Monday 23 July 2018

Remembering our greatest victories over the Old Enemy

One nil to Ireland. Ray Houghton was mobbed by his team mates...
One nil to Ireland. Ray Houghton was mobbed by his team mates...

Damian Corless

Question: Who put the ball in the English net? Answer: Ray did. Thirty years on, Ray Houghton's shock winner against England at Euro 88 is still the stuff of terrace chants, and two days after Ireland's rugby win at Twickenham, RTÉ Radio 1 recalled the greatest of all victories over the Old Enemy.

John Kenny's We've Got A Game To Win was perfect bank holiday feel-good fare. But Ireland's thrilling plunge into uncharted waters wasn't all plain sailing. Jack Charlton only landed the manager's job after a Marx Brothers selection farce. To the dismay of several gifted players, Jack championed the Corporal Jones "they don't like it up 'em" school of football. Mark Lawrenson once summed up its shortcomings: "If Plan A fails, try Plan A."

But for a while, Plan A worked a treat, especially paired with a Granny Rule recruitment drive. And the more Jack delivered, the more this also-ran nation got under the skin of our neighbours. One surly ITV commentator derided "Jack Charlton's team of international misfits". England boss Bobby Robson smugly wrote off Ireland before the Euro 88 opener as lacking "experience".

The documentary got one thing wrong though, suggesting more than once that the Irish public were slow to rise to the cause, and that the bandwagon only really got rolling after humbling England. Not true, despite a comical rearguard action by the anti-'foreign games' lobby. One top GAA figure warned: "There is a concerted effort to convince people that they will be outcasts of Irish society if they do not become soccer fanatics next June. It is largely a commercial marketing ploy."

I was working in Dublin the day of the England match. My co-workers crowded around a TV specially brought in. Fearing a Gary Lineker goal riot, I went for a long walk. Grafton Street was deserted. Everywhere was deserted, bar a few tourists at a troubled time when tourists were thin on the ground. Going to a tournament had the nation delighted and excited. We'd opened a second front to engage with the outside world. Euro 88 was like a new Eurovision, only far cooler.

Kenny's look back on Euro 88 made passing reference to that year's song contest in Dublin when the unknown Céline Dion beat Ireland's Jump The Gun into eighth place. Talking-up the showband entrant, the late Derek Davis uttered the immortal line: "Jump The Gun - could be the next U2!"

Ronan Collins (Radio 1, Mon-Fri, 12 noon) was more measured in appraising this year's entry 'Together' by Ryan O'Shaughnessy. Ireland's Eurovision entries fall into three types. One is the oom-pah-pah Butlin's Redcoats last night of the hols knees-up. Then there's the painfully zany Dustin/Jedward attention-seeking tantrum which only serves to rekindle debate on whether slapping should be allowed. This year's song is of the third kind, the late-night yawn evolved by generations of piano lounge cruise ship crooners.

What wouldn't our Eurovision masterminds give for the songwriting secrets of Woody Guthrie and activist Pete Seeger? In Monday's Newstalk documentary, The Hands & Hearts of the Music Makers, Nuala Macklin told how an alarmed FBI agent in 1941 reported that the protest singers were using commie mind-control techniques to make their songs irresistible to audiences.

Maybe that's what those dastardly ex-Eastern Bloc countries have been using against us this past 20 years. So mind control is one option, but is it too much to urge our Eurovision masterminds to cadge an even better idea from Pete Seeger and just come up with a really good song like 'If I Had a Hammer'? Well?

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