It’s tough at the top — but the fish supper comes free

RIGHT up there with ‘why would you do that?’, ‘what the hell did you say to her?’ and ‘where’s that tenner you owe me?’, ‘what’s it like being a reporter at big games?’, is the question I’m most asked.

Here’s your answer.

Wednesday, 5.30pm: I read somewhere recently that Dermot Morgan – the actor best known for his Scrap Saturday send-up of CJ Haughey and role as Father Ted – was once asked why he supported UCD? “Because I hate crowds,” he replied.

He wouldn’t have liked Ballsbridge this week.

I won’t bore you with the details of my journey upstream to the Aviva Stadium. But after the third or fourth Garda sent me in the wrong direction – against the tide of Portuguese football fans — I remembered that quote from one of the cigar-munching boxing promoters, framed by the Zaire country-scrape in Three Kings: “yesterday I lied, today I tell the truth.”

Ultimately, after looping the ground more times than DART, I was given the right steer towards the media entrance.

6pm: I write this now sitting in a soft seat high in the new Lansdowne Rd stands – or as it’s been gerrymandered for the night – the Dublin Arena.

The Black Eyed Peas ubiquitous ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’ fills my ears and a media pass hangs from my neck. As a confused Ian Rush said, having signed for Juventus, when he landed in Turin: Welcome!

6.15pm: This seems like a big night for the FAI.

I’m still in the same seat. Earlier we watched the Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – as she likes to be known – tog out at Croke Park, meet more GAA bureaucrats than the check-in clerk at Congress and tap her foot to the brass-bottomed beat of the Artane Band.

Like most of us on the morning of a trip to HQ, she started the day with a pint of stout to get a clear run of the day.

This evening too the Association Football types have polished the good silver on their freshly laundered lapels, the best wine is served first and I received a voucher for fish and chips. The laughable option of a piece of fruit was also on offer. Aesop’s scorpions and the frog fable springs to mind; it’s just not in our nature to eat satsumas in the press box.

6.30pm: You meet all types at these things of course. Martin Tyler is taller in real life I’ve learned, Ronnie Whelan about as tall as you’d expect.

Shirley Temple once said she stopped believing in Christmas when, as a kid, Santa asked for her autograph. I stopped believing in Boris Becker when, after he first gave me the most dwarf of short shrifts – he then allowed me to fire a few questions at him in the Ryder Cup media centre in 2006.

He took the folded Irish Examiner from my oxter to scan the sports pages casually, with his bottom lip protruding and eyebrow raised in nonchalance.

7.40pm: They say you can judge a country by the way it treats its criminals. Well you can judge a big event by the quality of its half-time or pre-game show.

For every successful Eurovision that had a Riverdance at its heart, you had a world cup which begins with a Diana Ross kicking a giant beach ball wide of its target.

We’ve just been treated to local Dublin kids graphing out the teams’ formations on the Lansdowne sod and then we had this really quite mad pageant of lads in white suits carrying wooden boxes around the pitch as banshee types danced in circles with wands. You’re welcome, Europe.

8.05pm: Advantage of the modern press box. The little monitors you share with your next-door-neighbour. In the past those in the media were as ignorant as anyone else of close a calls and great swathes of sporting history were rewritten like that within an Orwellian novel. One ill-sighted reporter agrees with another distracted journalist and some poor player’s point is marked down as someone else’s.

Advantage of the modern press box. Trevor Welsh’s commentary – which I can hear through the TV3 feed on my laptop is 45 seconds behind the play. I timed it.

You can see Mark Lawrenson’s jokes coming from that bit further out though.

10pm: After the whistle it’s down to what are usually lazily called ‘the bowels of the stadium’. It’s more like the nerve centre.

Tonight we’re offered headphones with simultaneous translation from Portuguese. This would be handy on Ulster football championship final day.

There’s more reporters stacked high in the lecture theatre style auditorium than you’d find at a UCD game on a Friday night. Dermot Morgan should’ve been a journalist.

Jose Mourinho’s protégé, the Porto manager Andres Villas Boas, sits at the top table in a tailored suit oozing class and flush with success. As Fr Ted’s sidekick, Dougal Maguire, once said: “God Ted, do you remember the fella who was so good at fashion they had to shoot him?” The click of dictaphones and final whirring of laptops herald the night’s end. Copy is filed, matches are won.

And the crowds aren’t so bad.

Contact:; Twitter: @adrianrussell

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