Tag Archives: Paul mcgrath

Italia ’90, My Memories of Three Crazy Weeks!

11 Jun

Italia ‘90.  My memories, Twenty Five Years On.

Italia 90 a

Tickets in hand, a mere 23 years young………

Part One:  Cagliari, Matchday 1

11th June, 1990, Saint Elia Stadium, Cagliari, Sardinia. Ireland v England.

I’m soaking wet with seven of my nine companions on that trip (two decided they didn’t want to risk going to the England game) in the Saint Elia Stadium in Cagliari.  An electrical storm that arrived at half time in our first World Cup match had drowned every one of us.  We were cold, wet and fairly miserable as England led 1-0 from a scruffy, horrible, preventable Gary Lineker goal (he’d been waiting for that for two years after being denied several times in our Euro 88 win over them).

The English fans were dancing within eye and earshot, “let’s all ‘ave a disco, let’s all ‘ave a disco, na na na na, na na na na”.  Hard to take.  We bit our lips, we wrung out our shirts and shorts and hoped we’d salvage something.  The storm (off the pitch) abated, there was no real storm on the pitch as the players’ familiarity with each other and the breezy conditions turned the match into a slog and a battle of attrition, a bore quite frankly.  We kept the vocal support going as best we could, but the noise disappeared into the Cagliari air as the stadium was completely open, apart from a small roof over the Press Box.  One wouldn’t be expecting the hacks to start singing or repeating the Mexican Wave that arrived on our screens in the previous World Cup in Mexico.

72 minutes gone and our singing was becoming as desperate as the match.  Packy Bonner roared “OUT” at his back four (Morris, McCarthy, Moran and Staunton) as he summoned up all his strength for another booming punt down the middle of the park.  Route 1 in all its glory.  Cascarino and Terry Butcher went for the high ball and neither won it.   The ball dropped to Kevin Sheedy but his attempt at a pass was completely mis-hit and we groaned in frustration again at another unforced error.   England’s sub Steve McMahon of Liverpool took possession, but his touch was heavy (another English disease to go with their hooligans).  He frantically tried to atone for his poor touch by stretching to pass to his full back Gary Stevens.  Too late.  Sheedy pounced to repair his earlier poor play and blocked the pass and as the ball broke out of Sheedy’s tackle, this was the moment.  Sheedy’s trusty, lethal left peg did the rest from the edge of the box.  Shilton saw it all the way but his dive was never going to stop Sheedy’s shot.  I was over a hundred metres away down the far end, but the second the ball left Sheedy’s boot I knew it was in.  Shilton could probably almost taste the fizz of the ball and the rain as it scorched past him.  GOOOOOOALLLLLLL!!!


Sheedy rifles past Shilton for that historic first World Cup Goal (look at McLoughlin offside!!)

Cue the Paddy celebrations.  Joy, relief, disbelief, ecstasy, defiance and many more emotions hit me in that split second after we realised the referee and linesman were running back to halfway (Alan McLoughlin was in an offside position when offside meant offside, payback for the Van Basten offside of Euro 88).  The English disco lights were suddenly turned off as a Cagliari Ceili erupted.  My glasses went flying as my companions and other delirious Irish fans embraced me.  I’d only been wearing glasses for four months, “ah f*ck this” as my celebrations stopped abruptly and I clambered down the rows of seats hoping a) I’d find me glasses and b) they weren’t broken.   Miraculously both my hopes were somehow realised and I slipped them back on and rejoined the lads for the hollering and roaring.  Fergus Bishop began taunting the Disco shower, “sing when you’re wa*king, yiz only sing when you’re wa*king”……….within two choruses our whole end had joined in as we taunted the English as only we can.  Nothing beats scoring against England.   Sheedy’s goal was the last major moment of the opening match, we didn’t care.  “You’ll Never Beat the Irish” bellowed out (in our 8 qualifying games for Italia-90, we had kept seven clean sheets in eight matches).  We’d avoided defeat  (or as we said since then, we won 1 all) to the Auld Enemy, we’d scored in our first ever World Cup game and best of all, we were there.


