Pilgrimage to the Cross

By Michael Hayes (@thegegenpress)

The floodlights catch the swirling rain in the night sky above Turner’s Cross. This is no evening for the fair-weather fan, but since when has this been the type of place for the bandwagon brigade anyway?

It’s the fourth week of the 2019 SSE Airtricity League season, and it is not just the weather that has ignored the onset of Spring. Two home defeats from two this season (including the President’s Cup Final) make this a winter of discontent, Cork City so far failing to blossom in this campaign.

And yet neither the heavy downpour nor the slow start fails to dampen the spirits of the faithful as they make their pilgrimage to the Cross. Snippets of conversation catch in the air outside the stadium between the distant beatings of a drum. The talk outside the pubs is City. Top deck on the number 3 bus, the talk is City. Scurrying through the rain, it’s all City.

McNamee could come back to haunt us tonight!

Could be a long old season.

Will we sneak one more in before kick-off?

The beat goes on. A slow procession through the turnstiles and you’re under the shadow of the Shed End. Nearly there. The steps are illuminated by shafts of light from the floodlights – it could be a stairway to heaven, if heaven smelled of curry chips.

The first thing to hit you is the colour. It’s a sea of green and red, your view of the pitch obscured by a giant flag.

The second thing to hit you is the noise. Those drums, the singing, The Frank and Walters blaring out of the ancient P.A. system.

After all I really love you,

After all that we’ve been through…

It hits a new decibel as the teams enter the arena. When the whistle blows, it’s turned up to eleven. Game on.

Tension hangs in the air like the veil of drizzle that envelopes the old ground. That’s the next thing you notice. This means something. From the old couples wrapped in scarves and shrouded by hoods to the kids running around at the foot of the stand in replica jerseys.

From the groups of friends whose chatter falls silent on kick-off to those who may have come alone but are now part of something bigger than themselves.

Lads if we score now we’re going 90 alright?

If football is a religion Turner’s Cross could be its Sistine Chapel. Smaller than you’d imagine, lovingly maintained, always packed. It could just as easily be Lourdes or Fatima, or anywhere they have witnessed miracles. Do they play much football in Knock?

It might not be Old Trafford or the Bernabeu but that doesn’t matter. In the Shed, the seats are all but redundant, and it’s the congregation that leads the service. Each song and chant implore the footballing gods for a goal, each goal a miracle. The stadium is an upturned speaker pointed in the direction of the footballing gods. Faith is required.

It’s old school football. The weather means it’s no day for tiki-taka; this is meat and potatoes stuff. Cork City against Derry City isn’t a prize fight, it’s a back-alley scrap where anything goes. Who wouldn’t want a front-row seat for this spectacle?

Scrappy is the word. Once or twice the ball is almost halted by the sodden pitch. A sliding tackle brings up a splash of water like the number 3 bus spraying a puddle over pedestrians. Full-blooded, full throttle, the crowd love it.

The first half comes to a close and there’s a rush for the instant coffee and milky tea of the refreshment kiosk. The game is dissected over cigarettes and bags of sweets, in the queue for the bathroom, watching the subs warm up.

Can I get number eleven on my jersey? He looks class!

They’re playing into the Shed now second half, one goal would do it.

The weather clears, and there’s a renewed optimism. City start to dominate the midfield; a tackle here, an interception there, turn and pass, turn and pass. Ticking over nicely. They get a couple of corners and the Shed is hopping, willing the ball in.

Each goal a miracle. Some more than others. The Colin Healy bicycle kick. The countless Seáni Maguire finishes to send the crowd into raptures. Dave Barry. Caulfield.

Billy Woods was on the wing,

We had dreams and songs to sing,

It’s so lonely round the fields of Bishopstown…

Your nostrils take a fill of cordite, and the green smoke from a flare billows over the roof of the stand. Another corner. Not long to go.

This is the one.

Whipped in. Flicked on. The crowd rises, every man, woman and child on tip-toes. Pulled wide, and the Shed deflates like a concertina. Not this time.

In the end, the miracle never comes. Scoreless draw. That’s the thing with miracles, they don’t come around just because you ask nicely. It won’t stop people coming back though. It won’t stop those who keep the faith.

Picture Credits: Michael Hayes (@thegegenpress)

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