Did you hear the one about...? a few stories from Euro ‘88
The European Championship finals are almost upon us and that means a whole raft of new stories from the travelling Irish support.
The Green Army are known as among the very best football supporters in the world, and with the sun shining in France, there’s bound to be some craic.
The finals in Germany in ‘88 were the first time Ireland were on the biggest football stage of all and the stories of the Irish fans’ adventures getting to and around Germany have passed in to football lore or urban myth. That tournament, with the victory over England in the Neckerstadion was the touch paper the would set Europe ablaze with Irish support over the coming years and lead to the Irish fans doing themselves and their country a great service abroad.
How Jack Charlton came to lead the Irish team to their greatest ever moment is a classic in itself. Like everything about that time it was an unlikely event that happened in the most unusual way. In his autobiography Jack Charlton described the manner in which he was offered the Irish job.
Early in December 1985, the phone rang in my office at home. The voice on the other end of the line was, unmistakably, Irish.
“Is that Jack Charlton?”
“It is,” I replied.
This is Des Casey, President of the Football Association of Ireland. Would you be interested in doing the job?”
“What job?” I enquired.
“Managing the Ireland team.”
“Yes,” I said – and with that, the line goes dead. Not another word, nothing. Bloody hell!
And that was it. Jack was on board, and with a little help from Scotland Ireland qualified for their first major tournament. The Irish fans were in heaven, having waited in vain for so long to get the chance to support their team on the big stage. They had gotten close with John Giles and Eoin Hand, but this time they were into a European Championships finals, no mean feat.
Ray Houghton’s goal against the English that day in Stuttgart is part of Irish football legend. We’ll never tire of watching it. If you watch the clip, you can see as the Irish camp go berserk celebrating the Irish goal, Jack Charlton seems to be rubbing his head in amazement at the fact the Irish had taken the lead. It came out some time later, that he wasn’t puzzled at all, he’d only cracked his head off the roof of the dugout as he jumped up to celebrate and was rubbing the subsequent bump.
The celebrations after the game were epic. The players were given leeway to celebrate the greatest moment of their careers and celebrate they did. When the Ireland players got together for a reunion in 2013, Ronnie Whelan asked Tony Galvin a question that had been burning all these years.
“I have to ask you this, Tony, Why were you running along the corridor with a black sheet on your back going ‘I’m a bat’? I just never got round to ask you that one,” quizzed Ronnie.
“We had to be in bed for 12 o’clock and I must have drunk quite a lot in a short space of time, and then I became a bat. I don’t know why. Such is life! I was hoping that wouldn’t be remembered.”
Liam Brady, despite being Ireland’s best player had been omitted from the Irish squad for the tournament due to a cruciate ligament injury as well as a suspension. He played in all of Ireland’s qualifying games but missed out on the chance to show his ability on the big stage as he’d done with Arsenal and Juventus. It didn’t stop him turning up to the team hotel that night in Stuttgart and leading the sign along with his team mates though.
Legend has it that the then FAI President Fran Fields, since sadly departed, allegedly told Mayor Rommel of Stuttgart that “tonight we have done what your grandfather failed to do and beaten the English.”
However it was the Irish fans who stole the show after the game in Stuttgart. The great Jimmy Magee had a story about how he was stopped by a group of Irish fans the morning after the game he was known as the ‘Memory Man’ with an answer for every question. “Hey Jimmy’” they asked him. “Can you remember where our hotel is?”.
They weren’t the only ones to have difficulty locating their hotel in Stuttgart. Two Irish supporters couldn’t remember where their hotel was, although they did write down the name of the street the hotel was on. None of the locals were able to tell them where “einbahnstrasse” was until they were told in perfect dead-pan English "Yes gentleman I can see your hotel is on a one-way street but which one I do not know”.
The Irish will be out in force in France this tournament and they’ll be welcomed with open arms. The Euro 2016 tournament will be a better place with a sea of green in it. These sentiments were written down when Ireland managed to qualify. In case you missed it, German journalist Stephan Reich German football magazine 11Feunde:
“Celebrations, dancing, singing – who can do these better than the Irish, who on Monday qualified for Euro 2016 in France itself? Ironically in France, which so shortly after the attacks is still covered with a leaden seriousness, a seriousness that will accompany the tournament next year.
“The qualification of the Irish is a godsend. The Boys in Green can celebrate like no other nation, always peaceful, always sympathetic and emphatic, with an infectious, childlike joy.
“They’ll bring huge numbers of good-humoured people prepared to experience a piece of joy. For this then, we look forward, even if pleasure is difficult at this moment. But as Paris is about life, football is also about life. And the Irish are the best proof.”
The Irish clearly made an impression on him.