Celebrating our World Cup 1-1 victory v England: Back: Dave Dunne, Mick Dunne (hidden by

Alan Keane’s arm), Alan Keane, Rodney Bishop. Front: Charlie Dunne, Phelim Warren, Fergus Bishop.


Been there, done that, worn the t-shirt!


Part 2: Terrasini:

The ten of us who travelled on our first ever World Cup Odyssey were meself, Alan and Derek Keane, Fergus and Rodney Bishop, Dave Dunne (Alan’s brother in law), Charlie and Mick Dunne (Dave’s uncles), Brian Evers and Paul Meade.  We booked our own flights and accommodation and based ourselves for two weeks in a massive Complex called Citta del Mare in a town called Terrasini, just outside Palermo.  We would play two matches in Palermo and the English game was as mentioned above, played in Cagliari on the island of Sardinia.  There was no accommodation to be found in Cagliari when we were booking so after that game we decided we’d just “sleep” in the airport that night and catch a mid-morning flight back to Palermo the day after.

The Italian Police were taking absolutely no chances once England were in town as English football fans’ reputation was still in the gutter from years of hooliganism.  There was a matchday alcohol ban in force in Cagliari and we couldn’t get a beer that night after the 1-1 draw either.  The decent result thanks to Sheedy’s goal made the night in the airport a bit easier to bear, but being the resourceful lot we were, we took a very early taxi into Cagliari city centre early next morning where we were served very welcome breakfast beers to celebrate the draw the night before and met some English fans from Birmingham who were as frustrated as we were delighted.  We floated back onto the flight to Palermo that afternoon.

Terrasini itself was straight out of The Godfather movies.  Its quaint old square, adorned with small but welcoming bars kept the football fans well stocked with local and international beers.  We’d spend our afternoons curing hangovers and basking in the Palermo sun while the local bar owners gladly counted their zillions of lire as each hour passed and another round of beers disappeared.

Most nights were then spent back at Citta Del Mare’s excellent night club where the Irish World Cup Song “Put Em Under Pressure” (a copy of which had been wisely brought out)  quickly became very well known to the other guests fortunate enough (or maybe unfortunate) to be in the middle of a two week Irish piss up.   When the disco music finished, a sing-song would usually ensue, which we sometimes moved down to the Amphitheatre on the complex which had a massive screen where we could enjoy the other matches in the tournament.  Non-Irish guests would rightly complain about these late night Irish sing-songs (I had brought the squeezebox), so we’d move down to the Amphitheatre (Amputation Theatre as Alan called it) and try to keep the noise down somewhat.  We tried, but failed………… I’m blaming ex-Shamrock Rovers stalwart Robbie Gaffney for that.

Beers weren’t bought at Citta Del Mare accommodation in usual cash custom.  One had to purchase bags of plastic beads at Reception and when you wanted a beer, you handed over your 4 beads to the barman.  So beads were, in effect, beer money so you looked after your beads carefully.  Again, Irish drinkers being resourceful and thrifty, the local off licences were raided and take-out beers bought by the caseload.

As well as beads, we had bidets.  The hotel rooms didn’t have a fridge, so our take-out beers were kept as cold as we could keep them by filling up the bidet with cold water and putting the beers in the bidet.  Wasn’t particularly ideal but what else could we do?


Ex Rovers star Robbie Gaffney with me in Citta Del Mare, Terrasini, June 1990


Part 3, Matchday 2

17th June, 1990.  La Favorita Stadium, Palermo, Sicily.  Ireland v Egypt.

It’s a humid, sticky day but we’re not complaining given the drenching we got in Cagliari at the England game.  There’s an absolute party atmosphere around the Stadium and it’s clear there’s huge support for the Irish team, clearly swelled by one-day trippers following the good result against England six days previously.  Egyptian support is passionate but small enough and despite Egypt holding the European Champions Holland to a draw in their first match, we Irish are expecting a win which would put us in with a great chance of making the last 16.  Charlton names an unchanged starting XI from the England game, no big surprise there.

