Reading’s local rugby team is called London Irish. It’s a strange name for a team that is evidently not based in London, and has limited links to Ireland. Historically it had both of those things going for it, originally being set up as a club for Irish people who were living in London. The name endures despite the move to Reading and the fact that although there are still Irish players playing for the team, there are many more English players and, as with all modern teams, there are a lot of other nationalities in the squad too. It has a huge local following in Reading but it does still attract Irish fans, in much the same way as I and my fellow Welsh exiles have an affection for the now Oxford-based London Welsh.
I naturally assumed that when I saw a man dressed all in green and wearing a Leprechaun mask, walking across Reading Bridge today, that he was on his way home from a match. There could be no other explanation surely for such an outfit on a Sunday afternoon in May?
He seemed to be in quite a jovial mood until two youngish teenage boys tried to cycle past him.
“There’s a f***ing sign back there telling you to get off your f***ing bikes,” he yelled demonstrating more than a hint of an Irish accent.
It was an angry and unpleasant outburst and the two boys looked reasonably shocked by it, though admittedly they were not shocked enough to actually get off their bikes. The man in green did have a point. Reading Bridge is going through a period of renovation and is closed to traffic at the moment. It is open to pedestrians however. For cyclists there is a clear sign indicating that they are welcome to cross the bridge but only if they push their bikes across.
He did misquote the sign however. I checked and it says “Cyclist Dismount.”
To date I’d conservatively estimate that only about 75% of cyclists that I’ve witnessed crossing the bridge have followed that instruction. Perhaps the sign would have more impact if it did indeed say “Get Off Your F***ing Bike!”
Upon arriving home and anticipating that this little encounter might well be something I could write about, I did a bit of research (I won’t make a habit of it I promise) and I discovered that London Irish played their last game of the season eight days ago.
So now the only explanation for the man being dressed in green and wearing a leprechaun mask is his pride in his Irishness.
Irish people may well feel inclined to correct me but that doesn’t seem to be reason enough.