25 Years on, St Raymond’s Day. Euro 88, Stuttgart 12th June.

11 Jun

OK, for those of you who know your saints and religious history, Saint Raymond’s Day is actually on January 7, the real St Raymond  being St Raymond of Pennafort, Patron Saint of Canonists (yes I googled him).  But to Irish football fans,  St Raymond is none other than  Raymond Houghton, Glaswegian born footballer of a Donegal father,  who scored that famous goal in Ireland’s first ever match in a major finals.   That it was scored against England, the old enemy, the mecca for so many Irish football fans who worship English teams and their players, the players with whom we are most familiar, a nation whose perceived arrogance when it comes to potentially winning every tournament both amuses and irritates us, together with many other good and not so good reasons, made this victory all the sweeter.  It also ensures that those of us who were there and those who weren’t, but to whom it meant so much, annually remember THAT goal every 12th June.  OK again, so we cringe and moan when England’s World Cup win in 1966 is rammed down our throats at every conceivable opportunity, but please excuse us Irish if we indulge ourselves in remembering the Irish St Raymond’s moment of pure ecstasy every Summer.

 

Of course it might never have happened.  Jack Charlton’s merry Green Army might never have started recruiting in that memorable Summer of 1988.  It had been Charlton’s first qualifying campaign following a dismal 1986 World Cup Campaign and Eoin Hand had been replaced as Manager by the 1966 World Cup winner in chaotic fashion by the FAI.  This first campaign had seen a resurgence of the Irish form and performances, albeit with a direct style of football that didn’t appeal to everybody, be it fans, media and arguably some of the players at Charlton’s disposal.  While the campaign had only seen a solitary defeat away to Bulgaria (Ireland always lost in Sofia) in a group also containing 1986 World Cup semi-finalists Belgium, Andy Roxborough’s Scotland and Luxembourg, Bulgaria looked certainties for qualification.  They only required a point at home to Scotland in the group’s final match to advance to the 1988 tournament and very few gave Roxborough’s team a chance.

 

As we all know however, football never ceases to fly in the face of expectation.  With the Bulgaria v Scotland game still at 0-0 in the 86th minute (and with Irish Television carrying the match live), Gary Mackay, making his Scottish debut as a 46th minute substitute for Paul McStay, latched onto Stevie Nicol’s slide-rule pass and curled a left footer inside Boris Mihailov’s far post.  As I watched with disbelief as the ball nestled low in the corner, I waited a few seconds before celebrating as I more than half expected a linesman’s flag to go up, or for the referee to call the play back for a Scottish free kick as Gordon Durie had been upended seconds before.  As TV pictures however showed Ian Wilson running back to halfway applauding, I jumped off my armchair punching the air, turning the air blue with celebratory expletives and hugging my Dad who watched with me in similar shock and euphoria.  Bulgaria 0, Scotland 1, unbef***inglieavable.   There was still time for Bulgaria to almost nick a qualifying equaliser as Sirakov beat Jim Leighton but also shaved the post with a late strike but eventually, mercifully and incredibly, the referee blew for full time and Ireland were going to their first major finals, courtesy of Scotland and the newly immortalised Gary Mackay. 

 

The draw for the group matches in Germany gave us Holland in Gelsenkirchen, Soviet Union in Hanover and our first match, England, to be played at The Neckar Stadium in Stuttgart.  T-shirts were very soon printed off with the match venues changed to match the expected amounts of drink that would be consumed that Summer, so we were instead bound for Scuttered, Hangover and Belchin Burpin.  It would be that sort of Summer and June 12 would be that kind of day.

 

June 12 was actually a Sunday and kick off time in Ireland was 2.30.  For those of you not altogether familiar with 1988 Irish licensing laws, it wasn’t permitted for bars to open between 2pm and 4pm on a Sunday due to what was called “Holy Hour” (one hour really meant two, very Irish).   Holy Hour was finally abolished about 1999 or 2000, but what would football fans do who’d gone for a pint after Mass on that Sunday (everbody must’ve gone to mass that day given what happened)?  I cannot actually answer what the pubs actually did, nor did I particularly care.  I was in Germany and on my way to the Neckar Stadium, but I’m sure it was a real conundrum for bars and punters alike.

