Paul Healy’s Week

All weekend

 

For some of us, it was probably the best ‘Friday feeling’ in…let’s say 16 years.

On Friday, without kicking a ball (challengers West Brom lost) Leeds United were finally promoted back into the Premier League. After 16 years!

Leeds are one of the biggest clubs in England, but they experienced a disastrous decline in the early years of the 21st century, slipping from the limelight into the shadows, where they have remained until now.

Since 2004, it’s been one long trauma for a once-great club. Leeds even dropped into the old third division, the third tier of the game. Financial hardship, lamentable mismanagement and shattered morale combined to consign Leeds to the status of Yesterday’s Men. Nothing worse than not being relevant any more!

Lots of clubs have to ply their trade in lower leagues, and Leeds weren’t above that, it’s just that this was a mighty fall for a mighty club. A club that could rival Liverpool and Manchester United for passion and pedigree, a club that had been used to epic European nights, to pulsating, fiery battles at Old Trafford, Anfield, Elland Road. Leeds, steeped in history and tradition, now almost falling apart. But the phenomenal fan base remained loyal. Often, even in this lower league, with glory now a taunting ghost of the past, as many as 35,000 fans packed into Elland Road…willing the past to be reclaimed. 35,000 fans at home matches! Premier League chairmen could only watch and weep.

In recent seasons, Leeds came close to returning to the top flight, but close doesn’t seal the deal. Appointing, then keeping, the eccentric but brilliant Marcelo Bielsa (yes, the man who watches games while sitting on a bucket) finally made the difference. This remarkable man, who is revered by many of the top managers in the world, has created a formidable team of relentless power and pace. On Saturday, they were confirmed as Division One champions.

While Leeds won what is now the Premier League in 1992 – and have had many fine teams over the years – most fans link their love of the club back to the Don Revie era. In any debate as to which was the greatest club team ever in England, Revie’s ruthless, brilliant side would have to feature.

They actually underachieved. In ten seasons from 1964 to ’74, Leeds won the league twice, were runners-up five times, and never outside the top four. They also won the FA Cup, League Cup and two (European) Fairs’ Cups. Trophies are one thing; while they had a reputation for being cynical – certainly they were hard men – Leeds also played some magnificent football, gracing the English game, to the begrudging appreciation of their rivals.

Revie’s team oozed class…the names (too many to include all here) still evoke the fondest of memories half a century on: Cooper, Reaney, Madeley, Charlton, Hunter, Giles, Bremner, Gray, Lorimer, Jones, Clarke.

Life is funny, or more accurately, strange. Life is…life. Leeds have returned to the top flight in the same year in which the club lost three greats, with the deaths of Norman Hunter, Trevor Cherry and Jack Charlton. It’s poignant and sad. We hope the great men are smiling down, maybe even chuckling with Don.

Leeds United are back in the big time. Mr. Bielsa, the brilliant, gifted ‘man with the bucket’ is coming to the Premier League. A great club, back where it belongs!

 

Monday

 

When Jimmy Carter rang his mother one day in 1974 and solemnly told her “I’ve decided to run for President”, she responded: “Of what?”

It wasn’t the most encouraging reply, but it reflected how much of a dark horse Carter was. In fact, he had decided to run for President of America; he did, and he won!

I imagine some people might have had the same reaction when they heard of Kanye West’s intentions. President of what? The rapper, husband of Kim Kardashian, has, according to news websites today, officially launched his presidential bid.

I scroll to see what’s going on. I had assumed that if Mr. West gets on to the ballot paper, it will be as an independent: in fact he has formed a party – ‘The Birthday Party’.

As for policies, he wants to reduce abortions by giving financial incentives to single mothers. “Every woman who has a baby should get a million dollars”.

Oh dear, this does not bode well. And the last thing the White House needs is an idiot in charge!

Besides, whatever about Donald and Melania, surely Kim would frown at having to move into a smaller house?

I wonder what Mrs. Carter would make of it all…

 

Tuesday

 

About two months ago, during peak lockdown, I walked as far as the Roscommon Gaels’ pitches at Lisnamult. The sun was splitting the stones, the welcome hot weather an odd backdrop to misery.

Even the walk (from our office in Abbey Street) felt surreal, Roscommon by then stripped of the ebb and flow of normal daily life. There were four people outside a house; we exchanged nods, prisoners of a pandemic, none of us entirely sure of our boundaries.

At the Gaels’ pitch, a silence that was also surreal. Opposite the GAA grounds, the beautiful AstroTurf soccer facility. Not a single person at either venue, both closed, off limits. The beautiful weather amplified the sense of a lost summer.

Today, I drove to Lisnamult to collect our son from GAA training. The place is buzzing. The same beautiful, hopeful picture is forming all over the county. Parents are queuing to drive in. Various age groups are being catered for, on the various pitches.

Our son and a friend amble towards the car, thirsty from their toil, happy, chatting. Small kids and teenagers come and go, coaches’ voices hang in mid-air. A father, arms folded, watches with pride as his son is released again to follow in his dad’s fancy footsteps. Just now, on this lovely evening, it’s almost like Covid didn’t really happen. This phased, cautious, well organised return to the type of normality we knew is so important for these children. They’re smiling. We’ve a journey to travel, but at least the silences of mid-summer are no more.

Every day…

 

Some readers might remember the charming British sitcom ‘My Wife Next Door’ which was very popular back in the 1970s. A married couple (played by John Alderton and Hannah Gordon) get a divorce. They both move to the country, planning to start new, separate lives…only to discover that they have bought two adjoining cottages! (And, from that unlikely scenario, the comic chaos starts).

I wonder if new Taoiseach Micheál Martin has been reminded of this sitcom over the past couple of weeks? Anyone for ‘My Fellow Taoiseach Next Door’?