David Balfe: 'It's a complicated ol' relationship with Shels. But it's one that I'm very very lucky to have'

'I think I was being intoxicated by seeing the effect that the exposure to the club, the exposure to the game, was having on the people that I loved'
David Balfe: 'It's a complicated ol' relationship with Shels. But it's one that I'm very very lucky to have'

David Balfe, For Those I Love, with Shelbourne flag on Later with Jools Holland

Dublin musician David Balfe, aka For Those I Love, released his self-titled debut album recently, which charted at number two. 

It acts as tribute to his friend Paul Curran who died by suicide in February 2018. 

On the likes of ‘Birthday/The Pain’, samples of the Shelbourne crowd can be heard, while Balfe, in his appearances on Later with Jools Holland and Other Voices, has borne the Reds’ flag.

After a For Those I Love match programme tribute by Shelbourne last week, Balfe discusses his “complicated” relationship with the League of Ireland club.

"So a couple of my friends have been pretty much lifelong Shels fans and they spent years trying to convince me of the beauty of Shels — ‘come to games, come to games, come to games’. And I'd fallen out of love with football when I was about 14 or 15.

"Like many young people, I had a devoted relationship with it up until the time I was 13 or 14. And then I was basically — not given the ultimatum, but the way things were falling, because I played ball, and it basically just occurred that my kickboxing and my football ended up clashing too much, they're both on at the same time, and I needed to make a choice. So I ended up going with kickboxing, because that's where my heart was. And because I stopped playing ball, I started to fall out of love with it altogether.

"And then maybe towards like, late teens, early 20s, my friends are going 'Oh come on, you have to come, ‘Friday nights, Friday nights, Friday nights, you gotta do it'. But I didn't have the €15, I just didn't have the €15 to go to a game, I couldn't buy a ticket, I didn't have it. And I was making the decision between you know, like, 'Alright, will I go to the game or will I go to a local show for a tenner on a Friday?' I used to go to the local shows. I didn't have steady employment. I just didn't have anything, I didn't have any money.

"But the odd time where I might get like a nixer in or something like that, or get a 50 quid or something, Paul would be like, 'Come Shels'. So I'd go and at the time when I'd go, I don't think I was falling in love with the football at all, I was falling in love with my experience at Shels, I think I was being intoxicated by seeing the effect that the exposure to the club, the exposure to the game, was having on the people that I loved, and my friends who were walking into the stadium carrying a heavy weight, who were dealing with some very, very difficult periods/time in their life. And then experiencing total euphoria for 90 minutes.

"And that being this section in my life where I'm for once able to see my best friend not visibly depressed and seeing them exorcise some of the pain and the weight that they were carrying. And I found that very intoxicating long before I ever found the intoxication of the actual game itself. I think I understood the value of what that team and what that jersey meant to my friends and in particular Paul. And that was pretty on and off. 

"And then when Paul died, pretty much the very, very first people to reach out were figureheads from the club, who basically said you know, 'whatever it is that you need, we will organise, whatever it is that we can do, we will'. And then the rollout from the fans as well.

"Paul was a lifelong Red and well known in Tolka. And Paul died at 27. And the exact same day, a stone's throw away, the same way, another lifelong Red also died at 27, called Smurf. So the fans and the club lost two of their sort of most visible supporters the same day, the same way, at the same time, a stone's throw from each other, but unrelated.

"So no matter what, it was always going to play some significant role on the future of the club, at least for that year, it's an impossible shadow to shake.

"We were all encouraged and invited to go to the first game of the season. And we went there because after the game, we were going to be scattering Paul's ashes in Tolka. You go to the first game, March 18, 2018, against Longford, two-all, 93rd minute, we get a peno, Davey O'Sullivan scores, bottom right-hand corner of the net, 3-2, final whistle. That was when I understood it.

"Like, that game is when I understood the relief that that had given to Paul, and to Robbie and to Gav for all of the years beforehand, it was the first time I understood that you could channel all of the pain and the grief and the stress and the worry of your daily life into a game, into somebody else's collective hands, and that you can do it feeling safe, in sort of the swell of a terrace, with everybody else doing the exact same thing.

"A couple of things happened for me, then, you know. For one I very much fell in love with the game itself. I fell in love with the jersey and the team, and really fell in love with Tolka. I've been very lucky to have been able to spend a lot of time there since. I also felt I owed such a monumental debt of gratitude to the club, and for what they had done for us. Not just on that day, but in the days afterwards, in the months afterwards, in the years since, and their continued remembrance and celebration, not just for Paul, not just of Smurf, but of many other fans. And of their fans who are here, just the relationship between the club and the fans.

"I just felt that debt of gratitude there that I knew I would need to just, regardless of whether I had loved the club or not, regardless, I knew I would have owed that debt and that I would've had to dedicate myself to the club, I would have had to have gone to every game.

"And then lastly, I think, it's probably some way to feel like I've maintained some form of a type of a relationship with Paul or Paul's memory, or something similar to that. For some of the lads, they've actually found it very difficult to go to Tolka since. They don't get comfort from going to the games. They don't find it to be something that brings them any ease and it is because of the, I guess you could say the symbolic nature of it and the looming shadows of Paul's death and Paul's life over each one of those games, but for me, it is very much the opposite.

"I do feel the looming shadow of Paul's life and Paul's death over those games, but I feel it's a way for me to have some form of a continued relationship on my end and that I feel like I can continue to be in some ways dedicated to the memory of my best friend of 13 years. To try and feel like I'm falling in and continuing on the, you know, taking up the spot in the stands that they did for years.

"So it's very multifaceted and I basically just haven't missed a game since and tried to do as much as I can to amplify the voice of the team with what little small platform I do have. But I also understand that they have done what they can to amplify my voice as well which is amazing.

For Those I Love David Balfe Picture: Faolán Carey
For Those I Love David Balfe Picture: Faolán Carey

"It's a complicated ol' relationship with Shels, it is. But it's one that I'm very very lucky to have. I feel like I'm underselling my relationship just with the beauty of the game itself. I mean, it is a very ugly game, it's very difficult.

"It's heavy going to watch it now on a fucking stream because it's shit football. It is and that's not why you fall in love with League of Ireland, you fall in love with League of Ireland because of the value that you can place in it and the collective heartbeat of the terraces and the rhythm of the terraces. And just the beauty of the team itself, not because of the quality or the skill of the play, because you'd be long lost if that's what you were looking for in League of Ireland. Despite it having… when it has its moments it really does have its moments of magic."

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