Hibernian 1 Hearts 5 by Niall Foley

‘Hibernian 1 Hearts 5′

by Niall Foley


This was in Edinburgh.

The bar staff kept passing in the narrow space between where I stood and where everyone else sat. It meant I could move back out of the way every so often and detach. I was in one of those uncertain moods. When I looked at myself in the mirror above the talking heads I couldn’t tell if I looked surly and didn’t talk enough or whether I was a grinning idiot who couldn’t shut up.

Beneath me the heads yapped. Mostly, they just echoed. One person would say something about a television show or cooking or the office and everyone else would laugh and agree and say the same thing that had just been said with much affirmation. It truly was life in the shallow end of the pool, all noise and bluster.

Then my girlfriend said Ben was a Hibs fan and nodded towards Ben who stood listening to another man. Ben was the only person among them who looked like he came from Edinburgh. He wore white trainers and smart blue jeans and a polo shirt under a navy v-neck sweater and his dark hair was neatly cut and he could have come off any council estate in London, Manchester, Glasgow or Birmingham.

The other guy was doing all the talking.

I decided to go over to them, stopping briefly to talk to Claire, who angled her chair a little my way.

(Claire. Fine legs in fine boots and a good arse and full lips and olive skin and fulsome TITS. Anything new or wild in your life I ask and she thought I said did she have any wild chat, and she said did I have wild chat and I said no, that’s what I was asking her, and it didn’t matter what we were saying, because what we were saying wasn’t what we were saying at all. It went on like that for a while until some point when it didn’t. Maybe the guy who had left the seat next to her came back and anyway, I moved on.)

I said to Ben so I hear you’re a Hibee and he didn’t say anything right away, he just considered it sagely and looked like he was about to say something maybe half reasonable when his workmate cut in and introduced himself as Justin and I had no option but to say my name back.

“Oh, you’re Fiona’s boyfriend, the writer,” he said.

“A writer?” I said. “No. That must have been her ex.”

Confusion was all over his face.

“But you’ve had a book published,” he said.

Ben, wordlessly, signalled that he was going outside for a cigarette, and he went, all in the same motion.

“That’s right,” I said to Justin, “I’ve had a book published. But it was non-fiction. I’ve written articles, journalism, that kind of thing. I’m not a writer.”

It didn’t seem to matter to him. He said he was glad to talk to me anyway. He loved books. Read two or three a week. I asked him what kind of stuff and he said anything. He asked me what I read and I told him these days I wasn’t reading much of anything except Miller and Bukowski.

Justin told me that for a while he had been a reader for a big important publishing house in London I can’t remember the name of.

From this I deduced he came from a comfortable, middle class background. Only middle class kids could work as unpaid interns in expensive cities for six months to a year and secure jobs in the television, film, radio and publishing industries. The rest of us had to work in regular jobs. Those among us with real wit, intelligence and ambition could achieve a spell on the dole.

I asked Justin what he did for the publisher and he said read loads of submissions and recommended some to a more senior editor. He said a book had to grab you in the first few lines or that was it. Then he waffled on about books for an awful long time but I kept pressing him on what made you want to read on after those first few lines. He kept expanding on the subject and I kept narrowing him down. The books he had recommended to his bosses were all completely arbitrary. It all depended, he said, on what grabbed him at any given time.

And so it was all as I had suspected. Whether a book got published or not was the arbitrary choice of some unpaid middle class person and the arbitrary choice of some other paid middle class person. And probably after that some other middle class people being paid even more had their arbitrary say until everyone agreed they had a book they could push on the market. And that was how a book got published.

Somehow Justin got talking about the difference between fiction and non-fiction. He started telling me how sometimes he can be somewhere – at work, on a bus, at home – and not know if it is real or not, whether his life was fact or fiction.

Ben rejoined us.

“I bet you’ve had trouble telling the difference between fact and fiction, being a Hibs fan,” I said.

He laughed and asked did I want a pint.

I said I thought my girlfriend was getting ready to leave.

He glanced her way and said I’d have my pint gone before she was ready. He was at the bar by the time he finished speaking. He spoke my language.

When he came back with the pints Justin for some reason was listing all the places he had worked. As well as the publishing company, he reeled off the name of two prominent banks and one law firm.

“What the fuck?” I spluttered over my pint. “And now this mob too? That’s some ethical career.”

My girlfriend and her boss – the company founder – gave me sideways looks.

“I’ve never been unemployed a day in my life,” Justin said proudly.

“You think that’s something to boast about?”

He was unrepentant. “I’ve never had a day’s unemployment in my life.”

“Nor has the devil,” I said, “but even God rests.”

Then I told him I was beginning to question whether he was fact or fiction. I asked him why bankers are paid more than nurses and he said that while nurses are honest workers who should be respected, bankers earned more because they created jobs and generated economic growth.

I told him the reason bankers are paid more is that they have access to the markets and could determine their own pay while the nurses did not, and that all the rest was myth and bullshit and smoke and mirrors for simpletons.

That kept him quiet long enough for Ben and I to chat about Hibs. We had a broad conversation. I wasn’t a Hibs fan, but Hibs being a football club, I knew about their history, classic sides, glorious eras, supporter identities, players past and present, and the development of their fine stadium. And naturally, we talked about the following day’s Scottish Cup Final against city rivals Hearts.

Our glasses were empty and I was about to walk to the bar but Ben raised his hand.

“I’d love another but I can’t,” he said.

I thought it was the natural twisting of an arm.

“You’ll have one,” I said.

“If I have one, I’ll have five,” said he, in full seriousness. “I don’t have the pass. The missus is looking after the kids all day tomorrow so I can go to Hampden, I can’t come home pissed tonight.”

I saw the agony in his eyes and left it there.

“We both know I owe you a pint,” I said. “But I’ll let you head away and get you next time instead.”

He nodded appreciatively. We shook hands and he was out the door.

Someone had bought my girlfriend another drink. Justin was still loitering and his glass was empty so I bought one for him and one for me.

Encouraged, Justin talked at me for a while and I almost didn’t mind because the drink was freeing me. My body clawed at me from the inside for a wild night and to hell with tomorrow. Sleep where I lay because to wake meant the reckoning.

Claire skipped out the door without giving me a proper chance and I realised then why Bukowski wrote as he did; because he didn’t have the TIME or ENERGY after a day working and a night sucking beer to write any other way.

Claire with the TITS ran out that fast, it was too fast.

I thought about Claire and then about Bukowski and then my girlfriend wanted to leave. I slept in my own bed that night and got up bright and early for work the following morning like a good boy.

Anyway, Hearts thrashed Hibs 5-1 in the cup final.


Did you like the story? Opinions? Praise? Please leave a comment below

Niall Foley


Niall Foley has been harnessed as a barman, labourer, clerk, lecturer and journalist – and several other functions. He currently lives in Edinburgh, and is happiest when unshackled and alone in a room with a desk, some paper, and a pencil. Go to his website.

Owl Farm, Brooklyn NY

Owl Farm, Brooklyn NY

Photo by Kathleen Donohoe

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7 Responses to Hibernian 1 Hearts 5 by Niall Foley

  1. garreth keating

    I enjoyed your story, especially the end.

  2. Good stuff, Naill! I’ve had many nights like this one and you have rendered all of this beautifully. The allusion to Bukowski is spot on and gives your story a telling subtext. I enjoyed the read.

  3. If this is fiction it feels true.

  4. Thanks for the comments, Gareth, Jeff and Joelle.
    It is fiction, Joelle, but I guess you are right in that it is a composite of far too many nights I’ve had, distilled in the voice of someone cooler than me.

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