 

I had travelled to Germany with six companions and we were based in Cologne for this memorable week.  We were taken by Coach early on the Sunday morning, following a very heavy Saturday night in the Cologne bars, but the anticipation of what was ahead of us kept the sizeable hangovers at bay.  The sun was shining brightly as we arrived at our Coach Park in Stuttgart and the volume of green clad fans was hugely encouraging and comforting.  We took up position with the vast majority of the Irish fans behind the goal where the historic moment would happen a bit later on and we sang the national anthem with fervour and passion (the German band actually played the lesser known verse first before going into the chorus that is universally played at almost every other occasion, as I said it was that sort of day!) and we settled down with a catalogue of emotions;  hope, fear, pride, expectation, nervous tension and more besides.   After a mere six minutes we were jumping for joy like we never jumped before, or probably since.

 

Gary Lineker gave away a free kick for a foul on Chris Hughton on the Irish left,  inside Ireland’s half.  Kevin Moran struck the free kick high down the left channel.  Frank Stapleton was the target of the long ball, but thanks to a lack of communication, two England defenders, full back Gary Stevens and centre half Mark Wright both attacked the same ball.  Neither defender dealt with it and the ball dropped on the corner of the penalty area for Irish winger Tony Galvin who hooked the ball into the far post area.  Another England defender, Kenny  Sansom was waiting but Sansom however, like Stevens and Wright, failed dismally to deal with the situation and he booted the ball straight up in the air in panic.  As Irish players sensed blood, John Aldridge rose above Tony Adams to complete the English back four’s failure to deal with what should’ve been a routine defensive job.  Aldridge headed the ball to his right where little Ray Houghton stood unmarked and from 8 yards, Houghton headed the ball over Peter Shilton’s right shoulder.

 

From my vantage point almost directly behind where Houghton headed the ball, I can still see Houghton’s thick mop of hair shaking when he arched his back to head the ball.  I can remember time standing still as we followed the arc of the ball looping agonisingly towards that far corner.  Finally, the net bulged and you could almost hear the collective intake of Irish breath at that moment.  I again looked for a linesman’s flag but when I saw him running back towards halfway, the penny dropped.  We’d scored!  Jaysus! Yeeeeeeeeeeeessssssssss!    A massive Irish exclamation mark rose up above the Stadium as we embraced our companions and anyone else close enough to embrace.   Utter pandemonium ensued as the Irish players celebrated in front of us.  TV pictures showed Charlton had whacked his head on the dugout ceiling when we scored.  Several heads were probably bashed in the Irish end also but nobody cared.  The cheering and celebration lasted several minutes until we finally stopped for breath again and remembered there was a game back on in play.  We also realised we’d still over 80 minutes to survive the predictable England fightback.

 

Bobby Robson’s England seemed genuinely shocked and disturbed by St Raymond’s goal.  So were we.  It was Houghton’s first international goal after all in what was his 16th cap.  After the noise died down a bit, Ireland began to dominate with Houghton in particular outstanding having scored his goal.  The remainder of the half saw England having plenty of possession but doing very little with it.  Wingers Waddle and Barnes were being well shackled by the Irish full backs Morris and Hughton and in midfield Ronnie Whelan and the majestic Paul McGrath were easily containing Neil Webb and Bryan Robson.

 

The second half would be different.  The second half would be terrifying.  The second half would be endless.  From the early minutes, England, clearly put in their place by Bobby Robson, went straight on the offensive.  Bryan Robson dinked a ball over McCarthy and Lineker was in, his shot was parried by Bonner but Peter Beardsley followed up but skied the rebound over the bar from 12 yards.  It was a portent for a second half onslaught.

 

Lineker  utterly and terrifyingly exposed McCarthy’s lack of pace (it later emerged McCarthy was close to not playing as his calves had gone into spasm beforehand) but somehow Ireland’s goal survived intact.  Lineker was inches wide from a Tony Adams pass, Bonner saved with his legs from Lineker and as the England waves continued to crash on the Irish shore, Bonner was at his brilliant best to save Robson’s shot and dive on the rebound as Beardsley again followed in.  It was the Alamo but Ireland dug in bravely.   The non-stop Tony Galvin eventually succumbed to exhaustion and the stylish Kevin Sheedy replaced him, with Frank Stapleton also called ashore and a young Niall Quinn introduced.  Bobby Robson replaced Beardsley with Mark Hateley, but more tellingly and ominously, Neil Webb was replaced by Glenn Hoddle.

 

Hoddle settled seamlessly into the match and we thanked our lucky stars he hadn’t started the game as he probed and pulled the strings as still the Irish defence clung on.  Ireland only threatened sporadically as a fine Chris Hughton cross was headed over by Aldridge and a snap shot from Ronnie Whelan just cleared Shilton’s bar, but they were brief respites from an English battering.  We chewed our fingernails to stumps but one of our companions, Alan Keane, a Leeds and Shamrock Rovers fan and an eternal pessimist piped up with 20 minutes or so remaining, “they’ll never score”.  We said nothing back, the bridge was creaking but Keaner said what he said and we prayed he’d be right but expected he’d be wrong.

