Tuesday 12 December 2017

‘There was a lot of aggressive abuse from England fans’ - Ireland Euro '88 hero Tony Galvin

Tony Galvin in action for Ireland against England in 1988. Photo by Bob Thomas/Getty Images
Tony Galvin in action for Ireland against England in 1988. Photo by Bob Thomas/Getty Images
18 June 1988; Tony Galvin, Republic of Ireland. European Championship Finals 1988, Group B, Republic of Ireland v Holland, Parkstadion, Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Will Slattery

Will Slattery

The full time whistle is blown and the USSR players are seething.

They’ve only managed a point against a team they were expected to swat aside at Euro 88 – and the draw the eastern behemoth snatched against Ireland was hardly deserved.

The players have already received a bollocking at half time from their legendary manager, Valeriy Lobanovskyi, and are in no mood for post-match pleasantries when a member of the Irish team approaches a fuming Soviet and asks – in fluent Russian – if they could exchange jerseys.

Tony Galvin – an Ireland star known by Spurs team-mate Ossie Ardiles as ‘The Russian’ – is tersely told to go away, ending one of Irish football’s more bizarre exchanges.

“I could understand some of what they [The USSR players] were saying,” Galvin, who has a degree in Russian, says.

“Before they equalised they were very frustrated because they expected to beat us. Afterwards I went up and asked one of their players to swap shirts in Russian, but he said no and stormed off.”

Long before Jack Grealish’s declaration of international allegiance morphed from decision to saga to fiasco – and prior to Ireland embarking on that Euro 88 journey - another Irish qualified prospect found himself at a similar crossroads.

There was no Twitter in 1982, so Galvin couldn’t fire off a plethora of shamrock emojis to placate Irish fans worried about missing out on a quality top flight player, but the absence of egg-avatar trolls didn’t prevent a furore from developing around the issue of Ireland or England.

“One Saturday morning before I played for Spurs, it was on the back page of one of the papers: 'Galvin chooses to play for Ireland',” he remembers.

galvin arsenal.jpg
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 01: Arsenal defender Viv Anderson (l) challenges Tony Galvin of Spurs during a Canon League Division One match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Highbury on January 1, 1985 in London, England. (Photo by Trevor Jones/Allsport/Getty Images)
Arsenal defender Viv Anderson (l) challenges Tony Galvin of Spurs during a Canon League Division One match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Highbury on January 1, 1985 in London, England.

“I had been told that England were thinking of picking me in a B international and to not rush into any decision, but I had been playing for two years in the Spurs team so I had already made up my mind. The FAI committee in those days, they weren't the most proactive, let's put it like that.

“Things took a long time. It was certainly longer than six months, it was probably closer to a year before I played for Ireland. I was just waiting for the people in the FAI to get their act together so I could get picked in the squad.

“Nowadays, oh god, the press would have been running with it for weeks and weeks.”

An international call-up was the latest prize in what was an illustrious few years for the Spurs midfielder.

The 1980s was a good decade for a lot of people: Prince, Michael J Fox, Madonna – but it wasn’t bad for Tony Galvin either. He started it having barely left non-league football behind and finished it with two FA Cup medals, a UEFA Cup final win and as an international regular who played a key role in Ireland’s first major tournament appearance.

But all those glorious trappings would never have arrived had it not been for legendary Spurs manager Bill Nicholson’s unquenchable thirst for football.

The double-winning coach had moved into a scouting role at the club, when he was dispatched to the Peak District in 1978 to watch Goole Town.

Despite atrocious wintry conditions, Nicholson trudged through rain, sleet and snow to attend the game. He was impressed by Galvin and recommended that Spurs sign the 21-year-old for £30,000.

“When Bill said he would do something, he would do it,” Galvin says.

“It was awful weather so I was surprised that he made the effort to go to the game. Bill was like that, it was a testament to the man.”

Even by that stage of his life, with his football career in its infancy, Galvin had already achieved the honour on his CV that arguably gathers the most attention.

While most young footballers immerse themselves in academy life to ensure they are best placed to make the professional jump – abandoning education in the process – Galvin was on the opposite path, learning a tongue-twisting language as he finished a degree in Russian at Hull University.

 “I went to grammar school and in the 60s there were quite a few schools doing Russian as a second language,” he says.

“It was being pushed because of the Cold War and they wanted more people to be able to understand and be studying Russian. It's a shame that you spend all those years learning it and you don't really use it. I went to Russia a couple of times but then when I went into football, that was my priority. I probably haven’t spoken it regularly in about 20 years.”

