Thursday 22 February 2018

'I can still see the goal now,' recalls Ray Houghton of his winner against Italy

Ray Houghton has fond memories of the World Cup 1994 game against Italy. Photo: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE
Ray Houghton has fond memories of the World Cup 1994 game against Italy. Photo: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Ray Houghton has revealed that he's never watched the video of Ireland's epic win over Italy in the Giants Stadium.

As the 20-year anniversary of his famous World Cup winner approaches, Houghton says that he has no interest in sitting down to watch a rerun because the important memories are still lodged in his brain, specifically his 12th-minute goal.

"I've seen parts of it, but not watched it through," recalled Houghton ahead of Ireland's meeting with Italy in London on Saturday.

"I've won leagues, FA Cups and League Cups and I couldn't even tell you where my medals are. It's not like I'm saying they're meaningless, I just don't have to go and look at them to understand what happened. I just use my brain to think back to things.

"I can see the goal now, I can remember now what I've done. I remember speaking to the lads in the press afterwards and I couldn't remember my goal celebration. That was part of the raw emotion of winning the game.

"I didn't think I was going to be playing in the game and my wife was over and my family and friends and kids and that's where I ran to. That's where I ran to celebrate, because I'd seen them there before the game. They'd been through the ringer with me because I wasn't the easiest to live with when I'm not playing or don't think I'm going to play."

Houghton remembers Kevin Moran telling him the day before the game he fancied his chances of getting in ahead of newcomer Jason McAteer. Strong performances in training propelled the Glaswegian towards a memorable experience that was sweet revenge after losing to Italy in the 1990 World Cup quarter-finals.

"It's quite funny, when we meet up a lot of the lads say 'what if' Quinny's header had gone in (in 1990) and Walter Zenga hadn't made the save and how would they have reacted had we gone 1-0 up?

"Maybe some of the decisions in the game might have gone in our favour instead of going against.

"Four years on, we were a bit older and wiser ... personally I didn't think I would be playing. The few friendlies in the build-up going out to the World Cup, we played Germany away and beat them. I came on as a sub for the last few minutes. I was expecting Jason to start.

"But just the way I trained over there, it was Kevin Moran who said it to me the day before the game, 'I think Jack will play you tomorrow' and I said I don't think so. He said no, I had trained well, so that was reassuring."

In the build-up to the game, Houghton drew strength from little signs that the momentum was swinging towards the outsiders. That extended from the make-up of the crowd to the size of the pitch.

"I remember going to the match itself on the bus going along. We'd been told there would be 75pc Italian fans compared to Irish, but it didn't look like that travelling in, I've got to tell you!" recalls Houghton. "It gave us all a boost. When we went out there and saw how many Irish fans there were, I think everyone felt better in themselves.

"We got the game going in the right way and the pitch suited us, it was very tight, narrow and made us very compact. We had some really strong performances. Paul McGrath at the back. John Sheridan in the middle of the park with Roy and Andy, they were really tough to play against and we got the goal at the right time.

"It's amazing when you have something to hold onto, something you believe in and compete with, you do some strange things. It was a very good win."

Irish Independent

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