Tag Archives: ireland football

My Footballing A-Z for 2015

31 Dec

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A is for Apeshit. We all adopted this mode in October when Shane Long ran onto Darren Randolph’s long clearance, sprinted clear of the German defence and smashed his shot past Manuel Neuer at the South Terrace end of Lansdowne Road to give Ireland a pivotal 1-0 win over the World Champions Germany in our quest to qualify for Euro-2016. Everybody went apeshit, what a moment.

 

B is for Bullshit. Following on from a brown stuff reference, Roman Abramovich had enough of it from his Chelsea manager and Jose Mourinho was sacked in his second stint with the club in December. I won’t miss his bullshit for one moment, good riddance Mourinho.

 

C is for Champions of Ireland and that title again went to Dundalk, who added the FAI Cup to the cabinet in November. It’s very difficult to retain the League Of Ireland, but Stephen Kenny’s team did so with relative ease having captured the 2014 title in the final match with Cork City. Losing Richie Towell however will be a test of Dundalk’s mettle, but they’ll still be the team to knock off their perch in 2016.

 

D is for Damien Duff. Football said goodbye as a player to Damien Duff after a wonderful club career in the UK and a glittering 100 cap Irish career. It was a pity his joining Shamrock Rovers didn’t amount to more than a few appearances but his body was telling him it was time to admit defeat injury-wise. A true Irish footballing legend. Ní bheidh a leithéid arís.

 

E is for Euros. We have Euro 2016 to look forward to in June. We’re there, we’re going, that’s all.

 

F is for Fog. Our first leg Euro 2016 play-off match in Bosnia will forever be remembered as the half we didn’t see, either if you were in Bosnia or watching at home as fog enveloped much of the pitch at the start of the second half. Robbie Brady’s wonderful solo goal could only be appreciated at the third camera angle and what a shame, given it was a superb effort from a now first choice class player in Brady.

 

G is for Germany. See A above.

 

H is for Hill. Football said Rest in Peace to Jimmy Hill. For football fans of my age and slightly younger, Hill was the face (and chin) of televised football when we were growing up, from his first punditry on UTV’s The Big Match, to his switch to the BBC and Match of the Day’s frontman. Modern players revelling in riches can also be grateful to Hill for his work in the abolition of the maximum wage.

 

I is for Ireland. A special year for football both sides of the border as both nations made it to the European Championships next Summer, the first time in history both nations will take part in the same tournament.

 

J is for Jocks. The Scottish sort, not the item of clothing. The Jocks will mind the islands next Summer while ourselves, Northern Ireland, Wales and England will invade France. Feed the dogs please Jocks.

 

K is for Keane. Robbie will be on the plane next Summer, but not necessarily get any action but he will be an integral part of the squad that goes to France. His class in supporting those who got the nod from O’Neill ahead of him in the closing games of the qualifiers was clear and barring injury, he must go to France and will. Roy’s influence and importance (and apparent happiness) has grown also as the campaign continued and Martin O’Neill stressed the input of Roy in helping our qualification to France. There’s only two Keanos.

 

L is for Lansdowne. It’ll always be Lansdowne to me and the Roar came back in the German win and certainly in the second leg play off against Bosnia in November when qualification was secured. The new stadium finally rocked into action in both those matches, long may this continue.

M is for Martin. Our classy, intelligent and passionate international team Manager. No question he had many hairy moments in qualification but seems to have learned a lot about his players and his team set up as the group went into the business end of things. Personally, I was delighted for Martin O’Neill in attaining qualification.

 

N is for Nutsy. Shamrock Rovers’ boss Pat Fenlon’s nickname. 2015 was a largely disappointing year again for Shamrock Rovers in Nutsy’s first full year in charge and despite a third place finish and European football acquired, Rovers were out of contention for the title early enough in the year. The loss of Keith Fahey to a retirement resulting injury didn’t help his strategy, but he’ll know his team must challenge better in 2016 to keep the fans onside and keep his own job.