He might not have conversed daily in his studied language, but his academic standing at Spurs was enough to earn the aforementioned nickname, ‘The Russian’, from team-mate and Argentine World Cup-winner Ardiles.

As the other member of the team who had spent time at university, Galvin shared a lot of common ground with the star player who he would eventually assist in management at Swindon and Newcastle.

“Ossie is a very intelligent man and I've had many deep conversations with him over the years,” Galvin says.

“He is quite a deep thinker. We'd talk about politics and we still do today. We'd talk about Margaret Thatcher, the leader of this country at the time. We wouldn't have been particularly big fans. We're still feeling the repercussions today of some things from the 80s. I was definitely more left-wing in those days.”

Galvin wasn’t a normal footballer – and not just because of his political views or the immense engine that saw him consistently cover ground up the left touchline. After initially signing with Spurs, he spent six months as a part-time professional as he completed a teacher training course.

When he finally did break into the first team as a regular, success was almost instant. In 1981, he assisted Ricky Villa for the wonder goal that won the FA Cup. Spurs retained the trophy the following year but missed out on a cup double, which left a lasting mark on Galvin – literally.

With Spurs leading Liverpool 1-0 early in the first half of the League Cup final at Wembley in 1982, a loose ball dropped between Galvin and Graeme Souness.

The combative Scot ceased to be a footballer, transforming into a two-footed torpedo that tore a hole in Galvin.

“I got clobbered by Graeme Souness in the first half,” he says (9.58 in the video).

“At half time, I looked at my leg - if I was playing now I would have been off straight away. There was a gaping wound there.


"I carried on. There is still a scar there. It just opened up. He didn't get booked. These days, it probably would have been a sending off. No, actually, it would have definitely been a sending off.”

Crunching reducers aside, Galvin enjoyed great success in finals. Two years later, Spurs lifted the Uefa Cup after beating Anderlecht on penalties at White Hart Lane – ‘That was the one game that sticks out in my mind, the atmosphere was never repeated’ – but Galvin’s performance in a 4-0 second round win against Johan Cruyff’s Feyenoord was particularly noteworthy.

The Dutch maestro was 36 then, but had been particularly chirpy in the media leading up to the encounter.

“People say that the first 45 minutes of that game was the best that that Spurs team ever played,” Galvin says.


“It was Glenn Hoddle's best 45 minutes in a Spurs shirt. We all felt he had a point to prove because Johan Cruyff had a dig at him in the press, 'is he really that good?', and it really fired us up. Cruyff wasn't quite the player he was but it was an honour to play against him.”

Given Galvin’s prominence in a very accomplished Spurs side, it was quite a coup for Ireland to secure his services in the team, and although he had joined Sheffield Wednesday by the time of Euro 88, the midfielder was still an important foot soldier in Jack’s army.

We all know who put the ball in the English net, but it was actually Galvin’s cross into the box that created the necessary havoc which allowed Ray Houghton to head home.

However, Galvin’s memories of that famous win over England aren’t just of ‘Olé, Olés’ and rowdy Irish revellers.

"The thing that shocked me was that it just felt really odd,” he says of running out onto the Stuttgart pitch.

“It felt really strange going out on the pitch that day being surrounded by flags from all over England, and the torrent of abuse you would get from the English supporters. Playing out wide, you can hear a lot.

galvin walks.jpg
Tony Galvin walks onto the pitch before Ireland played England at Euro 88

“It made it worse being from England and playing for Ireland. There was a lot of really aggressive abuse. You can imagine the sort of stuff that was said.”

People remember Galvin’s contributions to the second game more vividly. Ireland failed to beat the USSR, in part because he was denied a stonewall penalty after being clattered in the box.

He was a key part of the team at Euro 88, but injuries ended his 29-cap Ireland career and prevented him from enjoying the immortality that comes with having been involved in Italia 90.

After finishing his playing career – and his brief stint coaching with Ardiles – Galvin moved into lecturing on sport and leisure followed by a stint in the civil service, before retiring five years ago. He is a ‘busy grandparent’ now, and has no regrets about the end of his international career.

“My last cap was one of the most infamous games in the history of Irish football - the friendly at home to West Germany in 1989,” Galvin says.

“Infamous because it was the game where Liam Brady was taken off before half time. Afterwards Jack said that I would be going to Italy if I stayed fit. Unfortunately I developed issues with my hamstring and back and that was it. It was quite difficult and disappointing but such is life.”

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