03 Oct 2022

Jack Charlton was the only Englishman that ever understood the Irish and their ways

McHugh's Miscellany reflects on Big Jack and working in London during the 1990 World Cup finals

Jack Charlton was the only Englishman that ever understood the Irish and their ways

The late Jack Charlton

This week I digress into the sporting world as many of us will. In death former Irish soccer manager Jack Charlton has actually resurrected a whole wave of memories that had remained buried in the mind over the last three decades.
For every Irish person who was around in 1990 it stands out there with an older generation who remember where they were, when John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. 
That was the impact that Jack Charlton had on all of us in 1988, 1990 and 1994.
He did more to benefit Anglo-Irish relations than centuries of British governments, I suspect!
The finals of a major soccer competition for the first time and then two World Cup finals on the trot.
We loved his straight talking no nonsense approach.
Salt of the earth, with a humanity that was not flawless, but which we could all associate with. 
More importantly was his ability to get the best from his players that endeared him to our hearts.


Indeed, there were some who thought his appointment was the worst thing that had happened to Irish football at that point.
In the end, it turned out to be the exact opposite!  
He was getting results and the small matter that he was an Englishman was soon forgotten, particularly when we defeated the Sassenachs in Stuggart in ‘88. 
I watched the ‘88 game against England out the back of our house with my late father and  family when Ray Houghton stuck the ball in the back of the English net. 
Ray’s cult status was cemented even further when he scored against Italy in the Giants stadium, New Jersey at the 1994 World Cup Finals.
The extension leads that were required for the television stretched into metres rather than inches but we got the signal as the wires were delicately brought out through the kitchen window. 
All those joyful memories seem to equate to warm balmy summers and ice chilled drinks but maybe the mind plays tricks on you as you get older. 

The nearest that we ever came to emulating that feeling again was when Brian McEniff and his team brought back the Sam Maguire in 1992.
But by then my father, still a young man, was gone to the big pitch in the sky, so it was ‘88 that sticks out as it was like that first sweet sixteen kiss. 
By 1990 and the arrival of the World Cup many of our generation emigrated through necessity and I was working myself in London. 
Not all the Irish games in 1990 were on British television so there was a nerve wrecking wait for results. 
The only way my work would let me watch the Romania game was to take the day off. And you bet I did! 
I watched the game in a pub in Harrow with a gang of Irish buddies and banged my head off some sort of chandelier after jumping up with joy after Packie Bonner saved that iconic penalty from the Romanian Daniel Timofte.
A lad called Scooby from Sallynoggin nearly persuaded me to ditch that job and head to Italy in a camper can.
Youth gives you that freedom and in London anyway, there was never a shortage of a job. 

Sense prevailed
However sense prevailed, but I’ve often regretted my decision not to head on down in the yountful spirit of spontaneity. 
The story that went with Scooby was that he had actually gone to Germany in 1988 and by 1990 had only got as far as London in his journey back to a Dublin. 
The was plenty of slagging and banter with the English, the great majority of them friendly, as they had a slightly wearier attitude towards us since Euro ‘88.
The Troubles still affected the way that the Irish were treated in England.
Maggie Thatcher was in government and I personally witnessed some of the destruction that was on hand during the anti-poll tax demonstations that took place at the time.
But Big Jack transcended all of that deep and oft-times, hurtful relationship, through the power of sport.
I did meet him once, briefly, when on a soujourn to Ballina, where I presume, he was either coming back or heading towards the Moy river for a spot of fly fishing. He always appeared dressed as if ready to cast his next fly onto his favourite western waters.
Big Jack, for myself and many others, thank you for helping us create wonderful memories . . . Rest in Peace

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