It was the first home match of the new Eircom League season. Ireland switched to summer soccer in 2002, but given the fact that the season starts in March and finishes in November and Irish weather rarely gets warmer than an October day in the south of France, summer is probably a misnomer.
Bray Wanderers is our team. They play in the seaside town of Bray, four miles south of here and in the eight seasons in which I have followed them have yo-yoed up and down between the premier division and the first division. If calling the second division the first division seems a nonsensical use of language, it is not as bad as the English who have the Premiership and the Championship before reaching League Division One – try telling someone who doesn’t know much about the game that League One is actually the third division.
Anyway, Bray were poor last season, finishing bottom but one, but given the fact that another team had gone bankrupt and dropped out, they were spared any danger of relegation. Bray have often been poor; there have been bright moments but watching the opposition knock in four or five goals has been an all too frequent experience.
Given the track record, it is wise to go to a match without great expectations. So it was I sat and watched the match at the Carlisle Grounds this evening. Bray were playing Bohemians, and wins against Bohemians for Bray are about as common as hen’s teeth. After half an hour, Bray went ahead. There was much delight at a well taken goal, but I remained firmly seated. It was too good to last, we didn’t win such matches.
I spent the rest of the match in the expectation that Bohemians would certainly equalize and would in all probability go on to win. When the referee blew the whistle after four minutes of added time at the end of the match, I was suddenly struck by the realization that Bray had won. It was too late then to savour the moment.
On the eve of Saint Patrick’s Day, I wondered if I am as uncertain in my Christianity as I am in my football support. I would like to be bold and confident but am worried that it might all be too good to be true. If I triumph at the end, will it come as a surprise?
Patrick had a boldness and a certainty in his faith – he needed it to meet the challenges of the society in which he lived. He would never have encountered the mysteries of League of Ireland football, but would have felt no surprise at being triumphant at the end.