Being a mixture of football and rugby played with a round ball, I’m not sure if Gaelic Football came first and confused the Brits so they had to make two games of it, or the Irish decided to combine both the games to draw bigger audiences and permit semi-legal kicking the hell out of each other. Anyone from the southern hemisphere will recognise the game as Australian Rules Football, which, contrary to its name, seems to have very few rules at all – other than kicking the hell out of the opposing team.

When I went to watch a game of Gaelic Football at Levante FC’s training ground the players were there more for a bit of a lark and a pint or two later, so the violence of professional games wasn’t on show. That may also have been because both teams included colleens, who nonetheless did a fair amount of shouting and bawling.

The referee was also a woman who, in plaited ponytail and flip-flops, skipped up and down the sidelines trying to keep order, although she spent a fair amount of time asking other girlies on the sidelines if anyone was keeping score. The Spanish groundsman was totally confused – a game that allowed both men and women to play together (the first equal-opportunities sport?), players to kick and handle the ball, and the score didn’t depend just on goals but also on points, but how the points were given seemed totally obscure. There again – it is Irish after all!

It seems to be that you can only run a few steps before kicking the ball – usually a little flick upwards into your hands, a neat trick when travelling at speed. The goalie – obviously a first-timer – got a bollocking because he threw the ball out of the goal instead of kicking it. “You’ve got to kick it out, mate. Every time!”

Timing seems a bit fluid. “Let me know when it’s fifteen minutes for half time,” the ref called to her sideline aficionadas. Half-an-hour a game! That wasn’t going to raise a sweat. “No, were going to give it tirty minutes a side,” someone called from the pitch. “Right’ch’arethen,” the ref called back. A short while later a voice called, “Eight minutes left.” “We’ll give them one more minute fer yer man wasting time,” the ref replied.

I’m pretty sure that a trainer for Levante wouldn’t run onto the pitch partway with a bottle of water to refresh the poor wee players, but just before half-time one of the male sideliners ran onto the pitch shouting, “De yers wanta take a break fer water?” “Ders only tree minutes left – GEDDON WIDIT!” one of the petit ladies hollered back.

Probably the best thing to do if you go to watch Irish Football is not to try and understand it. Probably half the players don’t – and I wasn’t one hundred percent sure about the ref – but what the hell, everyone was having a great time and were there for the craic more than anything else.

But as ever, the poor ref got all the stick!




I was chatting with a friend a couple of days ago and when I said I was going to walk through the dark back streets of Chiang Mai to my room she said it was dangerous. I assured her that I’ve walked through many dark streets worldwide and, apart from getting robbed in Queens in New York (you expect that; if you don’t get robbed in New York you can’t claim to have been there) the only place I have ever been mugged is right outside my own front door in Valencia.

I was coming back from a friend’s birthday party at about two in the morning, moderately lubricated, it has to be said. The entrance to my apartment block had the usual decorative metal gate as the first opening, and a flight of stairs before you to get to the actual front door. While I was fiddling the key in the lock someone came up behind me, apparently taken by the bag full of books I was carrying (although the plonker wouldn’t know that’s all the bag contained). He probably saw this drunken old fart wandering up the street in the early hours of the morning as an easy target.

Boy, did he make a mistake! He smashed my head against the metal bars, but he didn’t know that the drunken old bugger doesn’t give in easily, especially as the bag was a birthday present from my son, Tom. About all I remember is us scuffling on the stairs that lead to the entrance, and the one thing that I’m cheerful about is that there was so much blood flowing that his clothes would have been covered in it. (Apparently the forehead is a proper bleeder – in all senses of the word.) Long story short, I ended up it hospital – where I felt like yelling at everyone, ‘No, I’m not some silly old sod who got rat-arsed and fell over, I got bloody-well attacked!’ although I didn’t bother because most of them were probably more entertained by the bloke who was heaving his guts over walls, floor, windows and sheets, with the full accompaniment of, ‘¡Jesus, Dios, nunca, jamas mas! ‘Never, ever again!’ And how many times have we all said that!

Eventually I ended up on a trolley with a mere snippet of a girl getting ready sew my forehead up. “This is going to leave a scar,” she told me. “Believe me, sweetheart,” I told her, “with a face like this it’s not going to make a great deal of difference!”