Football? Which paint colour?

Football (Soccer)
Dundalk v Legia Warsaw
Champions League Qualifier (first leg)
Aviva Stadium, Dublin
17 August 2016

The landlord in the Ha’penny Bridge Inn doesn’t like football (or soccer as he calls it). According to him he’s never watched it.

“It’s like watching paint dry.”

Of course, I want to ask him how he knows it’s like watching paint dry if he’s never watched it but I suspect he might throw his hot soup over me. Anyway, when I was a painter and decorator I used to enjoy watching paint dry because it meant I could get the next coat on quicker.

I stare at my Guinness. Eventually he lifts his head and asks, “Is it a big game then?”

“Probably one of the biggest ever for an Irish club,” I tell him. “After all, it’s not every day they move a Dundalk game to Lansdowne Road. They’re expecting over 20,000.”

He says he didn’t even know the game was on. And why should he? He’s got a nice pub right by the river at the entrance to Temple Bar. What’s another 20,000 people when you can fill your pub up with the flow of tourists the city normally gets anyway?

I head off to Temple Bar pub. If I’m going to be ripped off for my beer I might as well do it where they at least pretend to know the difference between football and paint. Anyway, if there’s one thing a football match deserves, it’s a couple of pre-match pints. Even if kick-off is seven hours away.

Dundalk start well. I’m impressed. They knock it about with composure as if they are made for this Champions League stuff. No Irish team has ever made the group stages of Europe’s big money competition and I must admit I don’t fancy their chances against Legia Warsaw, the seasoned Polish team ranked 182 places above them. But they start with confidence, as they should, having impressively knocked out the Belarusian’s BATE Borisov – ranked 200 places above them – in the previous round.

The rain is persistent and I’m wet through. People are still finding their seats 20 minutes into the first half. Crowds like this (it is 30,000 apparently) don’t happen to League of Ireland sides too often and it’s clearly confused the timekeeping of most spectators.

I suspect a lot of them are still in the Sandymount Hotel, an ideal watering hole near the ground. They serve the beer in plastic glasses mind.

Plastic glasses and rain. Add in the pointless, waste-of-time body searches en route to the ground (flares were later let off inside), the small group of young lads in ill-fitting jeans, who are so twitchy from the Bolivian marching powder that a strong coffee would bring them down, and the faint whiff of weed in the air and it’s fair to conclude that this is a proper football match. Watching paint dry indeed.

From what I saw there was no boredom among the large crowd. The only problem was that none of us football tourists knew any of the Dundalk songs, so apart from the odd “come on Dundalk”, there was not much noise coming from the stands. The hardcore Lilywhite fans (in a reversal of national colours Dundalk were in white and Legia Warsaw in green) in the lower South Stand were doing there best but it was the Polish fans crammed together in the opposite end of the ground who were having the party. Flares were left off (I mentioned the pointless searches, right?), giant flags were let loose, and shirts were taken off en masse and helicoptered around heads.

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A naming rights deal means the 51,700 all-seater stadium will be called the Aviva Stadium at least until 2019. Away fans do love to cluster together, even when given the worst part of the stadium for viewing. Giant flags ensure no-one can see anyway.

All the time they sang more songs the rest of us didn’t know, although the tunes were at least recognisable, such is the global nature of football chants. My favourite Polish song that I didn’t know was chanted to the tune Seven Nation Army (originally by White Stripes) because I could easily insert their team name into my head thanks to it having the perfect number of syllables for the riff: “Oh Leg-i-a War-saw, oh Leg-i-a War-saw”…

Sadly Dundalk concede a penalty to a harsh decision in the 56th minute, but apart from a few minutes of chaos in the defence following this they continue to look pretty composed. Unfortunately they rarely look like offering a threat themselves, and this gets worse as the game goes on with the impressive Daryl Horgan starting to get sucked deeper in search of the ball. I’m surprised the number seven is not playing in England, and even involved in the national set-up.

But, as an excellent piece in the programme by Dundalk fan Kenneth Sloane points out, it’s been a long time since a League of Ireland player has played for Ireland. In fact the last one to play in a competitive fixture was Pat Byrne when he was with Shamrock Rovers, although Glen Crowe made two appearances in friendlies in 2002 and 2003. Current Dundalk ‘keeper Gary Rogers has recently been involved in manager Martin O’Neill’s squad as back-up.

Sloane’s piece also  expresses a hope that Dundalk’s performance will impress people enough that they will want to watch more League of Ireland matches. Well, despite them conceding another goal late on the answer is yes it does.

Ticket: seat in the corner pretty high up (€17, which included €2 service fee from Ticketmaster).
Drink: Guinness in the Sandymount Hotel (€5 a pint).
Getting there: DART to Lansdowne Road.
Score: Dundalk 0, Legia Warsaw 2

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The Aviva Stadium looking from Beatty’s Avenue across the River Dodder. It might be called an avenue but it’s no more than towpath, not ideal as those with red route tickets scuttle one way as others with purple route tickets squeeze the other, all wishing they had left the pub earlier. No, we’ll never listen.

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