Bonner; Morris, McCarthy, Moran, Staunton; Houghton, McGrath, Townsend, Sheedy; Cascarino and Aldridge.

The memory itself is of a dreadful game.  Egypt came to defend and did it well.  Ireland had neither the wit nor strategy to break them down.  For all Charlton’s virtues, Plan B rarely existed and Ireland’s sledgehammer failed abysmally to crack Egypt’s nut.  My most vivid memory of a terrible 90 minutes is Staunton’s 25 yarder scraping the paint off the post near the end and knowing we were never gonna score on the day.  We shuffled out of La Favorita that day frustrated and chastened.  Our bubble had been burst by an admittedly negative Egypt, but Charlton (and the players) deserved the criticism for a really poor performance.  In those pre-youtube and social media days, we didn’t see Eamon Dunphy’s famous meltdown and pen throwing incident on the RTE Panel after the game until we turned on our VCRs when we got home. Probably just as well.


A look of anti-climax on faces after the 0-0 draw with Egypt in Palermo.  Back row: Derek

Keane, Dave Dunne, Fergus Bishop.  Front: Rodney Bishop, Phelim Warren, Alan Keane,

Mick Dunne, Charlie Dunne.


Part 4, Matchday 3

21st June 1990, La Favorita Stadium, Palermo. Sicily.   Ireland v Holland.

The frustration of that Sunday afternoon against Egypt soon gave way to anticipation and nerves as the Dutch were last to play in our group.  All four group games had been drawn so any of the four teams could still advance, but even so, we still expected England to beat Egypt and hoped that a draw might be enough, if we managed to get a draw.  Let’s not forget this was a Dutch team who were European Champions, boasting  phenomenal players still around from 1988 such as Ronald Koeman, Jan Wouters, Gerald Vanenburg, Frank Rijkaard, Marco Van Basten and the mercurial and majestic Ruud Gullit.

Make no mistake however, ours was still a formidable Irish team also and we lined up with one change from the opening two games, as Tony Cascarino was punished for two poor displays by losing out to a chomping at the bit Niall Quinn.  Ireland lined up with Bonner, Morris, McCarthy, Moran, Staunton; Houghton, McGrath, Townsend, Sheedy, Quinn and Aldridge.

It was a humid but bearable night for football and the evening kick off under lights really gave the night a top footballing occasion feeling.  Like the Irish, the Dutch fans travelled in huge numbers so there was an almost capacity crowd in La Favorita Stadium.   Added to that, with the stands being so close to the pitch, there was a real old-fashioned and proper footballing atmosphere as the teams emerged from the tunnel.  There were Irish flags everywhere and the vocal support from the beginning was incredible.   After the initial cagey match against England and the borefest of the Egypt game, this promised to be a really big World Cup clash and one we had come all this way to see and enjoy.

Ten minutes in, we knew we had finally arrived at World Cup level.  Koeman fed Gullit in a dangerous inside right position and Gullit cut through our back four with a lovely one-two with our Euro 88 nemesis Wim Kieft.  Despite tracking Gullit gamely, Paul McGrath couldn’t block Gullit’s shot and it seared across Packy Bonner low inside the far post.  The Oranje rose and roared in unison, it sent a shiver down the Irish spine and drew a collective Irish head in the hands moment.  It was a superb goal and difficult to prevent such was its precision, incision and execution.  1-0 Holland.

To be fair to Charlton’s team, the goal didn’t bury them and as the half wore on, Ireland mixed up some usual direct football with some progressive stuff on the deck and we were by no means a beaten docket at half time.

