The quips are quick, the wit, razor sharp.
“Manu Tuilagi! He isn’t English is he,” asks one Irish supporter aloud?
“Sure Jackie Charlton isn’t Irish and look what he done for your football team!”
Another supporter leans over to pat him on the back. Everybody smiles.
The Hop Pole pub is situated on the edge of Chelsea, about a mile-and-a-half from Stamford Bridge and so many miles removed from Ireland. Not on this day however. Decent Guinness carefully administered: two-part-pour, patient settle etc, a scattering of Tayto cheese and onion, a smattering of green jerseys, young Irish faces seated beside older ones that left years ago. All stand together for Amhrán na bhFiann like Irish people tend to do when living abroad.
The Anglo-Irish fault lines are obvious. The pub, run by Colm Lynch from County Meath, is a proper ‘boozer’ frequented by local Londoners, Chelsea and Man United supporters plus a growing number of Irish emigrants who have made home in the city’s leafy southwest and the surrounding post-codes of Putney, Clapham Junction and Tooting. The USP of this pub isn’t Irish, it’s sport. That what brings the punters in and according to the landlord GAA games are beamed in from the byroads and boreens of Ireland and shown on screens sized big and small.
Setanta. Check! TG4. Check! It’s not just about the All-Irelands, though Dublin versus Kerry in 2011 still gets a mention now and again. They were so many that day they clamoured to stand on the garden furniture in order to get a view of the TV, some fell over when Kevin McMenamin goaled. They continue to come back.
Roger McClean, Martin Hughes and Noel Tiffney have ties to Fulham Irish GAA club and the senior team won the London football championship, also in 2011. There was clamouring that night too.
Now they sit under the big screen lamenting the missed opportunities on view and cheering, just occasionally (Ireland’s two penalties, Keith Earls’ break, Brian O’Driscoll’s skip pass). The commentary, that’s provided by Ryle Nugent rather than Eddie Butler. At half time, pub regular and proud Englishman Harry Coy walks around collecting money for an injured rugby players’ fund. Everybody puts hand into pocket. The sponsorship card carries a picture of the late Corkonian Stuart Mangan, who suffered a severe spinal injury in London in 2008.
“Swing low sweet chariot...” rises from the bar.
“You will be carried home if I get me hands on you”, shouts Alan Rayner, a long-time local, who moved from Dublin in the 1960s.
Both men laugh.
Photographer Brendan Vaughan from Donegal gets in behind the bar to take a picture of the landlord serving an Irish jersey-clad customer.
A desperate groan greets Ronan O’Gara’s missed penalty effort as the clock ticks down on Ireland’s chances, but the banter continues to tick over and the shouts of ‘England’ begin to get louder with the booze kicking in and the away victory looking more and more likely.
Then a shout comes from the back of the pub where a small television is showing the soccer. ‘Van Persieee’. A cluster of United supporters cheer the goal.
The door at the front of the pub swings open and a couple struggle in with baggage tagged with Aer Lingus labels. They’re from Ballymore Eustace in County Kildare.
“What’s the score? asks the man. “Oh Shite” he says looking up at the screen.
Are they here to stay? “Well, we’ll have a drink anyway, be rude not to.”
The final whistle goes and the reaction is tutting faces on one side and bright smiley ones on the other.
“Can you stick on the United match on the big screen Colm?” asks an Irish voice. “And grab us a pint as well.”
No one looks ready to leave. Sure the analysis on RTÉ is about to start. It is sure to be more entertaining than the match and “hey we don’t see Hookie and the boys as much as we used to”.
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