From radio days to Houghton’s bullet over Broadway, now finally home

“‘CHAPTER ONE. He adored New York City. He idolised it all out of proportion... no, make that: he – he romanticised it all out of proportion. Yes. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin.’ No, no, corny, too corny for a man of my taste. Can we... can we try and make it more profound?” – Woody Allen, Manhattan.

I remember growing up – and this wasn’t long ago – listening to football matches on the radio.

Close your eyes momentarily and remember a greener land unscarred by throbbing neon-fronted head shops; where Lady Gaga was what happened when we had an apparition in Ballinspittle, where a Grand Slam was like Poll Tax – something we knew they had across the water.

In this simpler, narrowband world young football fans like me had to sit atop the kitchen counter and – using a fork as an aerial, don’t ask – try to tune in BBC’s 5Live. It wasn’t quite School Through the Fields but it probably sounds as quaint to the present generation of computer literate soccer nuts.

I recall listening during the hours after Ireland famously beat Italy in Giants Stadium in 1994. We obviously got to watch that one. The TV set seemed to wobble on its legs when Ray Houghton’s lob dropped in to Pagliuca’s net like a cuckoo’s egg, sparking an ear-drum-bursting response from 80,000 Catholics in New Jersey.

That night, Danny Kelly – broadcasting from Broadway – kicked off his excellent show, I recall, with Rhapsody in Blue, before segueing gracefully into Subterranean Homesick Blues.

I knew nothing, at the time, as I happily slurped down another bowl of soggy Coco Pops, of Messrs Gershwin and Dylan.

But I understood the shorthand: welcome to New York.

That day 40,000-ish Irish fans filled busses on 42nd Street and train carriages and rattled out to Meadowlands on a day when the heat melted the green onto Irish backs and dehydration was served up for three bucks in plastic containers.

Another leg in the adventure but this one played on Manhattan’s real-life sound stage.

Those of us not there that day will not now get the chance to do the same in the old stadium.

This week Giants and Jets fans took the first look at their new address for Sunday afternoons – the new $1.6 billion, 82,500-seat Giants Stadium in New Jersey. The site of one of Irish football’s greatest victories is buried, like an old battleground – beneath the rubble of a half-demolished stadium across the street. If there’s a neat allegory there, I don’t want to fish it out.

It was only a few months ago that the demolition of the old stadium began when a metal claw bit chunks from the cement helix. Dust clouds poured into the Meadowlands air as concrete and metal spokes poked through the shredded facade.

The stadium was just 34 years old and was perfectly fit for purpose. But in that most American way, it was decided to tear it down and start again.

Renewal, renewal, renewal. It’s surprising they haven’t replaced the Statue of Liberty with something with bigger conference space.

Just like the renowned and idiosyncratically beautiful Yankee Stadium which went the same way recently and the Mets’ Shea Stadium, New York slipped Giants Stadium off its shoulders like an out-of-fashion overcoat from Fifth Avenue, before a new ‘facility’ was tacked together right across the street.

The Citifield is now home to the Mets – who are on an impressive winning streak this season – while the Yankees won a World Series last year; their first season on the other side of the road in Queens, like a growing hermit crab leaving its ill-fitting shell behind.

For me as a stadium nerd, there are, few pleasures in life more exciting than a great sports ground in the pregnant hour or two before a much-anticipated event; Croke Park last November, Semple Stadium in June, the Bernebeu whenever you want.

A friend’s father – who visited the Camp Nou, jokes whenever Barca games are on TV: “I wonder who’s sitting in my seat?” I know what he means.

Conversely too, when you bounce onto a bench in a grand old stadium, you can trace back all the goals and tackles and wins and defeats that have played out in that precious parcel of real estate in front of you, before you got there. It’s why Beatlemaniacs converge in the Cavern in Liverpool – though experts will tell you that that was essentially moved down the street too.

A colleague – the kind who always has an Ireland match ticket to buy or sell – sent me a link to the full Panini 1990 sticker album online this week. It’s like a family album. All your old friends are there. Hagi, Scifo, a young Maldini, McGrath.

We’ll make some more this summer of course – but we’ll be watching on telly or listening to the radio. But then we can invite them back to our new place. It’s almost time to get settled into our new seats.

Contact: Twitter: @adrianrussell

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