The vocal support kept increasing as the second half wore on as we willed the Irish forward.  In the 72nd minute, the Dutch door finally gave way.  Bonner, as in the England game, launched a huge clearance down the centre.  With substitute Cascarino (pointlessly) chasing Dutch full back Berry Van Aerle, the Dutchman volleyed the ball back in the direction of his keeper, Hans Van Breukelen.  Back in 1990, a keeper could handle the ball from a backpass  but with Van Aerle’s pass having too much pace on it, Van Breukelen dived anxiously to his left to prevent an own goal or a corner and as he landed, the ball squirmed free.   Big Quinner was following up as good forwards should and he slid that big long leg out with sufficient pace to direct the ball off Van Breukelen and high into the Dutch net.  I was high enough in the stand in line with the Dutch goal so I’d a great view of it and all hell broke loose (or Heaven to be more accurate)  as the net rippled and Quinner got up to celebrate.  A massive Irish roar covered the air of La Favorita Stadium as we embraced all round us in utter elation.   Alan Keane beside us was in tears, that’s how much it meant.  Keaner, the usual pessimist (apart from the England game at Euro 88 when he piped up after an hour that England would “never score” and was proved right), not one to display huge outpourings of emotion was sitting there blubbing his head off, that’s indeed how much Quinner’s goal meant.

Ireland went for jugular with the Irish fans now at fever pitch and Cascarino drove a shot viciously across the Dutch goalmouth minutes later.  Then a calm seemed to descend on proceedings as it became apparent that a draw would probably be enough for both sides to advance.  The last 10 minutes became a non-event, but we were oblivious enough to it as we were too busy singing and basking in Quinner’s goal.  The game finished 1-1 and the party could now start as England had beaten Egypt 1-0 to advance to the last sixteen with us and Holland.

“Que Sera Sera, whatever will be will be, we’re staying in Italy, que sera sera”………


Our party of 10 after the 1-1 draw with the Dutch.  L-R at back, Derek Keane, Dave Dunne, Alan Keane, Paul Meade, Brian Evers, Charlie Dunne and Fergus Bishop. Front row: Mick Dunne, Phelim Warren, Rodney Bishop.


Part 5: Terrasini post-match.

So we all piled into Terrasini, Irish and Dutch fans together as the Terrasini bars primed themselves for another onslaught of thirsty fans, but this one would be mental.  A stage was set up by a local DJ and as I had my accordion with me (having gone back to the Hotel to get it), we politely asked the DJ could I get onto the stage and play a few songs and thankfully he agreed.  So I took the microphone and launched into “Spancil Hill” and the few hundred fans very quickly rose to a few thousand and Irish necks craned to see who was singing Irish folk songs in a Sicilian Square.  After two songs, I got a tap on the shoulder to let another singer on.  It was none other than The Wolfe Tones’ Brian Warfield!  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Brian took the mic and within seconds “We’re on the One Road” and “A Nation Once Again” was echoing around Terrasini, this was just amazing.  Ireland had qualified for the last 16 of the World Cup in its first appearance, we’d gone toe to toe with the European Champions and now I was playing music with a folk legend in front of a few thousand happy Irish football fans.  Paul Kimmage’s simply brilliant piece from the Sunday Tribune of 24th June captures that night perfectly…………..here it is in its entirety, enjoy…………..

“ONLY A GAME IN SICILY”  by Paul Kimmage

“Egypt…………….And Then The Promised Land”. The headline on the front pages of last weeks Tribune summed up our feelings as we walked to the stadium. It would have been hard to write a respectable one for how we felt on the way out.  We hadn’t won.  We hadn’t been beaten either but that consolation didn’t seem to count for much.

We were disappointed, let down, empty.  “Moses” Charlton had led us to the Red Sea and the waters had stayed closed.

The days before.  The hour during.  The minutes after.

Holland……….and then the promised land.

The days before were about calculation, studying the mathematics of qualification.  From noon until night we calculated.  “We need West Germany to stuff Columbia, for Brazil to beat Scotland, for South Korea to beat Uruguay, for England to beat Egypt – or better still for Egypt to beat England and a draw or a win against Holland”  Simple.

And argument.

