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In Living Colour

We take it for granted nowadays, but there was a time when watching colour television was a real treat. It was like having a cinema in your front room, and an invitation to come and watch the World Cup Final was definitely one not to be missed.

Azteca Stadium, Mexico City

Azteca Stadium, Mexico City

This was the lucky position that I found myself in, in the summer of 1970, as Brazil were preparing to play Italy in the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Both teams had played great football, particularly Brazil, to get to the final, and the experts were predicting a feast of skilful action. They certainly got that right with Pele, Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto and the other Boys from Brazil becoming household names for their brilliant, exciting play. It was an unforgettable moment, and seeing them in glorious colour left a mark that has never faded.

My friend Caro, whose brothers played football with me and my friends, invited us to watch the game on her family’s new, colour television. During the days leading up to the game it was, I remember, the only topic of conversation as we discussed what might happen. It was an exciting time and the tension increased as Sunday approached and bold forecasts about scores and scorers were made. Most of us went for Brazil and Brendan, a good friend and a more than useful centre-half, even suggested that Brazil would win 4-1.

‘Yeah, sure,’ I said ‘in your dreams!’

Mid-summer’s Night was warm and bright as I headed up to Caro’s house and entered a maelstrom of excitement. There was noise and activity everywhere as boys arrived and her Mum and some neighbours made popcorn in the crowded kitchen. In the front room a large television dominated a corner, and the game was the only subject on everybody’s lips. Most of the boys were there when I arrived and I sat on a sofa with Eddie and Paul. Others were seated on chairs, pouffes and cushions while Brendan had parked himself on a beautiful Chippendale chair a few feet from the television.

Italy & Brazil - colourful greats

Italy & Brazil – colourful greats

We were glued to the television as the transmission from Mexico ‘went live’ and we were transfixed – and momentarily rendered silent.

The bright, yellow jerseys of the Brazilian players contrasted with the blue of the Italians and the luscious green of the pitch. I had never seen anything like it and couldn’t help but smile at my good fortune. A chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ went up as the commentator named the teams while the camera panned about the packed stadium. It was brilliant and, unable to contain our excitement, we started cheering. We shouted and nudged each other in anticipation, with Brendan’s grin as broad as Dublin Bay. He raised four fingers on one hand and one on the other. ‘Remember, boys, 4-1.’

The game started and we were enthralled by the wonderful play, and cut and thrust of the exchanges. Brazil, with their fantastic technique, probed the Italian defence constantly in what was a meeting of giants. The game flowed back and forth before Pele broke the deadlock and scored the first goal with a decisive header. We leapt about like salmon, as the room was suddenly a cauldron of noisy hysteria. The television picture was so real and the noise in the room so loud, that for a moment, I thought I was actually at the match. It was a fantastic atmosphere.

Popcorn - vital sustenance

Popcorn – vital sustenance

But it was too good to be true and the Italians equalised a few minutes before half time. A morgue-like silence hung in the room and smiles were replaced by deep frowns. This was not meant to happen, and only Brendan seemed happy with the score. We sat back at half-time and talked excitedly about what we had seen. It was infectious and we grabbed handfuls of warm popcorn when the bowls made their way around. Just past the hour, Brazil scored again, 2-1. The room was like a madhouse with popcorn falling like snow before we settled down and willed the inevitable Brazilian victory. A third goal soon followed and it was Samba-time in the noisy room – at least that’s what Caro’s mum called it!

In the dying minutes Brazil began a move that went the length of the pitch before their captain, Carlos Alberto, crashed in a fourth goal. We all jumped up again but Brendan fell backwards on his chair and a horrible, cracking sound split the air. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence he stood up and found that the back of the expensive chair had snapped off like a dried twig and now lay flat on the floor. He was mortified but Caro’s mum shrugged and told him not to worry about it.

