The young men standing behind me are discussing the forthcoming European fixture. It is European football at a level as far from the Champions League as can be imagined. The opposition will from Slovenia or Moldova. They discuss the safety of making such a journey, presumably they have some concern about Moldova, for Slovenia seems the safest of places.
What would prompt someone to pay hundreds of Euro to fly to a distant spot in Europe to watch a match against a team of whom they have never heard?
The feeling was best expressed at a match after the end of last season. There was a play off between Waterford, who were hoping to avoid relegation, and University College, Dublin, who were seeking promotion. It was played in Richmond Park, home of Saint Patrick’s Athletic, and entry must have been free, because I wouldn’t have paid to go through the turnstiles. The crowd numbered hundreds rather than thousands and a banner affixed by Waterford supporters to a wall behind a terrace captured the mood of the cold, grey winter afternoon, “Passion without Reason”.
The enthusiasm and commitment of supporters of teams who will never have the prospect of playing on a major stage can sometimes seem unreasonable. When you play in leagues like the League of Ireland there is not even the chance of one day having an FA Cup fixture against a major Premier League club, yet the passion remains.
And so to John Burke.
I never met John Burke, never spoke to him, but I remember him as a regular sight at matches twenty years ago. He wore a white trilby hat with Saint Patrick’s Athletic badges on it. Living in south County Dublin, I supported Bray Wanderers at the time, but always felt that if I ever moved into the city, then John Burke would be a good reason to support Pats.
John loved football for the sake of it. He greeted warmly everyone he met. He took victory and defeat with equanimity. On the rare occasion that Bray might win against Pats, he still applauded his team for their efforts.
John died recently. Before the match this evening, the supporters at Richmond Park showed their appreciation for a man who had been unstinting in his support of the club he called “Super Saints”.
Never having met him, I joined in the loud applause. We’re it not for him, I wouldn’t be standing here tonight.