Due largely to my family’s generosity, I’ve received quite a few Christmas and birthday presents over the years. The two windfalls come close to each other every year, one at a time when most others are being remembered, the other in early January.
I came on the scene early in the first month, and when I began to play underage football this gave me an advantage. I could continue to play in U14 and the like when many of my classmates, some of them born close to the end of December and given the name Noel, would have to move up a year in grade.
No disrespect to those who, over the years, put some beautiful gifts at the bottom of the bed, or through the post, or simply landed them in my lap, the two I remember best were a watch and a pair of football boots.
The watch told me more than the time. It was a message to start saving in earnest; a date even more significant than December 25 or January 8 would have to be red-pencilled on the calendar.
The football boots, a Christmas gift from Santa, would be laughed at by today’s footballers with their lightweight Nikes and Pumas in green, and white, and red, and pink and whatever other colour makes them stand out on the pitch. They were tan in colour, made of pigskin and had a toecap that could break stones. They came up over the ankles, which were protected by a round patch on each side; like the football being used at the time they’d get very heavy when it was raining.
Take a look at those pictures from more than a half century ago, or maybe visit the museum in Croke Park and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Better still, have a chat with former Cooley Kickhams full-back, Jim Thornton.
Jim wore a pair of them long after they went out of fashion, and certainly wasn’t at a disadvantage. He played in more senior finals than most others, and could kick the ball as far, if not further, than those around him.
My pair of wallopers were a Godsend. Until then myself and the sibling closest to me were playing in Quigley’s Field across from McDermott’s Terrace with a shoe on one foot and an older brother’s cast-off football boot on the other. That was only possible because we kicked with different feet.
Before hanging up the boots, so to speak, another short story. I bought a new pair for the beginning of a season in the 70s, and threw them about the St Brigid’s Park dressing room in a way the others on the Gaels team couldn’t avoid spotting them. My namesake, Buster, was quick on the draw. “Is that a good idea at your age,” he wanted to know.
It wasn’t. At about 33 at the time, clinging on to what remained of my career, I was never likely to get value for money.
And presents? I got one this year that many might consider odd, but to those who know that I’m not the only one in the house who likes a bet, it would be seen as normal. It’s an ante-post docket for a Score double, Bob’s Worth (2/1) to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Ireland (6/1) to take the Six-Nations.
I said thanks, not mentioning the lack of enthusiasm this page had for the rugby boys’ chances in its 2014 preview a few weeks ago. €420 would buy a fair dollop of humble pie, and I’d have no bother eating it.