- 05 Dec 02
On a bright, crisp, autumn day in 1975, the attention of the universe was focused on St Mel’s Park, Athlone and a UEFA Cup clash between The Town and A.C. Milan...
We were much misunderstood in Athlone since the last time or exploits had hit the world headlines. A certain bitterness had set in after our deepest misfortunes had generated much widespread hilarity. Goalkeeper Mick O’Brien’s crossbar-breaking frenzy in an FAI Cup semi-final at Oriel Park travelled far and wide. He was not to know that some crossbars are made of inferior material to the durable metal structures which were de rigeur at Mel’s, and he suffered cruelly for his athleticism. We all did.
And now, as the world’s media came along once more to laugh their heads off at us, it was time to settle a grudge or tow.
Oh, they laughed, all right, at the idea of million-dollar Italian superstar prats having to sluice their expensive torsos beneath "showers" which squirted an unpredictable brackish fluid. To which we said: "Fuck those people. If they want a shower they can queue up like anyone else in front of the hose."
They laughed, too, at the excellent performance of the pipe band who adorned the preliminaries with a rousing selection of traditional airs, led by a goat. I laughed a bit at it myself, to tell you the truth. We all did. All except the goat.
They laughed, indeed, at what they saw as the basically preposterous nature of the whole scenario, and the credentials and occupations of the Athlone stars became more exotically miserable with every bulled-up preview.
We knew different. We knew that our boys had dumped the crack Norwegian outfit, Valerengen, out of the first round on a 4-2 aggregate, blooming in the white heat of Mel’s, and consolidating in the black ice of the frozen north.
Supremo Amby Forgarty had assembled a powerful squad built around the mature talents of the wily schemer Dougie Wood, featuring some take-no-prisoners Derry men in defence, the breathtaking industry of playmaker John Minnock, the elusive wing artistry of Terry Daly, and the devastating twin spearhead of Paul Martin and Eugene "Pooch" Davis. Not to mention the legendary Mick O’Brien, secure between reinforced platinum goalposts.
Those Italian aristos, they put on a good front alright, preening extravagantly in the pre-match kickabout, flaunting their bronzed, beautifully-honed physiques, all rippling thighs and balletic elegance as they strove to freak out the cadaverous natives with their Class.
Gianna Rivera, Latin hero, didn’t tog out, but strolled around in the nicest overcoat anyone had ever seen. And there was captain Romeo Benetti, he whose rich skills were matched only by his frequent psychotic episodes. And Albertosi, the goalkeeper who we last saw picking it out of the cobwebs four times against Brazil in the Azteca Stadium in th final of Mexico ’70.
We were fairly impressed to be sure, but we also knew by a certain glide in their stride that The Town had their dander cranked up to maximum overload. And the saps were rising as our no-nonsense warriors gave as good as they got in the opening passages and gave it even when they weren’t getting it, as such.
Around the half-hour mark, the Pizza Men suddenly discovered the rancid taste of workhouse gruel. As explosive burt into the area by Terry Daly left the cynical full-back with no alternative but to scythe him down like a dog. Penalty!
The next couple of minutes are branded forever on my memory in eerie, dream-like slow motion. Amid scenes of total dementia, John Minnock, whose educated left foot could have given post-graduate tutorials at the Sorbonne, placed the ball on the spot. The doomed Albertosi faced up to his grim destiny, his mind probably haunted by flashbacks to what Pele, Gerson, Jairzhino and Carlos alberto had done to him in the cauldron of the Azteca.
Minnock essayed a short run-up and stroked the leather to Albertosi’s right. The ball sort of… staggered… into his grateful clutches nd pandemonium switched instantly to the tortured silence of 10,000 midlanders discovering that they were in the very vortex of Hades.
Both team were so stunned by the enormity of what had happened that they were unable thereafter to lift the wicked spell, and fought out a, shall we say, "manly" encounter without breaking the deadlock.
The final score read as a stupendous 0-0 victory for Athlone Town.
The second-leg in the San Siro stadium saw another bloody magnificent display by The Town, whom C Milan may have at times mistaken for their city rivals Inter, who also model their kit on Athlone’s blue-and-black stripes.
We all watched the game on the radio agog with the prospect of further glory as Philip Greene, with an hour gone and still no surrender by Town, began speculating as to who would do the honours for us in a penalty shoot-out, in the light of recent painful events.
Then Milan scored three goals.
But I digress.
For the Italians, it was the final futile flourish of desperate men. Our War was already over, and we had won, goddammit.