Ray Houghton: My best World Cup memories are of the Irish fans
Soccer legend Ray Houghton recalls his glory days with the Irish team and why their future’s bright
Neither Martin O’Neill nor Roy Keane needed to take the Ireland job, says soccer legend Ray Houghton.
“They both have plenty of money, but they obviously took it because they care and are passionate about Ireland,” said Houghton.
Speaking from Brazil where he is commenting on the World Cup, the former international and Liverpool soccer player admits he misses Ireland in the tournament but is very hopeful of the national team’s future.
He thinks that if Ireland keep going the way they are the future is bright.
“Martin is of a good age to do it and he’s an experienced manager.
“It’s all about building bricks. If you have a good team you will qualify for the Euros and then hopefully for the World Cup and there’s no better place to be, this is it,” he added.
The former international believes that their enthusiasm will be picked up by the players.
“Players draw inspiration from each other. The players have really bought into the lads.
“And in Roy and Martin you can see they’re desperate to be successful, they’re hungry and you’d hope it would rub off on the players,” said Houghton.
And what’s his position on Ireland actually qualifying for the next two tournaments?
“I’m hopeful, I’m really hopeful,” he said.
However, he did admit that not seeing the jerseys in Brazil or being able to comment on an Irish team was tough.
“The World Cup is absolutely exceptional but you really miss the Irish team – there’s no doubt about that,” admitted the soccer legend.
Having played in several World Cup tournaments and relishing the atmosphere and the support of the fans, he said that Ireland’s current squad probably finds it hard not to be in Brazil.
“The lads are probably back home watching it on the TV and wishing they were here.
“It will be hard. There’s always something missing when Ireland is not here,” he said.
Reminiscing on his own time in the green jersey he said that the fans and the support the team got were among his fondest memories.
He recalls being followed around by crowds of Irish supporters.
“Irish fans at that time really enjoyed going to tournaments and they loved supporting the team.
“There used to be hundreds of fans at the hotel. You’d come down to the lobby and they would all be there and we’d do autographs,” explained the RTE pundit.
Was it more authentic back then?
“Yeah absolutely, there’s no doubt about it. You wouldn’t even get near the players’ hotels nowadays,” he answered.
“My memories are of the fans. They’re great memories. And that’s something you miss out on here.
“Being in the World Cup, you see bunting outside houses and it gives you a general sense that you’re participating. But when you’re not here it’s like you’re on the outside looking in,” he admits.
Speaking about his own famous World Cup goal against Italy in the 1994 tournament in America he admits that it is not his most memorable one.
“My number-one goal was against England in Euro ‘88 as it was my first international goal, but the 1994 one against Italy is definitely my second,” says the soccer star from his hotel room in Brazil.
And last week marked the 20th anniversary of the goal that lifted and continues to lift a nation.
The ‘back-of-the-net’ strike in the 12th minute of the group game against the Italians was one that he remembers for the fans.
He explained that the team had been warned that there was not going to be much of an Irish fan base in the Giants Stadium in New Jersey but as it turned out the luck of the Irish was on their side.
“We didn’t know how many of our fans were going to be there – we were told it was going to 25pc Irish and 75pc Italians but it turned out to be the opposite,” explains the sporting legend.
But save a few messages and tweets the 20th anniversary passed off without much celebration.
“No one got in touch (from the team). It was what it was. It’s a special memory,” said the TV pundit.
Aside from breakfast with his RTE colleagues in their hotel in Brazil, there was no other celebration.
“Someone sent me a YouTube link to it and I watched the fans’ celebration rather than my performance. I didn’t realise how wild the fans went – it was quite astonishing – they were so excited,” said the former Liverpool player.
However, in spite of a glorious career in a green jersey with 73 caps he is not boastful of his achievements.
On top of his Irish success he won 202 caps for Liverpool scoring 38 goals for the English side.
“I don’t even know where my medals are. I’m not one for showcasing things.
“They are stored somewhere. They’re in the loft,” said the 52-year-old.
At the moment the soccer star is busy with his second career in sports journalism and is part of RTE’s commentary team with George Hamilton.
It was Hamilton who once commented on his performances and Houghton revealed that the commentator was “very complimentary” of his World Cup performance when the pair marked the 20th anniversary of the Italy goal over breakfast.
However, he admits that the RTE team are very much out of loop down in South America.
“It’s been very quiet. We’re so far away you don’t hear much,” he said.
But like his colleague he backs only one team to win to the World Cup: “My money’s on Argentina,” he concludes