 

O is for O’Neill, Michael that is. I have so much time for Michael O’Neill after his managership of Shamrock Rovers brought successive League titles 2010 and 2011 and bringing Rovers to Europa League group stages in 2011, so it shouldn’t have surprised us too much that he brought his native Northern Ireland to Euro-2016 qualification. That he should bring the team to top spot in the qualification group however, is an outstanding achievement. They have a very tough group with Germany, Poland and Ukraine but they’ll give them all a game, you can be sure about that.

 

P is for Paris. A very much aniticipated return to Paris beckons in June, scene of the heartbreaking Hand of God goal scored against us in November 2009 (hard to believe that’s six years ago). Sweden will be our opponents in the Stade De France, hopefully our emotions coming out of there will be different next time around.

 

Q is for Qualified. See E above.

 

R is for Redmond. Ireland’s kit man Dick Redmond became an internet sensation when Ireland qualified for France when he charged into the victorious Irish dressing room dressed as Superman and hollering “I’M SIXTY AND I’M GOING TO FRANCE”………one of the funniest moments of the footballing year.

 

S is for Shane. Long’s goal against Germany as in A above was the standout moment in my footballing year but things can get even better for Shane Long in 2016. He has pace, aerial power and intelligence, if he can improve his goals to chances ratio, he’ll be a hot property by the time we’ve all returned from France.

 

T is for Trip. As soon as the draw was made for Euro-2016, thousands of fans were plotting their various routes to France.   Planes, trains, automobiles, campervans, bicycles, scooters, hitching, will all be used and anywhere to get the head down for the night (or morning as will more likely be the case) will be found and used. Irish fans are resourceful and will do anything to support the boys in France.

 

U is for Understanding. Wives/partners that is. It’s fair to say a majority of them will never understand our utter passion and love for teams, be they club or country, but they are fairly understanding when we come to them saying “I’m going to France/Kazakhstan/Timbuktu to a match. Once we get the gaff painted or decorated before the next away trip.

 

V is for Van Gaal. Looking as forlorn this year as he did in 2001 when Jason McAteer’s goal beat his Dutch team and knocked them out of qualification for the 2002 World Cup. His philosophy of football hasn’t worked thus far at Man United and he will likely be joining Mourinho shortly as an out of work Manager. Another I won’t miss if/when it does happen.

 

W is for Walters. What a year Jonny Walters had for the Irish cause, weighed in with a massive winner against Georgia at Lansdowne Road but it was his two goals in the second leg play-off against Bosnia that elevated him to legendary status. His Irish background and tradition was also notable in his dedication of qualification to his late mother and his 100% honesty and heart and no little skill in the green shirt has brought him eternal love and respect from the Irish public.

 

X is for Xavi, who retired from top flight football in 2015 having helped Barcelona to the Champions League. One of my favourite players ever, skilful, creative, mentally tough and a winner. Thanks for the memories Xavi.

 

Y is for Year. It’s a been a great one and Happy New One to all!

 

Z is for zzzzzzzzzzzzz, Sky Sports News and listening to Thierry Henry’s punditry.

 

Happy New Year folks!

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Ireland Team Report: A Good Year, not a Great One.

17 Dec

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So another year has slid by in the blink of an eye. A much anticipated and hugely enjoyable World Cup in Brazil ended with worthy champions in the form of Germany. That Ireland missed out was of course disappointing but the scars of Euro 2012 carried into a very disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign under Trapattoni, who paid for our missing out on Brazil with his job. Martin O’Neill took up the reins as we know in 2013. So how was 2014 for the still new Irish regime?

O’Neill had to remain very patient for the opening nine months of the year as only friendly matches were available to him until the Euro 2016 matches kicked off in September. It was very hard to gauge where O’Neill’s team was going in the friendly matches we witnessed and many of the players remained from the Trapattoni era.

One notable change in those friendlies however was O’Neill’s inclusion of Wes Hoolahan, who was so disappointingly snubbed for almost all of Trapattoni’s tenure. Wes responded very well in most of those friendly matches, with eye-catching performances and being given leeway by O’Neill to show us the ability we all knew he possessed.