All day and every day we argued.  In the morning over coffee and rolls, in the afternoon over “gelato” and “cappuchino”, in the evening over spaghetti and beer.  “Yes I see your point Seamus but I still think we should go looking for a draw”.  

“Rubbish, did ye see Italy against the Czechs?  We’re not in the same league.  I say we throw caution to the wind and go for the win”.

“Why isn’t he giving Whelan a game?  He was bombing in training yesterday”.

“If only Brady had played against the Egyptians”.

And Eamon Dunphy.

It seemed half the bloody island was talking about Eamon Dunphy.  Rumour said he was ashamed to be Irish.  That he had thrown a pen! On televison!  Live! RTE must have loved it. Did they replay it in slow motion?  Rumour had it he was on the island, had made an appearance at a press conference and that Jack had walked out.

They got some mileage out of it in the cafes.  “He’s an awful bollox, writes some good articles and I always read him but still an awful bollox. He’s knockin’ us before we’re beaten but we’re still in with a chance”.  They sang about him at night in the bars.  “Eamon Dunphy writes a load of shite, doo dah, doo dah”


“If ye hate Eamon Dunphy clap your hands………clap your hands, if ye hate Eamon Dunphy clap your hands……..clap your hands”.

There were people who respected his courage, agreed with some of his criticisms but their voices were drowned in the masses.  Nearly everyone clapped.  It was sad.

Met a few guys the day before the match.  You meet guys all the time over here.  You exchange pleasantries over beer or coffee, talking about “home” and work and the match and the team they would pick.  You swap names and addresses on receipts and beer mats and then walk away.  And forget.

Met two guys on Wednesday – forget their names but they were opposites.  Joe, a middle-aged Irishman had travelled alone from his home in England to support his country.  He had no problem getting tickets for the first two matches but couldn’t find anyone with a spare for the Dutch match.  The day before the game he went to the Press Centre outside the stadium where officials of the FAI were distributing the access cards.  Six hundred supporters turned up looking for tickets.  The FAI had 90, they drew lots.  Joe’s name stayed in the hat.  

The second guy, Nigel, was much luckier.  Dashing, early 20s, good job, few bob – a “Master of the Universe”.  He won the trip to the Dutch game in a competition. (Q: Describe in ten words why you like Loo Lah cassette tapes?  A: I like Loo Lah tapes because…………..)

Clever guy Nigel, he sent all the right words to Loo Lah and won a trip to Sicily.  It was his first time at an international match – he didn’t really like the game and would have sold the ticket but, well, this was the World Cup.  “I was there” would go down well in The Berkely Court.  Saw him on the bus on the way to the match.  Blue short sleeved shirt, beige slacks, shades – he looked a bit out of place in the sea of green.  A fan.  A designer fan.

Eamon Dunphy has written a lot about designer fans.  He’s dead right.  MEMO TO THE FAI: Sirs: If in four years time we qualify again for the World Cup, please control the distribution of match tickets more thoroughly to ensure the real fan is not at the mercy of the unscrupulous travel agent and the company marketing men when looking for tickets.  Grazie.

We got to the ground two hours before kick off.  Orange, green, police, sirens, drums banging, the smell of horse shit and butterflies.  Colourful, delicate, elegant butterflies – such pleasant little insects.  Except when they get in your stomach.

It’s terrible when they get in your stomach.  Maybe it was the extra decibels, the added colour, the feeling there was so much at stake.  

Whatever it was, the little hoors were fluttering around the bellies of every Irishman in the stadium.  We were nervous.

It’s nice to get in early, gives one the chance to observe, to manwatch.  Manwatching is one way of swotting butterflies.  I noticed this guy sitting two rows below.  Big man, 30 to 35, bit thin on top (bald), cut lip.  It was his aggressiveness that drew my attention.  The look in his eye, the provocative pointing of his finger, his chanting “Get into them, clap clap clap clap, get into them clap clap clap clap”.;  

I had seen shaven heads with tattoos and union jacks at this sort of carry on a week earlier in Cagliari.  But this fellow was Irish.  A bowsey.  An Irish bowsey.  There was a contingent of Dutch fans sitting close by.  They were larger than life, colourful, out to enjoy themselves.  One had a huge drum.  Every time he beat the drum, the cut lip would stand up and let out a string of abuse, pointing his finger.  “Baahhhhhh ye Dutch bastards” (he used a stronger adjective).

