The Muppets

By Tommy Monaghan

You’re late! What kept you? said Joe. “Do you know what I’m goin to tell you?” said Frank as he climbed onto the bar stool. “Them supermarkets are the worst invention on God’s earth.”
“And why is that now?” asked Joe.

Before Frank could reply Joe was calling to Eugene behind the bar for “The usual for his nibs.”
Eugene had already anticipated the call to action. The Pint of Guinness was three quarter way complete. He took pleasure in serving them. They were two of his oldest customers. “The Muppets” as he called them, added to the ambience of his establishment. They reminded him of ‘Stephen’ and ‘Dinny’ in ‘Glenroe’ and could often be just as entertaining.

Frank and Joe were creatures of habit. They sat perched on the same stools every Wednesday and Saturday night. If they appeared on a Monday night, it would be to carry out the post-mortem on whatever football match they had become emotionally involved in on the previous day. Experience had taught them that post-mortems had to be delayed for at least twenty-four hours. Then, everything could be discussed calmly and dispassionately.

It never worked out like that of course. In a matter of minutes the muppets would be arguing with one another or with some other customer and it was always powerful entertainment.
“I’d a bin here long ago only I went into that damn supermarket” moaned Frank
“Ah sure them auld supermarkets are always packed” commented Joe.

“No it wasn’t packed at all.

“So, what happened?”

“I went into buy the “Anglo Celt”. I went up to the checkout and there was only one customer in front of me. “Great” says I. “I’ll be out of here in no time. The problem was that the customer in front of me was a woman with a trolly and it full to the brim. As I arrived and took my place behind her she hadn’t even started to unpack the damn thing. Then she turned around. She stared at me as I stood behind her with nothing to declare but the ‘Anglo Celt’.

“And did she not?” Asked Joe as he took a sip out of his pint.

“Indeed she did not. Far from it! She gave me a look that made me feel as if I was Celtic supporter that had strayed on to the Shankill Road. Then she turned her back and proceeded to empty the trolley item by item. To make matters worse the young one at the cash register took up each item and started jabbing it up against a gadget that flashed a red light. It wouldn’t be so bad if she only made one jab at it. But no, she had to keep on jabbing at it until the gadget gave a ‘click’.

“She has to do that to get the price of the item,” interjected Joe.

“Don’t I know that. Do you think I’m stupid or what?”

“So what’s your point?”

“My point is that the small shopkeeper years ago would know all the prices in his head and would be ten times faster than that auld gadget up in the Supermarket.”
“That’s progress for you,” said Joe taking another sip of his pint.

“Anyway, there I was standing there and your woman in front of me sticking her arse into me face every time she bent down to take something out of the trolley. Miss Pony Tail behind the checkout continued to jab away at the gadget like someone caught up in a demented fencing match. Eventually your woman, who had brought enough to feed an army, trolleyed off out to the car park. I handed the “Celt” to Miss Pony Tail and you wouldn’t believe what happened next.
“She ran out of change,” shouted Eugene from the far end of the bar.

“No she did not’ retorted Frank like a schoolteacher addressing a child who had given a ridiculous answer.

“She started to read the “Dobally News” laughed one of the regulars who had just tuned in.
“Tell us for God’s sake,” cried Joe.

“I don’t know whether I will or not” said Frank, “seeing as you’re all so smart.”
“Don’t mind them Frank,” said Eugene, “You just fire away with your story.”

Frank however decided that he would make the smart alecks suffer. He slowly picked up his pint, took a sip, and put it back on the counter. He then took out his pipe and proceeded to slowly pack it with tobacco. He struck a match and then started the process of lighting the pipe. He took several pulls out of the pipe before eventually giving out a sigh of satisfaction. By now Joe was fit to explode. He could contain himself no longer.

“Ah for God’s sake will you ...

She started jabbing the “Celt” at the gadget” said Frank, totalling ignoring his frustrated friend “and no matter what way she did it there was neither kick nor click out of it. By now the queue behind me had started to build up and Miss Pony Tail was beginning to get addled. She turned the paper upside down and inside out and there still wasn’t a sound out of the gadget. She called for a supervisor. I could sense the impatience that was beginning to pervade the atmosphere behind me. Enter Miss Supervisor and she only brimming with confidence. She stood there facing us. “Don’t worry folks I’ll have everything sorted out in a jiffy,” she announced. Then she started jabbing the paper up against the gadget. No use! She went through all the same contortions as Miss Pony Tail. Nothing happened. Puzzled by her lack of success she stood back and shook her head. Then the verdict was pronounced. “It’s something to do with this damn newspaper.”

“She just kept on staring at the front page and suddenly she let out an unmerciful shriek. For one mad moment I thought that maybe “the Celt” had gone pornographic. The audience behind me held it’s collective breath.

“It’s got no bar code!” she cried.
“No bar code!” repeated Miss Pony Tail incredulously.
“I thought she was going to faint. This was terrible news. A newspaper with no bar code. Talk about being caught with your trousers down. If these damsels had their way Johnny ‘O Hanlon would end up in jail for five years, at least.

“And that’s what kept you late,” observed Joe.
“Now you have it. I was late because the ‘Anglo Celt’ has no bar code.”
“It’s a bit like the football isn’t it Frank?” said Eugene and he winking at the young stranger with the long hair who was drinking from a bottle at the far end of the counter.

“These days they seem to think that everything is better because it’s bigger. I mean a big supermarket doesn’t mean you’ll get quicker service.

“Isn’t that just what I’m saying,” said Frank. “Just because football grounds are bigger doesn’t mean that better football is being played.” You never said a truer word Eugene,” said Joe. “If you ask me the state of Gaelic football has never been worse.”

“That’s a load of crap” muttered Long Hair into the neck of his bottle.
You could hear a pin drop as heads were raised and glasses lowered. The sound of creaking of stools jarred through the silence as the elderly duo swung around to face the-lad-from-God-knows-where.
“Sure what would you know about it anyway?, said Frank. “You weren’t even born when the great Cavan teams were around,” added Joe.
“Thanks be to God!” responded Long Hair.
“Uhh...” went the astonished onlookers.

The young stranger was living dangerously. To make matters worse he persisted in the same vein. “As bad as the present team is, they’d run some of the so-called great Cavan teams off the pitch. They’re faster, fitter and much better athletes.”

At first the top tipplers were tongue-tied. They had never encountered such downright insolence. Their collective blood pressures rose to record readings. Then the dam burst.
“Better athletes! Better athletes!” Their united cry of incredulity reverberated around the pub.
“Running on race-tracks they should be,” roared Frank “because they know nothing about playing football.”

A roar of support from the audience greeted this remark. A goal up for the muppets! Eugene chuckled contentedly. Long Hair mimicked moodiness.

“Are you trying to tell us that the likes of McCabe and Graham and Jason Reilly would be able to compete with Higgins, the Gunner, or Tony Tighe? “ added Joe.

This was more like it. Let him answer that now.
“Damn sure I am” muttered the longhaired one.
“Uhh!” went the crowd again.
“They do more training. They play on bigger pitches and they use a gymnasium. Sure that auld Polo Grounds was no bigger than our backyard.
This was pure unadulterated heresy.

“They play intelligent football nowadays. No lobbing big hay-makers up the pitch and hoping that one of your own team will catch it.”

The young fellow was a gutsy performer. You had to give him that much. But as far as the muppets were concerned he’d has his innings. Enough was enough, time to bury him once and for all.
“Did yiz hear that?” shouted Frank as he turned and addressed the captivated audience.

“Did yiz ever hear such a load of balderdash in your wholelife? Intelligent football me arse!”
A groan of pleasure rose up from the crowd. Now we’re thrashing. “They don’t play football at all these days. It’s shaggin basketball they play,” said Joe.

The crowd cheered. Two up for the muppets! They were really getting into their stride now. The youngster was definitely weakening in the face of this onslaught. He made a lame and half-hearted attempt to fight back.

