24 Hours with Roy Keane
It’s just after eight in the morning as I exit the taxi which has taken me from Charles de Gaulle airport to the Irish training camp at Versailles. As regularly happens, the cheerful, good-natured French taxi driver waves away my attempts to pay him his fare. “Bonjour! Avec la piscine!” he shouts as he drives away with the good humour and politeness his countrymen are famous for. My gaze sweeps across the grounds of the immense palace which the FAI has rented for the Irish team for the duration of their stay at Euro 2016. If it was good enough for Louis XIV, Louis the Great, the Sun King himself, then hopefully it’s good enough for Richie Keogh.
I wander over to the foot of a massive set of marble stairs, glance up, and see two of Ireland’s greatest football players descending the stairs.
“Hello! I’m Shane Long!” shouts Shane Long cheerily.
“Hi! I’m a football player too!” screams Seamus Coleman, the veins in his neck seemingly about to pop.
“Hello!” I shout back “Do you know where Roy Keane is? I am supposed to follow him around for the day for I am totally a journalist.”
“He’s behind you!” they shout back in unison.
I turn around just in time to receive a vicious two footed tackle to the shins.
“Hello, I’m Roy Keane.” says the man himself as he picks himself up and spits on my broken body. “Please come with me and we’ll go get some breakfast.”
I struggle to my feet, my right leg in agony and limp after him. He looks in good shape, wearing shorts, Ireland t-shirt and runners. We walk past an enormous fountain and onto an equally huge black and white marble square surrounded on three sides by baroque style buildings. I follow him through a magnificent carved marble doorway, inlaId with images of stylised lions, eagles and bears into an enormous hall. On the roof there is a huge fresco depicting the Apotheosis of Hercules, marble columns flank either side of the room and in the middle there are two small tables full of buffet breakfast food and a large table where the squad are sitting and eating their breakfast.
“Are you hungry?” says Roy as he turns to me.
“I could do with a bowl of Cheerios if there’s any going?”
“No problem! I’d be mad for one of those too!”
We walk over to the buffet tables and take a look over them. There are Cornflakes, Rice Krispies, Weetabix and a multitude of other breakfast cereals but no Cheerios’’’.
“Bastards!” Roy screams. He grabs the table and flips it over, croissants and cereal go flying, crashing to the ground making a sound that only eight different types of cereal hitting the floor at once can make. “Cheap FAI bastards!” he shouts as he jumps up and down on the detritus of the buffet. “It’s just like Saipan all over again!”
He’s ripping a pain-au-chocolat into pieces with his hands and teeth when a soothing voice, coming just inches from my right ear, speaks. “Calm down Roy, its fine.”
It’s Martin O’Neil; he walks up to Roy and starts stroking the white, chin part of his beard. Roy emits a slight cooing sound and visibly regains control of his emotions.
“I’ll tell the caterers to bring Cheerios tomorrow. Why not have some toast instead this morning?”
“You’re right boss. I… I’ll have some toast.”
Roy moves to the other, non-destroyed buffet table and takes some chef-buttered toast. I pick up some too and move to join him at the table. I sit down, turn to Roy and ask him the question I’ve had a burning desire to ask him for years. “Are you and Robbie Keane related?”
“No.” replies Roy, his concentration fixed firmly on his toast.
I am unprepared for this answer and hastily try to come up with a new, interesting, probing question which you might hear from proper journalists on Soccer Republic or Ear to the Ground. Damnit, I was sure they were at least second cousins. I don’t know that much about football so I was going to try steer the conversation towards family barbecues as I had recently learned how to barbecue a banana and had many anecdotes about accidentally setting myself and others on fire. “So… How do you become a footballer then? Like did you play it when you were a kid or did you get enough points in the leaving or what?”
He turns and glares at me. “I was destined to be a footballer. The greatest footballer ever to come from Cork!”
I open my mouth to ask another question but he continues, his voice becoming louder with every word “Seconds after I was born I kicked a pint of Murphy’s out of the doctor’s other hand, the one he wasn’t using to dangle me, straight out the open window and into the back of the net of a set of goals passing by on a flat-bed truck!”
“Ah… very…” he cuts me off again.
“Then I moved to England when I was 19 because I was already the best footballer in Ireland! I was the most expensive player ever for a time in 1993 and I captained the greatest football team of the time, maybe all time, the Ferguson Flurries, to dominance of the Premier League and European competitions! Then I moved to Celtic for some reason I’m not actually too sure about!”
