I miss the old Lansdowne Road. There, I said it.
I miss the rickety old stands and the wind that wrapped around you like an icy quilt. I miss the sight of visiting players dancing on the spot and cupping their hands before kick-off and how there wasn’t a single spot in the whole place that was guaranteed to keep you dry if the weather got really bolshy.
I miss the crap cups of tea, the scrum to avail of the triangle sandwiches in the press box at the rear of the West Stand and the steps up the back of it that could have passed for those passageways that came tumbling down in the Mines of Moria in the first Lord of the Rings film.
I miss the vibration that accompanied the DART as it thundered underneath our feet, the utterly incongruous sight of the two old cottages at either end of the ground and the dubious honour that came with knowing that Lansdowne held the record as the oldest sports stadium in the world in continuous use.
I even miss it’s name. Lansdowne. Road.
This isn’t like me.
I don’t yearn for the old Croke Park and it’s equally archaic structures of olden days. I’m not some architectural luddite who believes everything was better back then and heaven knows I have had more reason than most to appreciate the magnificence that is the new Aviva Stadium.
It’s been my great fortune to sit and watch dozens of games from a vantage point on or near the halfway line and to eat hot nosh in the state-of-the-art media centre. I have had the pleasure of being shown around the dressing rooms, the corporate boxes and even the matchday control room.
It’s a fine stadium, no doubt about it.
The problem is that it still isn’t ‘ours’. We just haven’t taken ownership of the new gaff. It boasts all the mod cons but it lacks soul and it lacks a history, which isn’t all that surprising given it’s just three years since the builders moved out and the people entrusted with its care by the IRFU and FAI moved in.
I remember Lansdowne so fondly not because I like the cold or I had a weird grá for the awful hot dogs they used to sell but because of its association with great games and great days.
Results and performances on the pitch made the surroundings just about bearable.
Now? Now it’s the other way around.
That’s why I can look back fondly to more than just the occasions that went our way but to those that didn’t. Like the day in 1985 when a trouncing by Denmark in a World Cup qualifier was tempered slightly by the sight of a few hundred cheeky chappies climbing over the touchline terrace and into the seats vacated by visiting fans at half-time.
Or that god-awful day in 1999 when French out-half Thomas Castaignede deprived us of a win in the Five Nations with a late kick at goal and the rain was so bad that those of us who had stood on the South Terrace had to ring out our soaked boxers and t-shirts when we got home.
The odds of flirting with pneumonia are less pronounced at the Aviva but we have yet to be warmed by the comforting memories of any truly great days despite the fact that our national teams have played there a combined 39 times since the place reopened its fancy new doors.
Think back to everything we have witnessed there since November 2010, when South Africa spoiled the opening party with a 23-21 win, and barely anything stands out as truly memorable. Maybe, just maybe, the 20-9 win over England in March of 2012 but even that came at the fag end of a disappointing Six Nations.
As for the soccer team, well, let’s just say that the highlight thus far has probably been the second play-off leg against Estonia and that was only because everyone knew we had already qualified. Any football that was played on the night was of secondary importance to the self-congratulatory mood.
That was the night that the fans amused themselves by launching hundreds of paper aeroplanes towards the playing surface and it was the progress of another such missile from the stands last Saturday that drew one of the biggest roars of the afternoon when it landed square between the shoulders of a Samoan winger.
Tonight and tomorrow bring with them the opportunity to forget about all that, to lay down a marker in a stadium where our national sides have managed to win less than half of their fixtures — 18, to be exact — and put to one side our paper aeroplanes and Mexican waves, our beers and our burgers. Lady Gaga, Neil Diamond and Rihanna have all given people bang for their bucks at the Aviva. It’s high time our sports stars did the same.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved