Early one Saturday afternoon, I was meandering down Main Street, Castlebar, where things were relatively quiet after the hustle and bustle of Christmas and the New Year in this somewhat typical Mayo town….’where the ocean kisses Ireland and the waves caress her shores’. It was a damp, grey day and it all felt a bit like the day after the night before, indeed a bit depressing, with the locals getting back to reality that is a recession which has hit these towns and its peoples hard.
But I was up for a pint of the black stuff and where better to go than Byrne’s pub situated at the lower end of town. Indeed Mick is not only renowned for his Guinness, but also all things sport across the County of Mayo and of course there’s his beloved QPR. Over the years when commenting on Mid-West Radio about sport in general, he rarely misses an opportunity where he could somehow talk QPR.
When you walk in the front door it’s just like any pub, but it’s in the back bar where you feel immediately at home….it’s almost a shrine to the club ! The craic was good and although a busy man, Mick took the time to talk all things Rangers. He doesn’t get over as much as he would like to, but there’s no doubting his passion for a club that in these parts has had to compete with the so called ‘big clubs’ over the years….but things are now without doubt changing at last. We have many loyal fans in Mayo….and it’s growing. I’ve lost count of the number of people who text me and who now ask about the R’s since we made it to the Prem !
So after a few beers, a few photos and plenty of craic, it was time to go back outside to that damp, grey day, but I didn’t want to be anywhere else. One thing is for sure that there’s no place like home…in Mayo….in Mick Byrnes Pub.
I was pleased to notice some years ago that one of my local Newsagents in South Harrow stocks the ‘Hammersmith & Shepherds Bush Gazette every week. I was even more surprised to also see copies of ‘The Mayo News’ which I pick up for my mate Jimmy. Before handing over the latest edition, Jimmy told me that he’d heard that Mick Byrne was featured in the series: ‘Fan’s Fare’, where local Premiership fans have their say. Indeed he was and this is what Mick had to say:
‘It was back in 1967 ¬†as a nine-year-old when I first caught the QPR bug. They were playing West Brom in the League Cup Final and won 3-2, I was hooked. It may have been 45 years ago, but the soccer script hasn’t changed too much since. Back then you were either a Liverpool fan or a United one. To follow QPR was a bit like going Irish dancing instead of having a kick-about with the lads. It wasn’t cool.
I’ve been through thick and thin since then and yes, before you say it, there have been a lot more thins. I can remember almost getting relegated to Division 3 and getting beaten in the replay of the 1982 Cup Final, but then there was the 4-1 demolition of Man United back on New Year’s Day in 1992, the days that make it all worthwhile. The great Dennis Bailey scored a sublime hat-trick at Old Trafford and is the main culprit for my fondness for the coffee-tasting liqueur of the same name. I think I was toasting Baileys with everyone for weeks after that. They were great times.
And what about the 1975/76 season ? Don Givens, Gerry Francis and Stan Bowles became household names and went perilously close to lifting the old Division 1 title. I remember heading over to Loftus Road for the last game of the season. We needed to beat Leeds to have any chance of doing it and the lads duly obliged, winning 2-0. There was an unbelievable atmosphere at that one. But Liverpool still had one game left due to their participation in Europe. Lo and behold they pierced daggers by beating Wolves 3-1at Molineux ten days later. We were champions for ten days, ten great days.
There were times when I thought that I would never see those heady days again, but now, under Neil Warnock, we’re back in the big time. It was certainly a baptism of fire on the opening day when Bolton dished us out a 4-0 hammering, but we got lost in translation there and the club was in the middle of big changes. Now we’ve new owners that gave Neil money to spend and he’s dished it out shrewdly.
Like you, I wasn’t going to rush to the Post Office to send Joey Barton a Christmas card, but since he’s arrived at Loftus Road, I’ve been converted. What a player. He has character, something missing from a lot of lads in the Premier League. He didn’t take too long to get back in the headlines either as on Saturday evening he called Wolves’ Karl Henry, ‘little more than a Sunday League player’ after we whipped them 3-0.
Joey was a great signing, so was Shaun Wright-Phillips and Anton Ferdinand and we’ve brought in other players of genuine Premier League class so I would be very hopeful of staying up. I know some QPR fans would be hoping for more, but if we can keep our heads above water I’d be happy.
I’m not the only one you know. There’s other Mayo men who follow QPR too. Brendan Costello from Claremorris heads over to Loftus Road a couple of times every year and there are 10 or 12 of us in a local supporters club. The craic is mighty and that’s what it’s all about. The plan now is to set up a QPR Connacht Supporters Club and we were even featured in the programme recently.
I’m hoping to make it over in November for the Arsenal match at the Emirates. They’re leaking goals lately too. Maybe we could nick a point, or maybe three. Come on URrrrrrrrrs !!!’
Mick sounds quite a character and well done to him for flying the flag in Castlebar.
(Thanks to Angela Murray for the above pics)