Words swimming in the head of Brian Howard Clough on the 44th day of his 44-day tenure as manager of Leeds United in 1974. At least words put there by David Peace in The Damned Utd, the book that sent Johnny Giles to the courts in protest at invented conversations between him and Clough.
To Clough, Johnny might have been the dirty Irishman from dirty Leeds, but in the grander scheme of things, there was little to divide the pair. We don’t know what Gilesy makes of God. Maybe he worries about God’s inferiority complex around him. But we know what he makes of football.
Until Saturday night. At half-time in Croke Park, Gilesy tried to set his stall out again. “I don’t believe in luck,” he started off and all seemed in place in the universe. For the first time in a long time however, Gilesy had cause to question his beliefs.
Here was an Irish team observing just one, at best, of Gilesy’s ten footballing commandments. We’ll give them honesty of effort but where was the bread and butter passing, the playing the game on its merits, the speculating to accumulate, the having the courage of your convictions, the tempo? Who was going to put his foot on the ball, dictate the pace of the game and bring people into the game? And where, let’s not forget, was the moral courage?
But they were getting away with it and Gilesy was stumped. “I’m baffled by it. Here we are, one-nil ahead, playing like we’ve played in all the matches, poorly.”
As Gilesy sank back perplexed in his pew, you could almost see him wondering if a lifetime’s work hadn’t been for naught. All those times he showed for the ball from Big Jack when maybe, just maybe, Jack might as well have knocked it long up to Sniffer. Or maybe just knocked it to nobody in particular. Which is probably what he wanted to do anyway.
Thankfully, Eamo took time out from reciting the new Litany of the Saints – Bernard Dunne is in for Tiger Woods – to reassure Johnny that giving the ball away wasn’t the brave new paradigm football had been waiting for.
“Very lucky. It’s a very poor performance. Bulgaria have had the ball 60 per cent of the time. As the away team, it’s almost unprecedented in football.”
Even Sky rowed in to help out. Ray Houghton ducked under the cheerleading pompoms of a particularly orange Jeff Stelling to thank our stars. “We haven’t played at all. From box to box, Bulgaria have been in total control.”
In the end – and not for the first time – it took George Hamilton’s intervention to put things right.
In fairness to him, George has been a lot more careful with his chicken counting of late and it’s been a long time since… “I might be tempting fate but I can’t see the Poles scoring… oh noooo, they just have!” But you knew there was danger here the moment he started rummaging in the coop for Sunday’s roast.
“A win’s a win’s a win. And it you want to win you need the goal… Italy are only one-nil up in Podgorica. This is Kishichev, Petrov… oh noooo.”
Afterwards, you could see Gilesy took no pleasure in it, but you could have allowed him a moment’s relief at a belief system restored. “If you don’t do things right, ultimately you pay the price and that’s what happened tonight.”
Earlier Eamo had described Giovanni Trapattoni’s decision to bring in Anthony Stokes ahead of Andy Reid as “an insult to the culture of soccer.”
“His belief is that it’s his system that counts more than anything. I believe it’s footballers that count and the system is a backup.”
At least the colour was back in Gilesy’s cheeks. You could almost see it returning to his hair as well and picture the dirty Irishman spreading moral courage throughout the midfields of the old First Division.
“In football, you get what you deserve.”
Cloughie, even on the 44th day, would doubtless have agreed.
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.