11am this morning: We leave the house in a whirl of excitement — laced with trepidation. We’ll come to that.
5pm this evening: We return to find the green space opposite our house annexed by three neighbouring families. Each from a different country. Each represented by a different sapling tree planted right down the centre of this communal space. Where the kids in our estate play football.
We go inside to put on a coffee and watch the real-life drama unfold through the latted screen of our kitchen window.
Okay, let’s forget that linear narrative thing and do it like one of those Netflix original series. Use the past, recent and distant, to make sense of the present. If you’re scratching your head as the final credits roll that’s good; there’ll be a second series.
Like in those Scandi noirs my wife and I love: a forensically challenging murder, moodily framed and lit, followed by a swooping two-minute aerial shot of a rippling pine forest that dissolves into the rippling hairs in the murderer’s left nostril.
Our brooding polisinspektör is called in. He/She’s got a past.
Dressed in dark sloppy jumper and anorak, he or she is brusque and bristly but very clever, and needs an occasional blast of thumping synths and bass music playing to help them solve the case. Oh, and there’s always a superior officer who doubts them, or is the bad guy all along.
Late December 2017. O leaves his old football team. Not the most harmonious of partings with either the club team or the League representative team he captained. Moves to a new team in a bigger league.
Sometime in March 2018: O is called up to the new league’s representative team. Makes his debut, they win, and are drawn to play his old representative team next.
They lodge an objection, so O is not allowed to play against them. They beat O’s old team anyway but O will miss out on a possible Irish championship medal. He’s gutted but we help him deal with his disappointment.
This morning 11.01am: Myself, wife A, and O are off on O’s latest footballing mission. He has been called up for his third session with the Football Association of Ireland’s development squad, which will ultimately lead to selection for the Ireland Under-15 team in two years’ time for the chosen few.
The group has been whittled down to 60. Players from all over the country, converge on a footballing complex in Clonshaugh (pronounced Clon-shock) on Dublin’s north side.
The previous session O sat there at the beginning as three players from his old team arrived and promptly blanked him. Parents of said kids were uneasy with Dad and Mom too. Who didn’t want to make an awkward situation any more awkward for O and just sucked it up.
Only one of O’s old team-mates has survived the cut, so today O is only ignored by the one boy. Our boy is coiled but cool, like a boxer waiting for his bout to begun.
Teams/training groups are called out and off he goes. Out we go to watch. Only one parent to feel tense around for me. My wife speaks with him. I just can’t and walk off to watch the football.
Sick of being right about people. Sick of being wrong about people. It’s their fault. It’s my fault. It’s the boys’ fault. It’s the coaches’ fault. All of the above. None of the above. The adults are far worse than the kids.
We go home.
Summer 2016. The green space opposite our house in our estate is where O has played football since he was a nipper. It’s uneven and narrow but the kids love it. We can see O from the house and we know he’s safe.
The green space is in front of three town houses, with no front gardens and just a path between them and it. Three houses sporadically rented out and occupied.
Then, a family buys the house nearest us and moves in. Dad resents the football. Chases the kids off the space. Including O. I’m out there remonstrating. A tetchy few weeks.
I talk with our new neighbour about alternative places to play football for the kids. We go to a field near the park, a couple of hundred metres away, we hire a tractor get the grass cut, clear hundreds of stones.
The kids hate it and never play there.
For weeks I am constantly looking out the window, tense. O and the boys are getting bigger and I come to see our neighbour, from eastern Europe, has a point. The ball does hit his door occasionally, and the flowers they have planted are in danger. O cannot play there anymore. Nobody plays football there.
February 2018. Younger kids have started playing football on the green space again. Including the son of our neighbour. But he’s not really into it, and rarely plays. His Mom tells us she is okay with the kids playing football there now because they have nowhere else to play.
March 2018. New neighbours have moved into the second of the three houses. From another eastern European country. An Irish woman and her kids now live in the last house. The football pitch is as busy as ever.
This evening 5pm. No-one on the green space, and then we notice three sapling trees have been planted right down the middle of it. One opposite each house. Down the centre of the football pitch! Like national flags. Hope there’ll be soft Borders … and no Checkpoint Charlie.
Could be a cue for Oliver’s Army
A gang of kids come along with a football. Kids being kids, they are soon slaloming in and out of the trees, and playing their football.
Neighbour from the middle of the three houses comes out and he’s gesticulating and finger pointing. He’s obviously telling them to clear off to the green area way down the estate with the grass that hasn’t been cut in two years, with the weedy, stunted pine trees in the middle of it.
The kids are not so easily cowed now, but our neighbour is not for turning. There’s more pointing and arms folding and arguing and teasing and God knows what. We’re looking through the window with the sound turned down.
Our neighbour is across the road talking to the watching parents of some of the kids. He’s a gregarious chap and he’s shaking hands, as well as obviously making his case for keeping the kids off the pitch.
This won’t end well.
We can see why our neighbours want to keep the space clear. And we can see the kids like playing football there.
We reckon our middle neighbour has done a solo run and planted the trees himself. We think it’s high-handed and it just doesn’t sit well. But we don’t want another Cold War with our eastern neighbours, so we won’t get involved. Suck it up. Again.
The man from the the first house on the green comes out, and he and neighbour two are obviously in cahoots, admiring their new baby trees and gesticulating together to the kids and pointing.
We move into the sitting room and are watching telly, but looking out the window. Our two neighbours are talking intently, pointing towards our house now and towards the far green space. They stay outside to police the green space. It’s getting dark and they are still there. We close the blinds.
The tree opposite neighbour one, nearest us, is an apple tree. The one in front of house two is a pear tree, it looks like. And across from the third house is a cherry tree.
A little later, the Irish owner of the third house goes by our house, and I go outside to discretely enquire, or so I think, what she thinks of the new avenue?
I am pointing to the saplings in the middle of the green.
“Well the one outside my house is a cherry tree, I put it there,” she shyly admits.
Ooops! All three are in on it. We talk of the lack of places for the kids to play football, and I tell her I believe the grass in the far off space maybe should have been cut before all this was done.
As we speak, the kids are opposite the green space kicking a ball on the road. A lot of cars drive in and out of our busy estate, at all times of the day, and often at all sorts of speeds. This is not good.
What do you think? You must have experienced awkward situations with your neighbours? Kids playing football outside your house? Nowhere else to play, you know, but you hate them being there. What do we do?