The teams came out on the pitch and we had the singing of the National Anthems.  One of the great memories has been the respect our fans have shown towards the anthems of those we have played against.  

Ours was first.  The lip sang it like he had personally hoisted the flag on the roof of the GPO in 1916.  A patriot.  The Dutch anthem.  Would he start whistling?  Some of our fans were noisy.

“Shuuuuuuuuuuuusssssssshhhhhhhhhhh” we tried to quieten them.  The lip seemed confused at the respect.  

I watched his lips – “Shuuuuuuuusssssssssshhhh”.  Incredible.  He had joined the requests for silence.  Was this an Irish bowsey, a mouth with too much drink or a confused idiot?  Manwatching can be fascinating.

Noise was at its highest after the anthems.  Eamon Dunphy came in for more abuse.  “Saw Dunphy on his way to the ground.  The bastard wasn’t wearing any green”  The singing followed: “If you hate Eamon………..”  The intensity of the chorus, the depth of resentment against the journalist was amazing.  He must have heard it from his seat in the Press Box.  What did it sound like from up there?

Half time, one down.  Fifteen minutes to manwatch. Four guys this time.  Not much going on in their faces – sad eyes.dropped mouths, emptiness, dejection.  One of the frightening things about football is its effects on people. It is most disturbing to see grown men cursing their heads off, veins popping out the side of their necks, eyes bulging out of their heads just because Morris makes a dud clearance or Aldridge misses an open goal or Ruudy puts one past Packy.  The manwatching is disturbed by a message on the Public Address system.  Dominic McFadden is asked to contact his parents in Donegal for an urgent message……….bad news waiting patiently at the end of a phone line.  No one takes much notice – too caught up in the sorrow of imminent departure from Italy.  Poor Dominic.

You lose all sense of true values out here.  In the four days between the games with Egypt and Holland, children would have starved to death in Africa, some poor down and out would have choked on his own vomit in a Parisian Metro station,  tragic accidents would have caused immeasurable grief to families all around the globe.  But we were oblivious to it all.  All that mattered was the game against Holland. And now we were losing it – the end of the world.

To hell with it, when all’s said and done it’s only a game.  Wasn’t it Eamon Dunphy who wrote that? Why then did he throw his pen?  Why were we silent and sad when Gullit rattled the back of our net?  Funny old game.

The second half was so much better.

“Ooooooooooh, hard luck Aldo!!”.  “Go on Rayo, go on Rayo…………ah Jaysus Rayo”. And then, just when we thought it was unsafe to go in the water.  “Quinner” stuck his toe out and opened the sea.  The Red Sea.  The gateway to the Promised Land.  Halleluiah.

What a stretch!  Thank God he didn’t cut his toenails before the game.

The final whistle. “Yeeeeeeeeeeesssssssssssss!”

It’s funny how knackered you feel after watching a football match.  We walked back to the buses in the car park , no singing or dancing or cheering.  We sat in our seats, numb – drained physically from the butterflies and tension, the clapping and shouting.  But by the time we reached Terrasini, a small village 25 miles out of Palermo, we had recovered.  Everyone converged on Terrasini and its small square dominated by the church, the ice cream bars and cafes.  Earlier in the week, McCarthy and Whelan and Houghton had signed autographs and sipped beers here.  Jackie Charlton had sung songs here.  This was the place to be – perhaps they might come again.

