Thursday 23 November 2017

Irish legend John Aldridge has chosen the greatest moment of his international career

John Aldridge
John Aldridge
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

As John Aldridge looks back on his finest moments in an Ireland shirt, one stands proud as the greatest of his career.

The run to the quarter-finals of the 1990 World Cup and his goal that was part of the Ireland story at the subsequent World Cup finals in America in 1994 are etched into all of our memories, but Aldo admits it was the first entry in Ireland’s major tournament record that he cherishes the most.

The date of June 12th 1988 served up a moment of Irish sporting folklore that ensured all involved would be instantly immortalised, with Ireland’s 1-0 win against England at the European Champions finals putting Jack Charlton’s side on the football map in the grand manner.

Ray Houghton’s famous goal ensured this would be the moment when an Irish team announce themselves on the international stage in the grand manner, with Aldridge confirming it was an occasion that filled him with pride.

“People look back on the victory against Italy in the 1994 World Cup and say it was the greatest moment in the history of our national team, but of all the 69 caps I won for Ireland, the Euro’88 win against the English was my most memorable, ” begins Aldridge.

“We went into that tournament not really knowing what to expect. The idea was to give it a lash and see how far it took us, but all that changed once Ray Houghton scored his goal against England. Suddenly, we believed we were in with a chance and so it turned out.

“You have to reflect on where we were at the time. Ireland had never taken part in a major championships and here we were preparing to face an England side being hyped up by the British media as world beaters.

“Those same writers were also less than complimentary about our chances and were quick to suggest the likes of Ray Houghton and myself were merely football mercenaries by committing our international careers to Ireland.

“Those jibes worked in our favour as Jack Charlton had his team-talk written for him. We have never been more motivated for a game in our lives as to suggest we were just playing for Ireland to get a few quid and raise our profiles was an accusation that hurt us big time.

“We were getting 200 punts a game at the time, for God’s sake, so these w***ers slagging us off were a long way off the mark. We played for the love of our country and the passion we showed in Stuttgart proved as much.”

Aldridge’s memories of a game that took place 28 years ago remain vivid, with the celebrations after the game as prominent in his mind as the events on the field.

“I remember Gary Lineker missing a great chance and Packie Bonner pulling off plenty of good saves during the game, but an England side featuring the likes of John Barnes, Bryan Robson at his best and Peter Beardsley couldn’t get through us,” he says.

“We fought like mad to hold onto our lead, really got into the faces of the English players, and while we rode our luck at times, we got there in the end. While I always felt we could get something from the game, the 1-0 win was very special.

“The party after the game was something else. All the lads went out and celebrated and I remember waking up the next morning with a loads of Ireland supporters lying around the floor of the room I was sharing with Ray Houghton.

“It was a little like waking up with someone you shouldn’t, but no-one minded at the time. Something like that could never happen these days because the fans would never get past the team security, but we didn’t have any at the time so it was fine.

“The England win moved the team onto a different level and any cynic who looks back and says we were just long ball hackers should have a peak at a video of the game that followed against USSR.

“This was a side that went on to push Holland very close in the Final of Euro’88, but we outplayed them for long periods and should have got the win to put us through to the semi-finals.

“I missed a great chance on the night and still think about it to this day. The opportunity was there for me to score the crucial goal, but we fell asleep for a minute and the Russians scored a late equaliser to deny us.

“It meant we went into the final group game against the Dutch needing a draw to progress and we came within eight minutes of getting the result, but a classy Holland side with Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten in their pomp were a bit too good for us in the end. Still, we gave them a real fright.”

Charlton’s tactics did not play to Aldridge’s strengths and his lack of goals in he first few years of his Ireland career confirmed as much, yet he looks back on his story in a green shirt with pride rather than regrets.

“Part of the success we enjoyed back then was certainly down to the unique spirit Jack had built up, but there was also a rich seam of quality running through the squad. Ronnie Whelan, Ray Houghton and Paul McGrath weren’t bad players you know,” he adds.

“Add that quality to our passion and you had a potent mix. The world was not used to an international side chasing down every ball and running the pants off people. We were willing to give blood for the cause.

“We were all winners as well, so the general mood among the Irish lads was one of frustration as we headed back to Dublin after a first round exit, but the reception we got at the airport helped us appreciate what our effort had meant to so many people.

“Ireland’s GAA and rugby stars had achieved some special victories down the years, but this was the first time and Ireland soccer team had gone to foreign shores and done something special for the country.

“I still get people coming up to me now thanking me for what we did in Stuttgart and the memories of that great afternoon will live on for a long time to come. Christy Moore’s famous song about the victory helps to ensure the legend will never die.

“You don’t want to get carried away, but I believe the victory against England in 1988 was the catalyst for so much that has followed for the Ireland team and lads like Robbie Keane and Damien Duff must have been inspired to play football as a result.

“In fact, kids all over Ireland wanted to become footballers after Euro’88. People tell me the parks were filled with kids kicking a soccer ball around that summer and that must be our greatest legacy.

“Oh and the bragging rights when we got back to training at Liverpool the following season were something special as well, let me tell you. Barnes, Beardsley and Steve McMahon copped some stick from all the lads, with our manager Kenny Dalglish giving them plenty as well.

“Beating England in Stuttgart 20 years was the greatest moment of my international career and I’m so proud to have been wearing a green shirt that day.”

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