“I’ll get him tomorrow”
1986, village life in a lost corner of Northern Ireland, the year of Ulster says No, Maggie Thatcher, Paisley, Gerry Adams miming on the news, of the football team making it into the world cup, and of course the year of my first big fight.
A little background into my history in boxing and general violence. I come from a family of 4 boys, a household of consistent turbulence – we’d fight morning, noon and night, on the way to school, at the dinner table, in my da’s 18ft long Ford Sierra, on the ferry to Scotland, I guess we’d be fighting and rowing wherever we’d be in close proximity to one another. When I say fight I really mean wrestle, or ‘wrastle’. Rolling about the floor, shoulder barging, the occasional ‘half Nelson’ or a ‘belly squeeze and lift’. The victor was the man that could hold a boy down til he said ‘submit’. Simple enough. We were raised on a diet of Saturday morning wrestling on the telly, with Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Fit Finley our inspirations. There were no fists thrown, no blood drawn, no hard contact, just young fellas wrestling about in order to kill time and prove who was the ruler of the brethren.
The village football pitch was the centre of youth activity during those summers. Folk would gather from the estates and get matches going between them; football, cricket, rounders, digging holes, anything to pass away the long hot summer. A cricket match ended in a bit of a disagreement one afternoon. I remember boys mouthing about scores and cheating, I didn’t really pay much attention, I was aye day dreaming and talking to myself back then, I had no competitive instinct, cared little for victory or defeat. The match was abandoned and boys started to head back home. My big brother had been threatening to fight the captain of the other team, a friend of his from up the country road. It never escalated beyond words and the occasional curse word, ‘wise up sir’, ' ach your arrrse’. Not content with the lack of a main event I volunteered that I’d get in the ring myself; I’d take of my brother’s assailant’s wee brother and we’d make some sport of it – I’d fight him no bother. Sure didn’t I come from a family of champion wrestlers, there’s no way I’d be beat.
We faced off for a short while then I made my move, straight into the mid-section - I had him, I’d squeeze the air clean out of his body, this fight was mine.
What happened next was quite uncertain, even to this day. I can only go on my brief snapshots of memory and what folk have told me since. I do remember being agressively pushed off my foe, and for a few moments all went quiet. In the next 5 seconds I believe I was punched on the face 15-20 times. I remember nothing bar the initial pain of the first, then darkness and the series of flashes before my closed eyes. In my mind I was momentarily lifted off the ground, I set sail to the stars. I must have been out cold for a while, maybe not, but when I came round I was at total peace. Lying there amongst the daisys, staring at the blue 1986 summer sky. My moment of calm and solitude was shattered by the blurred voices of my 2 big brothers chanting and ordering me to rise. Arise from the canvas once again and face my enemy. When no response came they hoisted me up under the oxters and stood me there on the football pitch face to face with the raging bull that had left me the carcass I was. They were shouting for revenge. There I stood, motionless and white, held up by 2 brothers, like a scarecrow, not a single ounce of energy could I summon. I was dead from the eyes down, pure jelly. There was a mass audience now, word had spread through the land, folk had left their crying children and their half-baked scones to come and witness this battle of titans. They’d gathered round, shouting for blood. They were like paparazzi and reporters, they wanted a quote at very least, vultures seeking anything I could offer. All I could say was ‘tik me home’.
A while later the noise began to settle and the crowds slowly dispersed. My 2 man ambulance made back up the hill for the house, my feet dragging along the grass. For the rest of the journey I muttered only in single words like a pensioner on his death bed - ‘home’, ‘ma’, ‘water’, my tongue was like sand paper. My 2 paramedics resumed their role as boxing coaches. ‘You’ll get another chance sir’, ‘we’ll teach them boys’. I nodded in agreement, ‘I’ll get him tomorrow’ was my lament, ‘I’ll get him back tomorrow’. My biggest brother turned and shouted to the enemy camp ‘you hear that, he says he’ll get you back tomorrow’, then we continued our long march home. The rest of the journey was filled with chat of revenge, counter-attack and fight strategies for the next bout. I got home, was fed chicken soup and lay face down on the sofa for many hours.
I never did get him back tomorrow…