The poor square couldn’t cope, coach load after coach load of deliriously happy, hungry and above all thirsty Irishmen.  All pizzas, sandwiches and rolls disappeared within seconds.  But there was no shortage of beer so the party was saved.  How much was Niall Quinn worth in alcohol sales?  A few days earlier, a local bar owner had said he had sold more beer in four days than he had in an entire year.

What would they sell tonight?  A thousand Irish “hooley gans” on the rampage, dancing and singing in the streets.  A small stage had been set up in the centre of the square.  First came the patriot songs.

“North Men, South Men, comrades all, Dublin, Belfast, Cork or Donegal, we’re on the one road singing a song………..”  Pat and Carmel from Douglas, Pat from Walshestown, Brid from Longford, Brian from Skerries, John from the Coombe, Kevin from Louth, three men from Ballaghaderreen, three more from Nobber.  All Irish, all proud.

“Rude Gullets” goal had almost wiped us off the face of the earth but now we were “A Nation Once Again, a Nation once Again………”  A local band took over.  They played “The Lambada”, a sexy hip-gyrating rhumba from South America and we queued up to dance with their women – stunners.  But the nicest of all was Irish.

Someone said she was Paul McGrath’s sister.  Whoever she was, she was in great demand.  “Can I have your autograph?”  Oooh Aaah.

There were a few Dutch fans present, we lauded them with praise.  “Yis played some great football in the last 10 minutes”…….”Ruudy needs a haircut, Ruudy needs a haircut, nah nah nah nah…….”

The band stopped playing at 2.30, the bars closed at 3.

Dismay, pleading.  “Can we get one more please, just one more?”  Our capacity for beer is mind-boggling.  The last departure from the square was at five in the morning.  Terrasini will never see the like of it again.

I don’t think I have seen so many unhealthy people as I did the next day, or rather later in the same day.  Bloodshot eyes, sore heads, lost voices.  One guy was halfway through his millionth rendition of “Ole Ole” when he fell nine foot from a balcony from a terrace.  He was sore but otherwise unscathed.

But there were few complaints.  The dream lives on, next stop Romania.

Jack’s army was optimistic.  “Sure we’ll lash them, they’ve no food out there”.  The good humour and crack later flew home to Dublin.

Some had gone direct to Genoa, but the majority were penniless, holiday-less and under threat of divorce unless they returned.  The loved ones were waiting in the airport terminal.  Tanned hubbies walking out to children and wives and cheers and credit card overdrafts.  Soldiers returning from war.  “I’m sorry I didn’t ring love, the Italian phones were brutal”.

An airport worker struggles to wheel a huge parcelled package through the masses.  Some quick wit shouts “Look, it’s Eamon Dunphy”.

Everybody laughed.  I laughed.  You have to.  Sure it’s only a game.

Paul Kimmage

The Sunday Tribune

24th June 1990.


Part 6:  “You’re Very Good for coming Home”

So the qualification for the last 16 celebrations in Terrasini lasted long into Friday morning, 22nd June and sadly, a couple of flights back to Dublin beckoned (although I was stopping off in London for that weekend to meet some Irish pals who were working there) and with hangovers the size of Mount Etna, we bade Arrivederci to Terrasini.  I think back now and still kick myself at what I was doing leaving Italy with a last 16 match in Genoa against Romania to come on the Monday, despite being due back in work that day.

Lo and behold, I arrived back in work on the Monday, in several pieces from two weeks at a World Cup and a weekend with pals in London and my Manager in work with a look of surprise says “Ah you’re very good for coming home!”  In my 23 year old naivete as an employee, I wrongly assumed I really HAD to be back at work, my Manager’s genuine surprise at my return made my blood run cold at what I’d done in missing the Romania match.  The ten of us who were on the trip arranged to meet up anyhow at CYM club in Terenure to watch the drama unfold on the Big Screen and while it was another memorable day culminating in that 5-4 penalties victory for Ireland, it just wasn’t the same not being out there.  We still stayed partying mind you in CY till the wee hours and I really don’t know how none of us were carted off to hospital with alcohol poisoning.


