Sat May 6, 1972 – Leeds 1 Arsenal 0
For the next three seasons after the 1970 World Cup (we measured time in football seasons not calendar years), I went to primary school in Drumcondra, and played football; read Shoot!, Score and Roar, Scorcher and Score, Tiger and Scorcher, and played football; watched Doctor Who, Star Trek, the Goodies, Citizen Smith and Are You Being Served, and played football; listened to Slade, Sweet, T Rex, Suzi Quatro, David Essex and Gary Glitter, and played football. On the wider socio-cultural debates of the early seventies, I held the following policy positions: Bert not Ernie, Sugar Smacks not Shredded Wheat, Wacky Races not Pink Panther, Curly Wurlies and Fizzle Sticks, clackers not yo-yos, Banana Splits not Double Deckers, David Cassidy not Donny Osmond but Jimmy Osmond not Michael Jackson, Clint Eastwood and Bruce Lee, choppers not hoppers, Magpie not Blue Peter, flares not platforms, and the Virginian not Bonanza. But mostly, I played football.
At school, we played football at lunchtime using a tennis ball. After school, we played on the green across the road from my house, or else on the road using lamp poles as goals, until it got dark. If there were enough of us, we would play a match using jumpers as goalposts. You got a corner if the ball went ‘over the post’, until we replaced the jumpers with pointed brush handles driven into the ground. If there were only a few of us, we would play volleys, three-and-in, or football tennis on the road using the tar markings to outline the court. Sometimes we would play matches against nearby streets, which did not always end in fights. At times we would commentate out loud on our exploits; I always played up front, and ‘was’ Alan Clarke of Leeds.
One of my most vivid childhood memories is Leeds beating Arsenal in the 1972 Cup final at Wembley. It was the centenary Cup final, and it took place on my dad’s 50th birthday, so for that one day my dad was exactly half as old as the FA Cup. It was also the second FA Cup Final I had watched in colour (we had got our first colour television just before Arsenal had beaten Liverpool the previous year with a long-range shot by Charlie George). I spent the whole day watching the build-up, the It’s a Knockout games, the interviews on the team buses, culminating in ALlan Clarke’s diving header that made Leeds the FA Cup winners in its centenary year.
I also discovered that Ireland had our own football team, and heard legendary tales of the comically inept FAI. After Syria had dropped out of our three-team group, we had faced a play-off with Spain to qualify for the 1966 World Cup. Today, the FAI website says of this game: ‘There was some controversy that Paris was chosen as the venue (Paris has a large Spanish population).’ But the venue was not ‘chosen’ in some abstract, non-attributable sense. The FAI agreed to play the game in Paris, in return for Spain’s share of the gate receipts. We lost 1-0. Qualifying for that World Cup would have transformed Irish football. Instead, just a few years later, a 6-0 loss to Austria was our twentieth successive game without a win. But there had been one significant breakthrough: a players’ revolt had forced the FAI to finally allow a single manager to pick the team, instead of their incestuous ‘selection committee’. That decision would both improve team performance on the pitch, and allow officials to devote more time to having a ‘good time’ (yes, that means drink and prostitutes) when abroad.