Two successive Dublin defeats however (both 2-1 to Serbia and Turkey) led to some early impatience among fans, but a hugely impressive 0-0 draw against World Cup bound Italy in London would have given O’Neill real encouragement. Excellent individual performances from Anthony Pilkington, David Meyler, Geoff Hendrick and Hoolahan hinted that the new era would exorcise the dreadful World Cup campaign as O’Neill then took his charges Stateside for two games against also World Cup bound Costa Rica and Portugal.

A bad-tempered 1-1 draw with Costa Rica was followed by a 5-1 slaughtering by Portugal and given what befell both nations in the subsequent World Cup, it still remained very difficult to assess how O’Neill’s team was taking shape. Costa Rica excelled in Brazil, while Portgual bombed and with only one more friendly match at home to Oman ahead of the opening qualifier, it was proving difficult to accurately predict O’Neill’s likely starting XI for the Euro qualifiers, not that it’s easy to second guess the Derryman’s mind anyhow.

Oman were despatched 2-0 in a boring enough encounter at Lansdowne, so O’Neill’s record in the seven friendlies in 2014 read two wins, two draws and three losses, enough for some pessimism among some fans and enough for the optimists to maintain that friendlies are no real indication of what will happen in competitive games.

The real business began in September, the opening Euro 2016 qualifier as Ireland headed to Tbilisi to play Georgia, always a difficult place to go at the best of times. Georgia were coached by former Newcastle United player Temuri Ketsbaia.

As stated above, it is very difficult and probably futile to predict what Martin O’Neill’s team selection would be and so it proved in Tbilisi. Despite the excellence of Hoolahan’s friendly match displays, he didn’t start in Tbilisi and O’Neill opted for a 5 man midfield of Jon Walters and Aiden McGeady wide and a central trio of Stephen Quinn, Glen Whelan and James McCarthy. Robbie Keane was the lone striker.

Ireland won 2-1 thanks to a McGeady double, with the second goal worthy of winning any game such was the breathtaking nature of McGeady’s skill and finish. The overall performance however was patchy, with a fine opening 20 minutes followed by a shaky last 20 minutes in the first half; little was happening in a dull second half until McGeady’s brilliance sent the travelling fans bananas in the 90th minute. Three points was three points however, job done. O’Neill’s tetchiness in the face of the post-match interview was disappointing and certainly misplaced, but as a results game, the perfect start.

Gibraltar were next up in October in Dublin. Matches against so-called “whipping boys” usually prove frustrating for Irish teams, but there are whipping boys and there is Gibraltar. Seven goals was a decent return (with Robbie Keane scoring a first half hat trick) with most of the talk again revolving around O’Neill’s selection as Germany away were next up three days later.   O’Neill made five changes from the Georgia game (Coleman and McCarthy were injured, with Quinn, Walters and Whelan “rested” ahead of Germany), with O’Neill again stating those rested wouldn’t necessarily return in Germany.

All those latter three did return as O’Neill sprung a real gamble by choosing McGeady in a role behind lone striker Keane to accommodate James McClean out wide (who had impressed in the Gibraltar rout). The McGeady gamble didn’t work, although the selection worked elsewhere as Germany never really opened Ireland up the way it was feared and Ireland looked quite comfortable despite Forde making one excellent save in each half.

Germany’s Kroos did however force O’Neill’s hand in the 70th minute when he scored from 25 yards with Hoolahan sprung from the bench (Hendrick had replaced the injured Whelan before the hour mark and Gibson replacing Keane prior to Kroos’ goal). Two of the three subs would play a huge part in a dramatic Irish equaliser as Hoolahan’s cross was deftly volleyed back across goal by Hendrick for John O’Shea to steer a glorious shot past Neuer in the German goal in the 93rd minute.

So a priceless point was stolen at the death from the World Champions, 7 points from the opening three games was a very fine haul for O’Neill and his team and the euphoria from that German game led to huge interest in Irish people looking for tickets to the November match against Scotland at Celtic Park.

