THE MAN FROM ARGENTINA
It was an October evening down in the New Park that we were first introduced to the man who would oversee us all the way up until minors. His name was Pascal Reilly. He was a man of contradictions. He lived and breathed football despite having quit the team when he was just twenty one. He would castigate us if he heard we were out drinking in Blazers on the weekend, but he himself was a fixture in the pub. Most bizarrely of all, despite his fiercely nationalist disposition, Pascal was originally from Argentina.
The week leading up to the training session there was much speculation as to who this new trainer was going to be. Thomas’ father Auld Tommy said that he was one of the best trainers in the county but that he was also “a bit mad”. When we arrived at training that evening, there was a strange feeling of anticipation in the air. Pascal Reilly was already there leaning against the gate, smoking a superking. He was a rail thin man with sallow skin and black hair slicked back with a comb. He had large bags under his eyes giving the impression of someone who didn’t sleep too often. We quickly got togged out and came back to meet him at the centre circle. Willie arrived late as was usual, covered in oil from his job down at the garage. Pascal stood in silence as we gathered.
‘Well lads, I’m Pascal Reilly as I’m sure ye know,’ he began as means of introduction. ‘It’s been too long since there’s been a championship around here so let’s get to it.’
And with that he set about running us ragged. There would be no footballs for the first three weeks, he explained. We’d be doing nothing but running. Pascal implemented controversial new drills. He would have us run foot races around the perimeter of the pitch with a penalty of push ups for the loser, he’d make us sprint at top speed from opposite sides of the by-line and hit each other shoulders. “If you can’t take the man, take the ball,” was one of his favourite mantras.
At the end of the training, he called us in again and had us sit in the sod. It was at this point that I realised that he was very different from the other coaches we’d had up to this point.
‘Now lads, for next week, I want a three page essay on what winning the championship means to you.’
We looked at each other in confusion. An essay? This seemed to be dangerously blurring the lines between school and sport. On the drive home we all complained about this strange request. Some of the lads were positively outraged and were saying they weren’t going to do it, but you knew come next Tuesday they’d have it written.
The weekend came and on Saturday I decided to sit down and write the paper. I wrote the first paragraph in a burst. I said how I wanted to do it for the parish and for my family and all the rest. It was strange; it was the first time that I’d seriously considered the reasons why I played football. I managed to get down two copy book pages, mostly rephrasing the points I’d made in my opening. When I was finished, I stuffed it into my gear bag and forgot all about it.
Our next training session was that Tuesday. The essay seemed to have had a divisive effect on the team. There had been a few who hadn’t done it all while there were a few like Sean Nobel who had written over ten pages, most people had done the same as me and written just enough to keep Pascal happy. At the end of the training, Pascal collected all the letters and gave the few who didn’t hand up anything looks of disappointment.
Later that week, at the end of our second weekly training session, Pascal said that he was going to read out the best piece. It was no surprise that it was Sean Nobel’s ten page essay. Sean was one of the older boys, known simply as No-Balls to everyone in the club. He lived football. As I sat there on the cold sod, listening to Sean’s essay being read, listening to his passion, I couldn’t help but feel strange. I didn’t feel these things. Not the way that he did.