The Irish government have lifted some of the restrictions on attendances at sporting fixtures. The man standing next to me on the terrace said there had been a limit of just 500 at games, now it seems it’s half the capacity of a ground. He reckoned there were 1200-1300 inside Richmond Park tonight.
The absurdity of the rules was manifest in that standing on the pavement outside of the ground at Inchicore, I was not required to wear a mask. But standing on the terrace at the east end of the pitch, a place far more airy than busy city street, masks were mandatory. The announcer reminded the crowd a number of times that they were required to wear masks.
Perhaps the announcements were an exercise in the fulfilment of all righteousness, for the large and noisy group of supporters behind the goal, who were led by a drummer in their constant singing, and who waved large red and white flags, were unmasked and unchallenged in their barefacedness.
The silliest moment of all came half an hour into the match when an email came into my phone. It thanked me for booking a ticket and advised me that I must complete a Covid declaration prior to arriving at the ground and that failure to do so would result in me not being admitted. For a moment, I was tempted to email a response asking if I should go outside the ground and come back in again.
However, even the annoying and inconsistent strictures of a government that could allow tens of thousands at a GAA match, but not allow people to attend normal church services, could not detract from the enjoyment of the evening.
Saint Patrick’s Athletic won 3-2 in a match filled with energy and full-blooded commitment. The large, noisy group of “ultras” seemed extraordinarily good mannered, not once did I hear an obscenity, a rare occurrence at any football match. Even when an opposition forward scored a goal and ran up to them making a provocative gesture, they continued in their jolly mood.
It is football that is a world apart from the billion pound businesses in the English Premier League. It has none of the plastic, packaged, sanitised nature of the clubs where players are paid tens of millions a year and where most of their supporters are people who watch on pub television screens. What is extraordinary is that it endures and that there are still hundreds of young people prepared to stand on a terrace on a damp Friday evening and sing for all they are worth.