The scramble for tickets has been well documented on this blog (see Archive for November) and the idiotic failings of the FAI in this regard. The match itself never really happened from an Irish point of view, as it seemed O’Neill’s mindset was to frustrate Strachan’s Scots and play for a point. Shaun Maloney’s 74th minute goal was the least Scotland deserved on a hugely disappointing night for O’Neill’s team.

So the four competitive games have resulted in 7 points, possibly what we would have expected when the draw was made (we would have written off getting anything in Germany) and our group remains extremely close at this point in time as we can see below.

Euro 2016 – Qualifying Group D – Latest Standings
Nation Played Won Drew Lost Goals F Goals A Points
Poland 4 3 1 0 15 2 10
Germany 4 2 1 1 7 4 7
Scotland 4 2 1 1 5 4 7
Republic of Ireland 4 2 1 1 10 3 7
Georgia 4 1 0 3 4 7 3
Gibraltar 4 0 0 4 0 21 0

I think as fans we can be reasonably happy with that state of affairs, but that there is serious room for improvement in general play and approach. After the bravery and delight at the point in Germany, the defeat in Glasgow was a bitter pill to swallow and the manner of it was worrying in my opinion. Ireland’s philosophy relied far too much on lumping balls up to Shane Long (who was deployed as the lone striker) and hoping that Walters would pick up loose ends, with McGeady and McClean helping from wide. None of that happened. By the time Keane came on after Maloney’s goal, Scotland sensed we were already a beaten team and we got what we deserved on the night, nothing.

The Scottish game was followed four days later by a convincing 4-1 win over USA with eye-catching debuts from David McGoldrick and Cyrus Christie in a much changed XI so the year finished on a relative high for O’Neill and it is hoped those fringe players who impressed will remain in Martin’s thinking in 2015.

So 2015 is a huge year now for Martin O’Neill and this group of players. O’Neill wasn’t helped by the absence of James McCarthy in Glasgow, but all international managers are hampered by unavailable players. What O’Neill needs to nail down is a recognisable playing identity among this current group and a consistency of performance for 90 plus minutes. Forget the Gibraltar games, everyone will slaughter them. Four of the next five games are in Dublin. Ten points would be great, nine is completely essential if we are to hope to reach the French Soirée the Summer after next.

I believe we will make it, but will give ourselves plenty of grief getting there!

Happy Christmas to you all and Peaceful 2015.

Phelim Warren, 17th December 2014.

O’Neill: A two-way trust?

20 Nov

 

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Well it’s been a decent start in the opening two friendly matches of the Martin O’Neill era as Irish national team manager.  With no play-offs to endure (or break our hearts), O’Neill had to be content with friendly matches, consisting of a timid enough debut opposition of Latvia in Dublin (3-0) and a creditable if pretty dull scoreless draw away to Poland tonight in Poznan.  So, have we learned much about how the team is likely to fare in the Euro 2016 qualifiers that will kick off after next Summer’s World Cup?  I believe the answer to that is a resounding yes.

 

The end of the Trapattoni era as we all know was akin to a long-suffering pet being finally given a humane farewell by the family vet.  The bulk of the 25,000 or so fans who invaded Poland in 2012 had abandoned the team during the dismal World Cup campaign just finished.  Trapattoni’s strait-jacketed system had become even tighter around the necks, torsos and feet of a confidence-sapped team.  The new Lansdowne Road resembled a Celtic Tiger ghost estate.  The nation had fallen out of love with our football team and Trapattoni’s contract had to be terminated once David Alaba’s winning goal for Austria had finally nailed our slimmest World Cup qualification hopes to the crucifix.

 

O’Neill’s appointment and his decision to employ Roy Keane as his assistant immediately gave the nation’s football fans a real shot in the arm in terms of excitement, hope, anticipation and curiously among some fans who can’t let go of Saipan, anger.  The past week or so however has surely dissipated that anger as Keane has done his press conference, demonstrated that he isn’t fact a scowling, snarling wannabe Number 1 and slipped into the background as best he can and let O’Neill do what he was employed to do, lead the Irish team back up the rankings and to compete for European Championships and World Cups.  Make no mistake here, O’Neill is the Manager, Keane is the assistant and it’s clear Keane is very happy with that.

