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Why my brother invaded the pitch at Drogheda to feed me a burger

Liam Beckett


 

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Liam Beckett (right) and his (perhaps too) thoughtful brother Lawrence

Liam Beckett (right) and his (perhaps too) thoughtful brother Lawrence

Liam Beckett (right) and his (perhaps too) thoughtful brother Lawrence

It's my guess that the general feeling amongst all of us right now is one of disbelief.

Never before have we experienced anything quite like what we're currently going through and, for all sports fans like myself, the void left by no live sport is particularly surreal.

With this personal isolation now pretty much an everyday part of our lives, I suppose it's given us all a chance to reflect - and for some unknown reason, my mind keeps rewinding back to memorable moments in games I've played in and, even though I obviously know the finishing punchline after all these years, it still doesn't stop me from having a laugh.

One of the most bizarre tales came back in the early 1970s when I was playing for Drogheda United in the League of Ireland.

With quite a few northerners forming a large part of the club at the time - including the club agent Arthur (Mousey) Brady, Geordie O'Halloran, Danny Trainor, Gerry McCaffrey, Ray McGuigan, Martin Donnelly and yours truly - we would normally travel by minibus but, because the Troubles were at their absolute worst, we used to alternate our times and modes of transport.

This particular weekend, I was taking my own car and, as it was a lengthy journey, and I was travelling on my own, I invited my big brother Lawrence and two of our childhood mates - Paddy (Mohair) Dunlop and Joe (Jobo) McVicker - to accompany me.

That were two Prods and two Catholics, the perfect mix for crossing the border back in those dark days.

The referee and some players were pleading with him to leave the pitch but Lawrence was having none of it.

League of Ireland games back then were always played on a Sunday with a traditional 3pm kick-off and, if we were playing at home at the Lourdes Stadium, we were always expected to travel down early on the Saturday morning to enable us to do a light workout in the afternoon and then stay overnight in a local hotel so that we were well rested and properly prepared for the game.

Anyhow, we arrived safely on the Saturday lunchtime and, as normal, I reported to the stadium for our training session followed by a team meal at suppertime.

When I got back to the hotel, I found my big bro and our two mates sat at the bar, all pretty much worse for wear.

I wished them all goodnight as it was strict club policy that all players were tucked up in bed by 10pm and I always tried where possible to be a good pro and adhere to such orders.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, however, I was awoken from a sound sleep by a narration of noise on the landing just outside my bedroom door.

I sprawled out of bed and I don't mind admitting my initial intention was to 'sort out' whoever the culprits were only to discover to my horror that it was none other than the hotel manager and my brother, who were at it hammer and tongs in a real ding-dong heated exchange.

Lawrence was, as the saying goes, as full as a bingo bus and the poor manager's actions were fully justified.

It later transpired that, in his drunken state, Lawrence had entered the wrong room, which was occupied by a totally unsuspecting sound asleep sales rep who had inadvertently forgotten to lock his door.

It seems Lawrence had absolutely scared the living daylights out of the poor critter and then had the audacity to question him why he was sleeping in his bed!

It was then that all hell broke loose.

I finally managed to calm him down and steer him down the corridor into his own room whilst apologising practically non-stop to the manager and the distraught sales rep in his big baggy boxer shorts. I will never forget the scene, how could I?

Believe me when I say I let Lawrence, Paddy and Joe know my feelings the next morning at breakfast.

They were all suffering with massive hangovers but got absolutely no sympathy from me as I knew the hotel manager would probably inform the club of my big bro's behaviour and that I could well be in trouble.

I had to head to the stadium for lunch and a team talk, while the three amigos were setting off for a good walk to clear their heads and to do some sightseeing.

From memory, we were playing Shamrock Rovers and the Lourdes Stadium was packed but, midway through the first half with the game evenly poised at 0-0, the referee suddenly blew his whistle to stop the play because of an incident at the far end of the pitch.

Unable to see what was going on, I asked my big team-mate Willie Roche what was happening.

"There's some idiot on the pitch, a spectator has jumped the fence," came the reply.

Willie and I walked slowly towards the halfway line to see more when I suddenly realised - inevitably - that it was Lawrence!

He was staggering towards me, carrying something in his hand. I was mortified.

The referee and some players were pleading with him to leave the pitch immediately and two police officers were now also in hot pursuit, but Lawrence was having none of it.

"Get off the pitch!" came the cries from here, there and everywhere, only for Lawrence to shout back: "I'm only here to give something to my brother Liam!"

He then proceeded to hand me a burger.

"Here," he said, "get that in ye, I'm sure you must be famished."

It transpires that, after I had left the hotel, those eejits had second thoughts and decided against sightseeing and opted to visit another local bar instead.

All three were completely plastered and, when they arrived at the game, in no time they had all headed for the burger van for food and it was then that Lawrence apparently decided that because they all felt hungry, maybe I did too.

In hindsight, I suppose he was only doing what he'd been doing all his life - looking after his kid brother - but oh my God, I was so embarrassed that he'd chosen this occasion to show his care for me.

They finally got Lawrence off the pitch and out of the ground and I'm reliably informed that he continued to sing a Roy Orbison classic during the entirety of his eviction.

The whole incident was the talk of the town in Drogheda for weeks afterwards and, as expected, my team-mates gave me no end of ribbing for a long time afterwards. They even gave me the nickname of 'Burger King' for ages.

As expected, however, the club were anything but impressed.

I was summoned to a board meeting the following week and the men in suits let me know in no uncertain terms that this type of behaviour was totally unacceptable and one more similar incident would see me gone.

In truth, they were nice people and were only doing their job, but I still get a laugh every time I think of that day and how unlikely it is anything like that is ever likely to happen again.

Trust a Beckett to halt a top game just to feed a family member.

My only regret is that I didn't get to sample the burger that day - Lawrence assures me they were absolute quality.

Doc is still chipping in

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The Coleraine Showgrounds

The Coleraine Showgrounds

The Coleraine Showgrounds

 

All sport in the country has quite understandably ground to a complete halt of late but for several club die-hards and volunteers, the work still goes on.

Earlier this week, I met one such devoted club worker and that was my long-time friend and Coleraine groundsman Tommy Docherty.

Well aware of the rights and wrongs with regard to the current government criteria of social distancing and the strict codes of conduct amid the coronavirus pandemic, Tommy continues to spend one day a week maintaining the pitch at The Showgrounds.

With the whole operation being a one man band, Tommy informs me that his only weekly escape from personal isolation in the family home is when he single handedly cuts the grass and updates the white lines on the pitch.

The surface at The Showgrounds (below) is Tommy's pride and joy and even when I highlighted to him that we could be weeks and indeed months away from seeing any competitive action, he was quick to remind me that, just like the golf club greenkeepers, someone has to attend to the living grass containment otherwise the pitch could suffer irreparable damage - although he openly admitted that may well change if the government declare a compulsory lockdown.

However, with each day that has passed since our chat, the goalposts have shifted somewhat with the guidelines, rules and regulations changing rapidly with regards to exactly who is deemed permissible to be out of the house and indeed who is recognised as a necessary worker to maintain vital services, so just how much longer Tommy is legally permitted to keep the pitch in top nick remains to be seen - but until then, the show must go on as far as Tommy Doc is concerned.

Belfast Telegraph