John Vane: Roy’s Summer of Sport (Thursday 14 June 2012). Crystal Palace and another Roy

John Vane: Roy’s Summer of Sport (Thursday 14 June 2012). Crystal Palace and another Roy

Why hadn’t Lucy replied to his email? The question woke Roy in the morning, gnawed at him through lunchtime, chewed up his empty early afternoon. At his office he searched “lucy + cambodia + paine” and found familiar mentions of the school where she worked, a party she’d attended, her dormant Facebook page. He tried “cambodia + british + teacher + murdered” and stumbled on a tragedy from 1978.

He got cross about Lucy, cross with Lucy, cross with himself for not asking Kristie about Lucy the night before and cross with Kristie for not saying anything to him about Lucy. He wished Lucy were married and living in Croydon so that he could stop worrying about her. He thought about Leila north of Watford and her husband Glen, a detective constable, whom Kristie feared was having an affair.

He drove home from his office woodenly, made a sandwich and dipped a hand into a second box of clutter, one of the two still on the kitchen table. He pulled out a Crystal Palace match programme from 26 October, 1963. He remembered the score: Palace one, Bristol Rovers nil. He’d gone to the game with his dad, his first football match ever, a treat from Don for his ninth birthday.

To help him see over the heads of the crowd, Don had squeezed an empty paint can inside an old duffle bag – a sort of plinth for Roy to stand on on the terrace. He’d kept his arm protectively wrapped around his son, as the home fans heaved and swayed. At half time, as darkness sidled in, men around them had lit up cigarettes, five or six of them leaning in towards a single match to form a glowing diadem.

Roy took the match programme into the living room, a shared space that was now his space, the site of promiscuous private opportunity, and subsided feebly into watching Italy versus Croatia, a Group C hinge fixture made compelling for Roy by an admiring empathy with veteran playmaker Pirlo and a troubled incomprehension of the Mohican-coiffed Balotelli.

Pirlo scored from a free kick, Croatia levelled just after Balotelli was subbed. Roy watching his departure from the pitch, hoping for some psychotic demonstration of dissent that would see the young Italian and his disturbing aura cleared from his consciousness for the time being.

He sent Lucy another email: “Hi. How are you? Everything OK?”

Next up, Spain crushed by four goals to nil a luckless Ireland, whose manager, Trapattoni, “the Trap,” aged 73, had got them to the finals by instilling the type of miserly defending for which he had been famous as a player. Now, the Trap’s Ireland had become a sieve. One of the players thanked the fans for keeping up their encouraging chants in spite of everything.

In the ITV studio sat Roy Keane, ex-Ireland captain. Roy became anxious watching this fellow Roy, who in his new role as a pundit appeared content to go on being defined by his reputation as a driven man who never smiled. Roy shared in the collective public memory of Keane’s Manchester United prime: skin-headed, machine-lean, a kiln-hardened will to win that seemed to come from somewhere bleak, all cold rage and forbidding solitude.

A study in fury, Keane tackled the Irish attitude. “I think the players, and even the supporters, they all have to change their mentality,” he said. “It’s nonsense for players, speaking after the games, about how great the supporters are.”

Disparaging Ireland’s fans was rather like insulting God. Keane went on: “Listen, the supporters want to see the team doing a lot better, and not giving daft goals away like that, so… Listen, I’m not too happy with all that nonsense, and praising the supporters for the sake of it. Listen, let’s change that attitude towards Irish supporters as well. Listen, they want to see the team winning as well.”

Four “listens” in a row and Roy Paine was paying attention to Roy Keane, and yet drifting too into self-reproach as Keane concluded, “Let’s not kid ourselves, I know that we’re a small country and we’re up against it, but let’s not just go along for the sing-song every now and again.”

Roy felt the sting of scorn as though it were directed at him. Sitting there, alone in the living room with his family spread far and wide, how he resented his namesake even as he envied him.

All previous instalments of Roy’s Summer of Sport are HERE.

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Categories: Culture, Roy's Summer of Sport

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