 

The difference in the footballing philosophy of Trapattoni and O’Neill was evident after a mere 15 minutes of O’Neill’s debut against Latvia last Friday.  From the off, Ireland’s team were encouraged and allowed to pass the ball from the back.  Goalkeeper Kieren Westwood passed the ball to his defenders or when the option was there, passed the ball 30 yards into midfield to Glenn Whelan.  Gone was the tired, predictable and hopeful hoof from the Irish keeper.   Gone was our central midfielders’ neck strain as the ball no longer flew over their heads for 90 plus minutes.  The aforementioned Whelan was permitted to enter the opposition half and probably suffered several nosebleeds as he had the temerity to get into the Latvian box.  Wingers McGeady and McClean were encouraged to mix up their game by cutting inside into dangerous areas.  Around them, McCarthy, Whelan and in particular, Wes Hoolahan moved into good positions to take passes and give passes as Ireland now probed and passed instead of lumped and jumped.  Full backs Coleman and Ward also provided outlets in attack instead of being numbed by Trapattoni’s rigidity.  Hoolahan’s freedom to roam from O’Neill was a both a delight and annoyance to watch.  Delight in that now he was playing for a Manager who trusts him, annoyance in that Trapattoni never trusted Hoolahan (and other players) to have the football intelligence we know he’s had for several years.  But then, Trapattoni clearly had pre-conceived ideas that all Ireland had to bring to a game was heart, graft and passion and his “system” would put paid to Hoolahan’s hopes of having any international impact for the past five years.  Shameful really.

 

In addition to the immediate contrast in how the Irish team played with the ball, it was glaringly obvious also that O’Neill wanted his players to pressure Latvia as high up the pitch as possible, rather than drop off and encourage teams to come at us as in the Trapattoni era.  O’Neill’s pressure game paid rich dividends as two of the Irish goals came from such tactics.  The high pressure and energy game also got the fans interested and vocal, something that was pretty much absent in the past few years.  So with and without the ball, the differences in the two philosophies were stark.

 

O’Neill has his own pre-conceived ideas of the current Irish players.  They are ideas that will encourage and accommodate the likes of Hoolahan and (hopefully) Andy Reid and others.  O’Neill identifies and shares the Irish psyche.  He is aware Irish players possess far more ability than Trapattoni allowed himself to believe they had, or more pertinently, allowed himself to see in person such was the shameful amount of matches the Italian bothered to watch during his five year stint.  Roy Keane will be a massive help to O’Neill in terms of attending matches to check on the players’ form and identifying other players who can make the step up to international level.  O’Neill will endeavour to marry the natural and traditional Irish fire and passion, with a high energy but all action style which will allow players to pass and move.  The “system” will be no more.

 

While the Poland draw was a pretty uneventful game, the terrible Poznan pitch made passing very difficult and the home side themselves were trying to impress a new boss, but the positives from the second game were Ireland never got opened up, a clean sheet was again attained and the players again showed a real attitude to scrap and compete and everyone got the chance as O’Neill promised.  It’s worth noting that in Trapattoni’s first two matches, similarly played within a few days of each other (a 1-1 draw with Serbia in Dublin and a 1-0 win over Colombia in London), he used 17 players.   O’Neill has used 21 players as he endeavours to familiarize himself with the players’ various strengths and weaknesses and come up with a formula to bring the national team back to the forefront of Irish sport and supporters back to Lansdowne Road.

 

The key word here for me is trust.  O’Neill clearly trusts his players to carry out his footballing philosophy.  He has brought Roy Keane in because he trusts Keane to instil a collective attitude among the players to be the best they can possibly be and adopt a “why not?” attitude in those players to buy into his (O’Neill’s) philosophy.  I think it’s fair to say the players already trust O’Neill as he said he’d give his players a chance in the two games and he patently did. 

 

There will be a few more friendlies for O’Neill to prepare his group of players before the long-awaited competitive campaign begins next August/September.  For O’Neill and Keane, for the FAI money-men,  for the Irish fans and most of all, the revitalized players, these games cannot come quickly enough. 

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.