Tuesday 21 November 2017

Romanians took solace in 'Dallas' as we enjoyed a summer of love

Frozen in time: Packie Bonner saves a penalty in the shoot out versus Romania at Italia '90.
Frozen in time: Packie Bonner saves a penalty in the shoot out versus Romania at Italia '90.
Republic of Ireland v Romania, Stadio Luigi Farraris, World Cup, Italia 90. Packie Bonner, penalty. The score was Republic of Ireland 0 - Romania 0, 5-4 penalties. A Bonner save from Daniel Timofte in the shootout sent the Irish team through to the quarter-final. 25/6/1990 INDO PIC (Part of the NPA and Independent Newspapers)

'There's always a risk of failure when you don't succeed." With that latest pearl from gaff-prone US Vice-President Dan Quayle ringing in their ears, Jack Charlton's squad steeled themselves for a quarter-final clash with Italia 90 hosts Italy, having seen off Romania on penalties.

The devastated Romanians were at least going home to a honeymoon land still making whoopee having put Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife up against a wall the previous Christmas Eve and shot them on live TV. Under the Ceausescus, Romanians had queued for a living, when there was anything to queue for.

Everything of worth was exported for hard currency to enrich the tyrants, leaving the people with rotten fruit and veg, weevils in their flour (which was half sawdust) and petrol rationing in a land bristling with oil fields.

Romanians had found their escapist refuge in the US soap, Dallas, and Ceausescu's decision to axe the show proved fatal, pushing his tortured people over the edge. One of the first acts of the new regime was to air the pilot episode - with a restored sex scene - and by the summer of 1990, plans were advanced to build a Dallas theme park, 'Southforkscu', in Bucharest. When Larry Hagman later toured Southforkscu, which improved on the original by adding an Eiffel Tower, one fan blubbed: "JR, you saved our country!"

As events in Italy swept almost all else off the news agenda, one of the few non-football topics to elbow into the national conversation was that of Mad Cow Disease (BSE). Fast-food outlets in particular were suffering badly as sales of beef products slumped amid fears that brain disease might condemn human victims to a slow and horrible death. The UK's Agriculture Minister, John Gummer, was still shipping flak for feeding a beefburger to his four-year-old daughter in a PR stunt the previous month. The EU had banned imports from Britain of cattle over six months old, and the Republic's farmers were lobbying furiously to keep our separate BSE-free status.

There was fierce lobbying too for the release of the imprisoned Birmingham Six, nine months after the convictions of the Guildford Four were overturned as "unsafe".

Campaigning journalist Chris Mullin dampened down expectations, saying: "The British establishment are digging in their heels and I can't be as optimistic about the imminent release of the six as many in Ireland seem to be." Nine months later they would be released after 16 years in jail.

On a busy day for Dublin Airport, the Republic's footballers and Nelson Mandela both flew in to ecstatic greetings from huge crowds. Released months earlier from 27 years of captivity, Mandela met Dunnes Stores workers who had mounted a long anti-apartheid protest, refusing to handle South African goods.

Finally accepting his Freeman of the City of Dublin honour - conferred while he languished behind bars - he praised "the wonderful support of the people of Ireland in the course of our anti-apartheid struggle".

It was a summer of love all in a day.

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