Game from a throne

Game from a throne

In the days and weeks that followed we played football and imagined being our heroes. We argued over being Pele, Rivelino or Carlos Alberto but Brendan never had any trouble about who he was. And now, whenever I see replays of that famous fourth goal I often wonder where I might find The Chairman.

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Festive Fun!

'Tis the season to be...

‘Tis the season to be…

Approaching Christmas, one of the things that we always looked forward to was the sale of work in the local girls’ school. It was a great opportunity to buy small presents, have a laugh and, of course, meet some girls. Such opportunities were important to a lad who was studying for his Leaving Cert and keen to meet members of the fairer sex. And hopefully get a few invitations to parties over the festive season.

On a cold and windy Saturday in early December Eddie, Paul and I made our way to the school where we queued under swaying lights, surrounded by lively chatter. The nervous tension was palpable, as we shuffled towards the door from where seasonal music and mirth drifted. The smell of fresh popcorn that floated past was teasing and inviting.

Hoopla

Hoopla

The sports hall was decorated in a rainbow of colourful hangings and flashing lights. It was alive with people of all ages pushing this way and that as White Christmas blasted from a dodgy stereo. There were stalls selling books, cakes, small paintings and knitted gloves and scarves. But nobody was winning on the Hoopla stall and Eddie had to give it a go.

‘Watch this,’ he said, and we gave him room.

‘You show him,’ I said, laughing.

‘Dead-eyed Ed,’ Paul urged.

A small crowd gathered and cheered each near-miss. Eddie’s last throw was close, but not close enough.

‘Bad luck,’ said the stallholder, giving a little shrug.

‘It’s rigged, it’s rigged I know it is,’ Eddie said convincing nobody, and we laughed harder the more he went on.

‘Here, have some of these,’ I said, offering him my bag of piping hot popcorn.

When we were finished I bought two books and the lads got some bits and pieces for Christmas presents. We hung around for a while and then we decided to leave.

As we were heading for the door Eddie’s sister, Marie, ran over with a look of panic on her face. She and two friends blurted out in unison that they needed our help – and that we could not refuse – dare not refuse. We found out that that Santa Claus had taken ill, and a replacement was needed.

Now!

It was too silly for words but the girls didn’t think so.

‘You’ve got to help,’ Marie said firmly, her words allowing for no argument.

We knew we had to help, as life would not be worth living otherwise. Gobsmacked, we looked at each other, before one of the girls said. ‘Well?’

I still don’t know where it came from but I heard myself say ‘Yes, I’ll do it.’

Eddie and Paul looked at me wide-eyed while the girls relaxed and took me by the arm, leading me like a condemned man through the noisy crowd. We went to a small room at the back of the stage where all sorts of junk seemed to have ended up. I hoped that this wasn’t the sign of my immediate future, quickly slipping off my jacket and scarf.

‘It’s really great that you’re doing this,’ Margaret said, breathing a huge sigh of relief. Marie and Adrienne smiled, joyously echoing her words.

‘No problem,’ I said, with no idea what I had got myself into and no chance of escape.

Rudolf and friends

Rudolf and friends

I was dressed hurriedly in a Santa Claus suit a few sizes too big and, after some tricky and ticklish attempts, managed to keep the long white beard on. The girls showed me to my throne where I was immediately involved in greeting a small girl who was not happy waiting for the old man dressed in an ill-fitting red suit. I explained that one of my reindeers, Rudolf, was not feeling well and we had to go slowly. I was sorry, and told her that her special wish would definitely be granted and my faithful assistant, Margaret, smiled and gave her a present. I did this for the next hour or so, and after a headful of wishes and promises to be good next year, I was finished, literally.

The lads laughed at my Santa routine, but not as loud as I did over the Festive Season when Margaret invited me to a party in her house, and a few others as well. It was the best Christmas present I could have wished for, and better than anything Santa Claus could have arranged. Ho, ho, ho!

The man with all the gifts!

The man with all the gifts!

 

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