He turns to Glenn Whelan, sitting to his left and screams “You’re not fit to run around in the same area of the pitch I used to run around in!” into his big, round face.
“So you’re from Cork then?” I ask him innocently. Well not that innocently. It was more snide and contemptuous than innocent and ended with a mocking laugh for good measure.
“I’m so Cork I can plug bottles of wine and float in tap water! Cork people are the only true Irish people!”
“Yeah, ye really proved that when ye shot Michael Collins just cause he had moved to Dublin or whatever.”
I awoke some time later at the side of Ireland’s training pitch. My head really hurt.
“Hello!” said a voice next to me. I turned and saw one of my boyhood heroes, Shay Given, leaning on his walking frame.
“Hello Shay Given. How did I end up here?”
“Oh, that kind of thing happens all the time around Roy. Would you like a Werther’s Original?” He proffered an old tissue with a few of the caramel sweets stuck on it.
“No thanks, they’re horrible and only for old people and children who have just learned not to choke on sweets.”
“Suit yourself.” He blew his nose on the tissue and put it back in his pocket. “Roy’s out training with the lads now.”
I took in the view from the side-lines; Roy was chasing Stephen Ward around the field spinning a net bag full of footballs around his head, most of the rest of the squad were jazzercising with Martin O’Neil and Jon Walters was smoking fags while sitting on a crossbar. I decided I must ask more questions to Roy as I had been promised two burritos and a can of purple Fanta if I succeeded in completing the interview.
I got up and took off jogging after Roy and Stephen, my right knee in agony from the earlier greeting. “Roy!” I shouted at his back, limping after him “Sorry about earlier! Can I ask you a few more questions?”
Roy stopped running and released his grip on the bag which promptly flew forward, burst open and rained a volley of footballs onto Stephen’s back and head.
“Err…” I wish I had thought of some questions. It would make my job as an interviewer much easier. “Why did you take this job as assistant manager? You have been the manager of a few clubs already. I mean, is it a step down for you?”
“A step down! This is international football we’re talking about! Martin and myself only work about ten weeks a year but get paid like we’re full time! I can spend all the extra free time I have being grumpy on TV and glaring at people passing my living room window. What’s not to like?”
I can hear Martin and the rest of the team jazzercising away to our right. ”And thrust those hips! Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle!”
“I see. What about your books? Must be nice to have time to write about all those people who have slighted you?”
“Yeah, I really get into the zone when I’m writing. I get up early and think about all the people who have been mean to me or didn’t take me seriously, or underestimated me or answered the phone in a silly way or skipped past me in a queue or got served before me in a pub. Bastards the lot of them! Then I turn on my Dictaphone and scream my thoughts about these people into it while walking my dogs. At the end of the week I post the tapes to the publisher and my editor transcribes it and organises it into chapters. Writing books really is incredibly easy.”
“Yeah, it sure is.”
“Anyway, I need all the experience I can get. One day I will be the manager of Manchester United and I will win more trophies than Alex Ferguson and then rub all the trophies in his stupid, old Scottish face! Of course, he may be dead by then, but I can dance on his grave at least.”
He keeps on going like this for the next four hours. I don’t have a recording device except the one in my head and it’s spotty at best and honestly, I stopped listening after he threatened Eamon Dunphy for the fifteenth time. The sun was setting now but Roy continued screaming vitriol as my taxi back to the airport pulled up.
“… and another thing!”
“Sorry Roy, I have to go. My people need me.”
“My cats. They need to be fed.”
“Cat’s aren’t people.”
“Maybe yours aren’t, mine are. Anyway, I have to go. Great talking to you and everything, I hope we win the football.”
“I hope we win the football too.”
I turn, walk to the car and open the back door.
“Hey kid!” shouts Roy. “I got something for you to remember this time we spent together.”
I turn around and my left knee buckles as he smashes another two footed tackle into my mangled legs.
“Have a good life kid!” he says merrily as his spits on me and walks away.
I crawl into the back seat.
“Bonjour! Café au lait!” says the friendly French driver.
“The airport please.”
I take a final look back at the Irish team’s training camp. Jon Walters is still smoking fags on the crossbar and Darryl Murphy is trying to join him but keeps missing the crossbar on his jump up. Darren Randolph is amusing himself kicking balls into outer space, Shane Long and Seamus Coleman are spinning around in circles for some reason and Roy has begun chasing Cyrus the Virus Christie around with a baguette.
“Yes.” I think to myself as the car passes through the huge, elaborate golden gates “We are definitely going to win the football.”