My Aul Man

My aul man took me to matches from an early age, it was one of the few things we had in common and helped us bond. He and my uncle helped run a Linfield supporters club so we’d travel all over the country on mini-buses having a grand old time, us kids running about buck-mad in these wee country towns and the men drinking and talking football. Or us kicking cans about the back of the South Stand while the men were in the bar. Not a lot of football was actually watched back in those days it seems.
I joke with my fiance that the majority of my geographical knowledge of Northern Ireland (or at least it’s football grounds) was gained at Linfield away games. And to a point it’s still true, unless you’ve a team the Blues played in the 90’s I’ve no idea where a town is.
For a wee lad from Belfast born in the early 80’s I was pretty lucky and I’m thankful to have these memories and experiences, they’re probably a big reason why I still love Irish League football and why I do what I do (this site).

My Aul Man on tour in Europe
On tour in Europe

The last match me and him went to together was on Boxing Day at the Oval. I met him up on the bridge and he looked like shit, really frail. I asked him if he was OK, of course he was. I didn’t press him on it, I’m ashamed of that being totally honest. Pretty sure I told myself it was just age catching up with him or his “personal issues” having an effect. We headed down the long tunnel/alley, talking about my wee brother and the match. He wasn’t his usual loud boisterous self. I’ll probably put a picture of him up on this and I’d say a fair few Bluemen and probably a couple of Glentoran supporters would recognise him and think “oh aye, THAT mad bastard”. He wasn’t that at all on Boxing Day. I sat beside an old man I was afraid to look at. I took a few photos that day and I’d usually get one of him too but I remember thinking no, just no.

My Aul Man at an Irish Cup Final
In happier times

A few months later he died in the Mater, completely riddled with cancer. I can’t say for sure but I think he knew the score on Boxing Day, not officially, like from a doctor or anything, but looking back, after the fact, after all that happened, I feel like he knew and was sort of OK with it.

Me, my brother, my sister and my sister-in-law were all with him at the end. We stayed in his room for a week leading up to it, totally fucking helpless, watching him disappear. It was the hardest time in my life. He held on for so long, unconscious, on a morphine driver. I believe he wasn’t suffering at the end.

I’m going to write some stuff now that some of my family and indeed his friends mightn’t know and probably won’t appreciate me saying about the big lad. I apologise in advance and would hope you understand why I am writing about all of this.
He suffered from depression, he was a recovering alcoholic and had substance abuse problems. The booze and drugs are more than likely because of the depression but I’m not a psychologist.
Why am I saying all this here on this dopey website about photos?
A few reasons. The first being that if you think there might be something up with somebody, try and fucking help them. Don’t write it off as nothing and go back to your own shit. A few years before he died I had a mental breakdown, like severe, instant depression. My da and my sister were at my house helping me that very night. They both had lives and stuff they were or could be doing and both lived a fair distance away, but they came when I needed help. They helped save me. I wish I could’ve returned the favour. So don’t find yourself in that situation, make an effort, try and help. At the very least it will mean the world to the person you’re helping.
I’m sure many who knew my da would be surprised to find out he had depression, outwardly you’d really never have known. What I’m trying to say is that you never know what’s going on in someone’s head and, especially these days, in this country, we can’t afford to just assume somebody is fine. A scary thing about it is that people who are depressed will rarely ever ask for help or seek it out, I know this only too well from my own struggles. So ask, take the time, keep an eye out, pay attention!
The second reason is that you really don’t know how long you have left with someone. You really need to make the most of the time you have with them. I’ve many regrets in this regard, the main one being not bringing my daughter over to visit her Granda more often. It’s a horrible shitty feeling and I hope, reading this, you might make more of an effort with your family and friends. I’m grateful my daughter was able to go to a match with him, I suppose there’s many who don’t even get that.
To anyone reading this who knows me personally, yes, I’m a huge hypocrite and I hate myself for it.

My Aul Man and his granddaughter
Grandfather and granddaughter

It was very hard going to games without him being there, very sad, empty, painful.
I’m not religious or have any sort of faith so I couldn’t be like “well he’s here with us” or “bet he enjoyed that looking down from above”. Just a lot of wishing he could be there. That sadness lessens a bit as the years pass but it’s still there, every time, looking over, expecting to see him, red-faced, going ballistic like a big mad Indian Chief.

I sat pitch-side taking photos for the most recent Boxing Day game at the Oval, it was a huge deal for me but it was the same even then, looking over to the Shed, wishing he and my brother were sitting together, maybe wondering if that fat bastard Gavin was going to fall off his wee stool.

My Aul Man
The Shed at the Oval

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything this long or this personal. I don’t usually talk about my da’s death in a serious way either, usually just in a sort of jokey way, probably a coping mechanism. Hopefully it doesn’t come off as the ramblings of some sad mad headcase. And I hope even just one person can take something positive away from this.
Look after each other, everyone needs help sometimes.

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