By PJ Cunningham
Nostalgia was thick in the air recently as ‘About That Goal,’ the official autobiography of Offaly’s All Ireland goal hero Seamus Darby was launched in Tullamore.
The Offaly star, who came on with seven minutes left in the 1982 All Ireland final, as Kerry sought to win five-in-a-row, scored arguably the most famous goal ever in the history of the GAA on that occasion.
Darby was 31 when fame was thrust upon him after the sensational scored which deprived Mick O’Dwyer’s Kerry of the five-in-a-row that Dublin achieved last month.
What many people hadn’t realised is the life Darby experienced off the field and in particular what he endured when living in England in the nineties and for a while into the noughties.
The now 68-year-old picks up the story. “I arrived in London just over a decade after I’d scored that goal. The man who was supposed to give me a job and a place to sleep had changed his mind. Without paying me for the one shift I’d done the night before, I was penniless.
“It was a chilling moment as I headed out onto Hackney High Street that Saturday afternoon wondering where I would go next.
“I had no money to get to a house the far side of London where I’d arranged a bed for the night. If I couldn’t get there, I would have to consider the prospect of sleeping rough on the city streets.
“I had one outside chance of getting to a friend of a friend. Generously, he had sent word that I could bed down in his place for a few nights if I had no place to stay.
“As I approached the lady in the ticket sales booth in the London Underground, my palms were sweaty and my heart was pounding.
‘Yes, where are you going to?’ she asked, looking me in the eye.
“For a moment, I didn’t know what to say. Luckily, there was no queue behind me. I then told her: ‘I want to go Highbury but I don’t have any cash. I do have an Irish chequebook but haven’t got a banker’s card with me. Would you cash a cheque for a fiver for me?’ I asked, trying to remain composed.
“She eyed me up and down and I knew the odds were stacked against me.
“She was about to speak, then stopped, looked into my face again and something changed in her demeanour. She pressed a button and a ticket popped up. Then scanning my eyes again she told me who to make the cheque payable to.
“I could hardly write with the welling up of emotion – this woman, a complete stranger had thrown me a lifeline at my darkest moment. I’ve thanked her often down the years for her remarkable courage and thoughtfulness to me that day.
“I’ve found that to be part of my life story – that with ups come the downs, but the most memorable part of it all has been the sheer generosity of nature people have shown me when I’m down and close to out.”
Seamus was forced to go back to Ireland for a while after that but came back later that year to work as a bar man, mostly in ‘condemned pubs’ which the breweries had earmarked to run down for closing.
Over time he became a pub manager but again went to some scary places, culminating when he accepted the landlord job in the Brewery Tap in Barking, London.
“I was warned that the clientele were as tough as old boots. I didn’t foresee how dangerous my short time there would turn out to be.
“Fortunately, just before I’d left the Old Farm House, a friend of mine, rang up asking if I would put him up if he came to London and maybe give him a start with a few shifts. He came to work there as well.
“The tipping point came when a woman reputed to have been a Moll of one of the Kray twins began to openly sell drugs in the pub.
“In hindsight, I might have been a bit more circumspect than I was. I took the blunt approach and simply ordered her out of the pub and told her she was barred from ever coming back.
“She had some sort of dalliance with an old geezer from Dublin who was living off her ill-gotten gains. A huge row flared up and I was lucky that I didn’t end up dead or at best badly injured.
“While I was swinging a bat I had behind the counter, I saw in the corner of my eye a fella coming from behind me with a stool aimed at my head. I jumped out of the way and took the full force on my back instead of my head.
“It was a fierce blow but it was better to take the hit there as he would certainly have cracked my skull. We finally cleared the place of people but the old pub looked like a bomb had hit it.
“The next day the old Dublin guy walked in with a gun in his hand looking to kill me for what I did to his girlfriend the previous night.
“Fortunately, I was upstairs and my friend talked him out of his rage, telling him to put the gun away and have a pint as I had gone back to Ireland.”
Seamus got out of there fast and eventually did go to live in Ireland where he now runs the Greyhound Bar, in Toomevara, Co Tipperary.
He has many more stories to tell though about his time in London – including an encounter with Bob Geldof when he was working as a taxi driver… and yes, the title of that chapter is “I don’t like moaners.”