today I went to another funeral of a young man…39 years old with three lovely kids.
I’d only known him a couple of years due to our boys playing football on the same side but it turned out we had mutual friends so we shared a few laughs at their expense while standing in the cold and wet watching kids run about. I have only good things to say about this man and that is almost impossible for a nasty fucker like me. He was always smiling and so that’s the only image I have of him. A good guy gone. I stood by his coffin today and suddenly felt my own mortality…I watched his 3 year old wave at me through a car window oblivious of what was going on knowing that her grief will hit her in the years to come. It’s simply wrong on all levels.
What has happened? Years ago the old died and the young lived. I don’t recall my parents attending many funerals of their immediate associates when they were my age and I’m old enough to remember. When did it change? What made it change? One thing I do know is that I’m pretty sick of it, I’ve had my fill but I will remember the Men and not their ends…..
Death Sickens me….. I blame Cameron and our Purring Monarch…..
You say it all. You’re right. It’s just shit. No words of comfort just acknowledgement. Similar thing today.
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Well .- I just caught this. We should talk. I spoke with Pete Keene recently. He lives nearby in New Barnet. Obviously I know/knew these same people and still recently being a 5 aside operative in Islington on Sundays with some of the lads, like Steve Francini – tho somewhat curtailed due to car in dock and hitting a financial wall , running out of anything spare after my earlier divorce. It was John Macguire who tried to get me back on board around 2000 but I’d decided to move to Ireland for a while and was sick of getting hacked to pieces unless in a higher XI. Paul – I played with in the vets. Sean I was one of his first insurance sales guinea-pigs in his flat in Hendon. Tim-the suicide, you mentioned; I’d played cricket for under his captaincy the week before. It’s a quare life. Thoughtful and well composed writing Jon. Ye have a gift. See ya.
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