Irish tour memories come flooding back

Pompey in action against Limerick in 1980
Pompey in action against Limerick in 1980
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Last week’s announcement of a pre-season tour to Ireland, brought back some fantastic personal memories of a previous foray to the Emerald Isle.

It was back in July 1980 when Frank Burrows took his team overseas to play Athlone and Limerick, to celebrate our division four promotion.

Pompey took about 200 fans to those games.

My group included my brother and four other fellow teenage ‘skinheads’.

It was one of the most unorganised trips you could wish to imagine.

The nameless motley half-dozen, decided one fine evening in the Magpie lounge bar, that we should venture westwards over land and sea (and Sainsbury’s) to follow our heroes.

Money was tight, so we chose to travel cheap and light.

The baby-faced six decided to cash in on their youthful appearance by purchasing child tickets for the combined rail/sea journey, (our actual ages were between 16-18 years).

We had also decided to dress identically, red Fred Perry T-shirts’, jeans, Doc-Martin boots and braces.

It was an uneventful journey until we reached the Welsh port of Fishguard around midnight.

The custom officers were concerned as to why six luggageless children were travelling unaccompanied to Ireland.

Cue multiple phone calls to our parents in the early hours to confirm their permission of travel.

The custom officers satisfied, we were allowed to continue our journey, with no mention of the child tickets in our possession.

Our first destination was Wexford – the birthplace of my mother – 10 miles east of the Port of Rosslare.

It seemed like the ideal stopover for the first night.

Irish hospitality is legendary but how would my uncle react to two of his nephews and four other shaven-headed strangers arriving unannounced on his doorstep?

Nobody was at home to give us a reaction.

My uncle and his family were all in New York visiting another uncle.

More phone calls, this time Trans-Atlantic, from my uncle’s neighbour.

‘The key is under the mat, lock the door when you leave’, was the reply from my trusting uncle.

When we arrived at Athlone, the following afternoon, we were greeted by heavy police and military gathering.

Nothing to do with Athlone’s next fixture.

An IRA prisoner had escaped from the nearby Portlaise prison and the fugitive was still at large.

Despite a 1-0 defeat we were looking forward to our second game against the Irish champions Limerick United, who were managed by former Pompey favourite Eoin Hand.

Pompey won the game 3-0, but the highlight of my trip was meeting Eoin at our hotel.

He was one of my childhood heroes and spoke fondly of his time at Pompey.

I have met Eoin on numerous occasions since and never tire of telling fellow Pompey fans of his genial, kind nature, including my son, Eoin.

On our return boat journey, two unknown Pompey fans approached my brother and me and enquired our names.

When we told them, they gave us £10 each.

This was handy as our funds had all but expired.

My uncle had since returned from the States and had picked up the two Pompey fans, who were hitchhiking theirway back to the Rosslare ferry.

My uncle asked them to pass this money on to us.

Go to Ireland this summer and receive ‘100 thousand welcomes’ (céad míle fáilte

n N.B. The North Stand Critic did not receive any payment from the Irish tourist board for this article!