Sunday 19 August 2018

John Aldridge: The Dubliners' performance in the team hotel summed up the magic of beating England

15 June 1988; Republic of Ireland's Ronnie Whelan, hidden, is congratulated by team-mates Kevin Sheedy, left, John Aldridge, centre, and Ray Houghton after scoring his side's first goal. European Championship Finals 1988, Republic of Ireland v Soviet Union. Niedersachen Stadium, Hanover, Germany. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
15 June 1988; Republic of Ireland's Ronnie Whelan, hidden, is congratulated by team-mates Kevin Sheedy, left, John Aldridge, centre, and Ray Houghton after scoring his side's first goal. European Championship Finals 1988, Republic of Ireland v Soviet Union. Niedersachen Stadium, Hanover, Germany. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

John Aldridge

There are a handful of moments in a career that you never forget and Ireland’s win against England at the 1988 European Championships is up there as one of my most cherished.

As the final whistle blew on our famous victory on June 12th 1988 in Stuttgart, all the players knew we had instantly cemented our place in Irish sporting folklore.

This was special, against the old enemy on our debut in a major tournament. What a moment, what great memories.

Every time I go to Ireland now, people tell me where they were 30 years ago as we won a game that meant so much to so many people.

History was always going to be made as we played in that opening match at Euro 88, but the fact that England were in opposition and everything that meant both from a sporting and political perspective made the game even more significant.

Personally, I couldn’t have been more motivated to do well in that game, with sections of the English media quick putting me and the rest of the team who were not born in Ireland born as ‘plastic paddies’.

That insult riled me up like you wouldn’t believe because I was so proud to be asked by our manager Jack Charlton to play for Ireland and for them to suggest I only did it because I wasn’t good enough to get into the England team meant I wanted to win that game like no other.

We were getting 200 punts a game to play for Ireland at the time, so I wasn’t doing it for the money, and the love I have had for Ireland has always been there, even before I pulled on that green jersey for the first time.

You have to appreciate that Liverpool people don’t really see themselves as being part of England in many ways.

We are out there fighting our own battles and most of us have Irish heritage, so if there was a referendum to decide whether Liverpool stayed in the UK or became part of Ireland, I reckon we might be hoisting tricolours across Merseyside by the time all the votes were counted!

I was also driven by the fact that this was my first competitive match since the FA Cup final against Wimbledon, when I missed a penalty that still haunts me to this day and cost us a chance to get back into the game at Wembley, meant I couldn’t wait to get out there and play again.

That was a decent England team. Okay, so they had a horrible Euro 88 in the end as they went home on the back of three defeats and the media savaged all their players and especially their manager Bobby Robson, but look at the team-sheet and you will appreciate they had some quality.

Peter Shilton in goal, a young Tony Adams at the back, Bryan Robson in midfield, Chris Waddle and John Barnes on the flanks and my Liverpool team-mate Peter Beardsley supporting Gary Lineker up front.

The bulk of that England side reached the World Cup semi-finals two years later, but we got that first goal in Stuttgart and try as they might, they couldn’t break us down.

You could see how shattered they were when the final whistle went and we had ground out the 1-0 win, as they knew the lashing they would get from the English media after losing to Ireland, of all teams!

They were hammered by Holland in their next match and I think that was because we have knocked the stuffing out of them and three decades on, the same problems have haunted the England team time and again.

They go into every major tournament thinking they are going to win it and that pressure has often proved to be too much for them to handle.

The Irish media were right behind us as we set out on our adventures at Euro 88 and the 1990 World Cup, with the good will from everyone in Ireland helping our cause.

England operate in a very different climate, with their media waiting for them to fail, almost willing them to lose, and then tearing them apart piece by piece for days and months afterwards.

We were so lucky to be part of an Ireland squad that was a joy to be a part of and was being backed by a nation proud of what we were doing and don’t believe those who said we were just a long-ball team that got lucky.

Okay, so we played a physical style of football, of course we did, but we also had a lot of quality in our side and any team with Paul McGrath, Ronnie Whelan, Tony Galvin and Ray Houghton in the ranks deserved to be respected.

What a night we had after that England game by the way….with The Dubliners joining us at the team hotel for a sing-a-long that lives long in the memory.

Our second group game against the Soviet Union was just three days later, but Jack let us have a few beers up to midnight after the England win before we got back down to work the next day and it was a memorable evening.

I would imagine the players taking part in summer’s World Cup won’t touch a drop of alcohol throughout their time in Russia, but these were more relaxed times and it worked for us.

My enduring regret from Euro 88 is our final group game, as we were seven minutes away from sealing our place in the semi-finals against a fantastic Holland side.

Ruud Gullit and Marco Van Basten were at their brilliant best, but we had subdued them until the 83rd minute of the game, when they got a fluky goal to break our hearts.

I saw Ruud when I was out at the Champions League final in Kiev a couple of weeks back and we spoke about that game in Gelsenkirchen, as he admitted felt they were very lucky to beat us.

Holland went on to win that tournament and you wonder what might have been for us if we had taken a place in the semi-finals instead of them, but it wasn’t to be.

Most of our pain was eased as we came home to a hero’s welcome from Irish public and I will forever be so proud to have played in the first Ireland team that played in major competition.

Online Editors

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