Exactly one year ago today. A cold, wet, windy day in east Mayo. Mild excitement and high hopes for the year ahead.
That morning was just like any normal match day: up early, a decent breakfast and on the road in good time. You’d never know what might happen. Breakfast came in roll form. Feck it, it was match day so we said we’d treat ourselves. 2 sausies, 2 rashers and bit of black and white. Plenty of butter. I don’t care what the song says. Egg in a breakfast roll is an abomination. I’m a big egg fan generally. In fact, I like eggs so much I think that one day I might even turn into a big giant egg, but it has no place in a roll. I’m pretty sure it says that somewhere in the Bible too.
Like many others from around the county, for a 2pm throw-in we were on the road to Charlestown around midday to get a good spot, especially after the bumper crowd that showed up to the NUIG game the Friday night. I sat in the passenger seat in my dad’s 05 Scenic, the wind and rain pelting the windshield. We discussed what players might be tried out and if the new lads that featured in the first game would get another crack at the whip. About 10 miles outside of Charlestown the rain was absolutely teeming down and we started to question whether this game would – or indeed could – be played at all. We turned up the radio in case we missed any important announcements. BREAKING NEWS! Our hearts sank. We feared the worst – the game was off. But we were bang wrong. The game had been moved down the road to Bekan as the pitch in Charlestown was apparently unplayable. “Not too bad”, I thought. How naive I was.
We turned the car around and headed back for Bohola. Luckily, I had an idea where the pitch was as I’d ventured there a few days earlier to see the U21s in action. We pulled up to the gate to see a couple o’ happy chappies in high-viz jackets standing there to welcome us with a big, warm smile. And outstretched palms. “A TENNER?!” Yep, €10. Ten of the finest €s to get into a game that was changed, on a whim, from a ground with decent spectator facilities to a ground with
some very few limited ABSOLUTELY NO SPECTATOR FACILITIES. I guess it was logical to move the game 20 minutes down the road to Bekan. In fairness, if there’s a 40,000 seater stadium within 20 minutes of Charlestown where everyone could have sat in the stand with room to put their feet up with a flask of tea on the seat beside them and a sandwich on the other seat beside them, I’d like to know about it! But I still have nightmares about that €10. The amount of headbands and Dime bars it could have bought. I could have saved it for Christmas 2014.
Anyway, after we parked, our attention soon turned to the action. We assumed, like everyone else, that the game was on the all-weather facility. Seeing as we were in Bekan in the first place. A perfect platform for Mayo’s fast, athletic footballers against the students from Sligo IT. A fairly large crowd gathered along the fence to watch the Mayo lads warm up, but after about 15 minutes (there’s a bit of a bite in it at this point) it transpired that the game was on the grass pitch. Which grass pitch was anybody’s guess, so we just followed one of the crowds. We went to the nearest pitch. “Ah, here we are”, I thought. Ah, poor young Mark’s naivety strikes again! Of course it wasn’t on the closest pitch to the car park where people could stand on the surrounding footpath. It was on the OTHER pitch, on the far side of this pitch. So off we go walking across muddy goodness. I was upset that my new waterproof shoes were getting a bit dirty, but all in all glad that they were getting a decent run-out. Next thing on the agenda: where to stand? Option A: The mud behind the goal. Option B: The mud on the sidelines. C The mud under the trees in the far corner (potential shelter). Option D: The grassy hill behind the goal but a bit to the left that would soon be muddy. Option D it is, obviously, to get a decent vantage point. And, you know, it started to clear up a bit. Things were looking up.
And then it got worse. And worse again. And then a bit worse than that. And we got wetter than anyone has ever gotten ever before. In fact, I’m still a bit damp. The football slowly became more and more irrelevant. Now, it was about survival.
The grassy hill was no longer safe. It was high so the rain hit us first, which obviously meant it was wetter rain than the rain on lower ground. Our thoughts turned to the lovely stand in Charlestown. Cold, but dry. Dry. I tried to remember what that felt like, but the memory was slipping, fading away. We moved down a bit lower. It seemed like the best idea, but I couldn’t help thinking “But Mark, heat rises!” We were delirious. We didn’t know what we were doing. Every step was torture. Standing still was torture. For the first time in my life, I considered going home at half-time. But we knuckled down, shook ourselves off and prepared for the second half.
And then Mayo failed to score for 29 of the 30 minutes. Still, a last minute Alan Freeman penalty earned the emptiest draw of all time. And all for the low, low price of €10! Still, it could always be worse.
The long walk back to the car was torture. After we dried off, emptied our shoes and checked that our feet were still there, we started off on the long journey home… Which was torture. The day reminded me of that film “Alive”. Except we had it way worse. Our waterproofs were no longer waterproof. In fact, studies have shown that Bekan has some of the wettest rain on earth (that study was carried out by me that day).
“Never, ever, ever again” is what I assume everyone was thinking after the game. But we never will – nay, CAN never forget. We did it.
We Survived Bekan.