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Charlton's impact here was far deeper than football



Jack Charlton as Republic of Ireland manager

Jack Charlton as Republic of Ireland manager

Jack Charlton as Republic of Ireland manager

Every Irish person who had acquired the use of reason by that glorious summer of 1990 has their favourite memory from Italia '90 and the Republic of Ireland soccer team's first ever World Cup. 

Anyone of that vintage will vividly recall that golden moment in Genoa against Romania, when Packie Bonner saved and David O'Leary made no mistake with the final penalty in that heart-stopping shoot-out. 

And amidst it all - and amidst so many other golden moments - was Big Jack Charlton.

Jack Charlton's death on Friday at the age of 85 was mourned by sports fans all across these islands, with people in Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales united in sadness while also treasuring some marvellous sporting memories. 

But news of his death for Irish people had another dimension, because his decade managing the Republic of Ireland team had an influence far beyond football. It had an impact on Irish people who had only a very passing interest in sport.

Few people will remember the downright hostility expressed towards him in December 1985 when he first took the Irish job. "Go Home Union Jack" proclaimed one banner on the terraces, which ungraciously but pithily summed up this hostility. He was not an instant success - but, as Napoleon would have noted, he was a lucky general.

An almost inadvertent qualification for the 1988 European Championships in Germany brought the first real golden moment when Ray Houghton put the ball in the England net and gave the nation the longest 80-plus minutes of our lives. 

There followed two World Cup qualifications, lifting soccer in Ireland at a time when attendance figures at League of Ireland matches were often denominated in dozens. It also lifted Irish morale and national pride.

Jack Charlton, the miner's son from Northumberland, was the north of England man from central casting. He was blunt, plain-speaking, and notoriously tight-fisted when it came to spending money. But his huge personality, which matched his physical presence, his generosity of spirit, and his great passion for sport won the admiration of many wherever he went.

News of his death brought an outpouring of genuine tributes. Many of these tributes came from players who went on to become football legends, but who gratefully recalled his generous mentoring when they were just starting out.

Jack Charlton was a gifted player who, memorably with his brother, Bobby, played on the England World Cup-winning side of 1966. Irish sports fans loved that England team and warmly supported them. John Giles, himself an icon of sport and always an Irish soccer hero, has said that Charlton was for many years the best centre-half in England.

As a manager, once his playing days were done, he inspired unswerving loyalty from his players and he gave that loyalty back.

This was poignantly summed up by the lion-hearted Paul McGrath in his farewell tribute: "Father figure to me for 10 years. Thanks for having faith in me. Sleep well, Jack. Love ya."   

Irish Independent