When I was eight years old I was at one of those schools where it is held to be a sacred truth that rugby makes men of young boys. Fortunately, I quite liked the game, so I was spared the tyranny of having it shoved down my throat, but one thing I never understood was the insistence of our fearless leaders that the state of the weather was immaterial.
Sheeting rain, howling wind or bone snapping frost were all deemed perfectly acceptable conditions in which to send knock-kneed toddlers out in shorts and t-shirts to, basically, thump each other. I am proud to say that even at that tender age I knew enough about the world to call a halt to such nonsense. One day - one particularly Baltic, frostbitten day - I interrupted my thumping (and being thumped) to inform Brother Luke, our referee, that I would be retiring from the field because I was cold.
He was horrified. I can still see the glaze of disgust that seeped into his eyes. Never mind the Missions, I clearly wasn’t even going to be Croagh Patrick material. I think, in that moment, he might even have foreseen the end of Catholic Ireland.
Undeterred, I trooped off to the dressing rooms, stopping only to explain to a curious parent that the reason for my departure was the inhospitable weather. Contrary to the reaction of my coach, he seemed quite amused.
The reason I mention this is to give you some idea of the kind of a person you are dealing with. I think it’s only fair, because I am about to nail my colours to the mast on the subject of one of the League of Ireland’s more contentious issues; summer football.
I like it.
I spent Friday evening at Belfield where UCD played out an entertaining draw with Drogheda United. It was one of those evenings when the seasons are wrestling for dominance, when the cold of winter still has the frail heat of the sun in a headlock, but it’s starting to tire. Football nights like these always remind me of the change we made nine years ago, when we made the bold decision to turn away from tradition and elect a new set of priorities. They remind me that we will soon be going to games without our scarves and making it home in time for a pint in the local beer garden.
It’s easy to forget that not long ago summer football was one of those ideas that appeared utterly inconceivable. But now that it’s done it could only be reversed by a nationwide bout of dementia. It’s an argument that occupies the same territory as smoking in pubs, condom machines in pubs and playing soccerball on the hallowed turf of Croke Park. Why, in the name of all that’s holy, did we ever think it would be a bad idea?
There are many reasons offered in defence of summer football. Progress in Europe is one, the fact that our boys are better prepared for the challenge of eliminating the pesky Albanians, Latvians and Kazakhstanis that pepper the early stages of European competition. It is also argued that summer football allows our pitches to flourish, granting us the ability to glide Brazil-like across the fields of battle, where once we slogged through mud and marsh like nothing more than a barbaric horde.
But these are irrelevant. Only one argument is needed to win the debate, and it is this; watching football in the freezing cold is a pain in the arse. There, I’ve said it.
There are those who have great affection for the days when the majority of the season was played out in bitter cold and sweeping rain. There are those who see wintery conditions as part of the football experience, essential to a more authentic atmosphere. But do these same people open the windows and doors to let a bit of cold in when Match of the Day comes on?
In my opinion there are very few leisure activities that are enhanced by the addition of low temperatures. Skiing is one. Ice sculpting, perhaps? And ice-skating should admittedly never be attempted in high summer. But football? Frankly, if I want to suffer physical pain in pursuit of pleasure I’ll do so behind closed doors and in the company of a loving partner, thank you very much.
Football simply doesn’t need the added jeopardy of hypothermia. And what’s not to like about watching a game of ball in your shirt sleeves on a balmy summer evening, when the queue for the ice-cream stall is longer than the line for hot, beefy Bovril.
I suspect that there is something in our makeup, something deeply Catholic, that urges us to mix any pleasure with a healthy dose of suffering. Each to their own I suppose. Live and let live and all that. But I have too many memories of freezing my nuts off at football matches to ever willingly volunteer for it again.
For those that do, I can only say that Brother Luke would be proud.
Simon O'Gorman began reporting for Extratime in 2010. He remembers Milltown and Flower Lodge and, back in the mists of time, saw Diego Maradona play at Lansdowne Road. He now lives in Co Kildare and reports on Shamrock Rovers among others. Simon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org