“It’s an attractive passing game they play nowadays and ...
“Oh aye, it’s fierce attractive all right, watching them passing the ball back to the goalkeeper,” shouted Frank.

Another cheer from the crowd! It was all one way traffic now.
The next thing we’ll have is “own goals” in gaelic football,” added Joe.
Three nil for the muppets! This was total destruction. They moved in for the kill. The crowd smelt blood. Glasses were drained in anxious anticipation. Eugene was pouring pints to his hearts content.
“I’ll bet you never kicked a football in your life young fella,” said Joe.

The boot was going in now. They were going for the man instead of the ball. Time for the referee to intervene.
“Ah now that’s not fair lads,” shouted Eugene. “You don’t know that. For all we know this young fella could be ...
“In our day” cut in Frank “we played the game for the love of it. We had no heated dressing rooms. It was no bother to us to ...

“ ... change at the side of a ditch,” muttered long hair into his bottle.

The slightly-deaf-in-one-ear-Joe continued on with ... “change at the side of a ditch.”
He heard the roar that went up from the crowd and realised that he had walked into it. Goal to Long Hair! Long hair now spotted the weakness in the opposing defence. More of the same was needed. Mimicry of the muppets was now added to his arsenal.

“We had to walk miles to play matches,” he said and you’d swear it was Joe who had said it. “We had to walk miles to play matches,” echoed The slightly-deaf-in-one-ear-Joe.
Another cheer from the crowd! Now only one goal separated the combatants. The referee was letting the play flow freely hoping that this would be to the advantage of the muppets.

“They played tough back then,” prompted Eugene.
There was no stopping Long Hair now though.
“It wasn’t tough it was downright dirty,” he shouted.

He was gaining the support of the neutrals in the crowd. The muppets realised that they would have to call on all their experience now.

“Hard knocks were given and taken,” said Joe.
“Aye, and now neither of the two can walk properly,” retorted Long Hair.
“Shut up you long-haired lout. Go home and get your hair cut.”
“Ooh! ....” went the audience.

Long Hair winced. That was a dirty tackle. He downed whatever remained in the bottle, gave a shake of his lengthy locks and climbed off his stool. For a moment he stood gazing menacingly at the muppets. The crowd went silent. The elderly duo shifted uncomfortably on their stools. Then suddenly he smiled and said “I’m sorry chaps, much as I’d like to oblige, I can’t get it cut. You see we have a gig tonight. “A gig” repeated Joe.

“I’m the lead singer in a group and long hair is part of our image.”
“Well I hope you know more about music than you do about football,” said Frank.
“Maybe we should be lookin for your autograph,” joked Joe.
“So tell us, what’s your name son,” said Frank.

“My name is Gallagher, Liam Gallagher,” he answered. “My brother Noel and I specialise in playing Indy music.”

The confusion that registered on the faces of the muppets brought a ripple of laughter from the crowd. The young lad was selling dummies all over the place with all this talk of ‘gigs’ and ‘Indy music’. The muppets were looking distinctly uncomfortable. They were being brought out onto the wings and he was much too fast for them out there. Time to get the ball back to the centre of the field.

“You say you name is Gallagher,” shouted Joe. “There’s no Gallaghers living around these parts.” “Oh I’m not for these parts,” said Long Hair. “I’m from Cootehill.” “Ah well that explains it,” remarked Frank. “Sure they never knew anything about football in Cootehill.”

They roared laughing but the crowd didn’t laugh with them. There was a feeling in the air that the end was nigh. Long Hair was setting them up for the coups de grace.

“Sure even your pair must have heard of my uncle. He used to play for Cootehill.”
Frank’s mouth opened as he prepared to utter a response. A collective look of panic appeared on the faces of the muppet supporters. It was a look that willed him to be silent. “Don’t ask! Don’t ask!” “What was his name?” Too late! The young fella swung round and with a look of triumph shouted ...

Back ‘o the net!

Taken from Breffni Blue
April 2001