 

England got a corner on our right.  The corner was lofted to outside the Irish box where Hoddle was prowling unmarked.  Hoddle caught the ball as he almost always did, beautifully, sweetly.   My heart sank.  I was right behind the trajectory of the volley and the ball arrowed towards Bonner’s top left hand corner of the goal.  Bonner dived out of habit, but he wasn’t gonna get near it and as I motioned my hands to my head in dejection, the ball took a sudden, last gasp curve and scorched the paint off Bonner’s post before going wide.  I will remember that shot to my dying day, Keaner’s words were beginning to look prophetic.  There would be still one final heart-stopping English chance.

 

Barnes skipped down the left in injury time and Morris fouled him, more out of exhaustion than malice.  That man Hoddle swung the free kick in viciously, right onto Lineker’s head.  Lineker hit the target but the inspirational Bonner somehow adjusted his position and reaching back and to his right and with blinding reflexes pawed the ball away.  Just like Hoddle’s volley, the ball agonisingly crept outside the post, corner.  Lineker stood there, hands on knees, crestfallen, disbelieving, defeated.  Irish fans rose to acclaim another miracle.  Keaner’s statement echoed again, “they’ll never score”.  We were deep into injury time, our voices were all but gone, our emotions spent, our nerves shot to bits, how much more could anyone take?  Hoddle took the corner, but finally and crucially erred having given a potentially game-changing substitute cameo to try and rescue England.  The ball floated beyond the far post and out for a goal kick.

 

The Irish fans roared their approval as we had roared every single time an Irishman cleared his lines or every time Bonner defied Lineker in that eternal second half.  As Bonner slowly retrieved the ball and the cheers died down, East German referee Siegfried Kirschen finally called a halt to the drama by blowing for full time.  The Irish roars gradually but steadily resurrected into one massive victorious and united chorus of triumph.   YYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSS.  Amid the physical and mental exhaustion of players and fans, we again embraced as many sweaty, delirious Irish fans as we could to celebrate the most famous victory in the history of Irish football.  We’d been down so many cul-de-sacs before.  We’d read of and seen so much heartbreak down the years.  Poor Irish teams, dodgy refereeing, ham-fisted organisation, you name it, we’d had it.  All that however was now laid to rest with this amazing, nerve-wracking, historic result.  We acclaimed our 13 heroic players, Bonner sank to his knees in exhaustion and exultation, Stuttgart was turned into a little part of Ireland at this stage.  Bobby Robson’s men slipped down the tunnel almost un-noticed, a situation they would get used to at Euro 88, but none of that mattered to the Irish fans.  We waved our heroes goodbye eventually and little by little filed out of the stadium but not before having taken the historic photo of the giant scoreboard behind us that read “England 0 Rep Irland 1”. 

 

The initial wave of utter euphoria and triumph finally subsided as our bodies understandably dipped.  We were all physical and emotional wrecks as we slumped into our seats on the coach to take us back to Cologne.  As we snailed through the after-match Stuttgart traffic, German drivers honked their horns and gave us the thumbs up.  Similarly, German pedestrians wore wide grins and took delight in our delight and once again we summoned up energy to acknowledge the German happiness for the visiting Irish.  The coach back to Stuttgart I recall was subdued, but I think that was down to the aforementioned exhaustion.  It was also due to everybody just absorbing what they’d witnessed and ensuring that these thoughts would be stored in the memory bank forever.  Everything began to sink in, we were at our first finals, we’d won 1-0, we’d beaten England when nobody bar ourselves gave us a chance.  We had two more matches to look forward to.  We had a long night in Cologne to look forward to.  We had died and gone to Heaven.

 

A couple of nights later in The Dubliner bar in Cologne, I met a lad with his arm in a sling resting an injured hand.  I asked him what happened.  After St Raymond’s goal, he had like the rest of us jumped around in delight.   Sadly for him, his vantage point was just beside the security fence and his wedding ring had got caught in the fence.  His finger was almost but mercifully not quite ripped off and his delight turned to agony in a split second.  He retained his perspective however despite his misfortune.  “ I was there when Houghton scored, that’s all that matters”  he said with a grin.  That’s all that mattered indeed.

 

Happy St Raymond’s Day everybody.

 

 

 

Phelim Warren, 12 June 2013.

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