Part 7, “Schillaci has scored……again”  

Having been gutted to miss out on the last 16 game, the Quarter Final with Italy was down for decision on Saturday 30th June in Rome.  Brendan Moran (brother of Kevin), who was well known to me called me a couple of days before the game to tell me he had a match ticket waiting for me in Rome if I could out get out there.  Frantically (this was before the age of Internet travel) I made I don’t know how many phone calls to try get a route to Rome, but it was impossible and I had to admit defeat and tell Brendan to let another lucky fan get that match ticket.

So again, we all assembled at CYM Terenure for the Italy game.  It was always gonna be a nigh impossible task for Ireland to be allowed to beat Italy on their home patch and while we weren’t robbed by the referee in the manner of the John Giles/Eoin Hand era, it was clear the Portuguese referee was a complete homer as Ireland got zero decisions all night.  Ireland played really heroically against the host nation but the talismanic Toto Schillaci scored the only goal of the game in the first half after Bonner had parried Donadoni’s shot into his path.  It was a magnificent finish by the Sicilian and I will forever hear Jimmy Magee’s voice in my head as the ball rolled inside the far post “Schillaci has scored…….again”.   We were out, heroic, defiant, brave but out.  Ciao.

Toto Schillaci barely scored ever again.


So those are my memories of a truly unforgettable three weeks in my life and the life of this nation.  Euro-88 had given people a glimpse of what was possible for this country and for those unbelievable three weeks in Ireland in the Summer of 1990, football was THE game in the country.  People with absolutely no interest in sport, never mind football, were carried away on a wave of euphoria and national pride in a manner not seen before or since.  Everyone bought the colours, pubs were crammed, off-licences couldn’t keep up with demand for booze, mothers made Irish flags/woolly jumpers/scarves and the rest.  Children learned the football songs in school and furiously collected the stickers for their World Cup albums.   Grown men cried, credit unions cried, livers cried stop and Bill (Lord Rest Him), John and Eamon became part of the furniture.  Cars roared around streets after matches in a way we only used to see on television when other countries were successful.  For 90-120 minutes on five days/nights in June 1990, this country downed tools and watched football.  It was great.

The End.

Phelim Warren, June 2015.


20 Years On: My memories of Ireland v Italy, Giants Stadium, USA-94.

18 Jun


Just over a year ago, I wrote about St Raymond’s Day which was founded on 12th June 1988 when Ireland beat England in Stuttgart in our first ever match at a major finals.  That we beat England made it all the more special and notable of course.  This year however,  with it being another World Cup year, brings to mind another footballing milestone, as it is now twenty years since Ray Houghton again amazingly proved to be the matchwinner as Ireland upset all the forecasts by beating the mighty Italians 1-0 in the awesome Giants Stadium, Meadowlands, New Jersey in the opening group game at the 1994 World Cup.  Thankfully and fortunately again, as at Euro 88, I was there to witness another unbelievable experience.

Euro 88 and Italia 90 had given Irish fans a well-deserved place at the top table of world football. For so many years, poor teams, poor organisation and more than once, dodgy refereeing had kept us at home watching the tournaments on television.  Our performances at Euro 88 and Italia 90 made us hungry for more experiences.  A heartbreakingly near miss in qualifying for Euro 92 only hardened our determination to qualify for USA 94.  Similar to Euro 88 however, qualifying would prove to be arduous, tortuous and almost beyond us.

Our final qualification game in Belfast against Northern Ireland couldn’t have presented us with a more daunting or difficult assignment. The qualification table before the last match (2 teams would advance) read as follows (with also-rans Lithuania, Latvia and Albania):

Denmark P11 Pts 18

Spain       P11 Pts 17

Ireland     P11 Pts 17

N.Ireland P11 Pts 13

It was two points for a win back then, so a win for us would guarantee qualification. A draw would leave us sweating on the result between Spain and Denmark in Seville, while a defeat would leave us booking New Ross for the holidays instead of New York.

1993 was still a terrible time in Northern Ireland politically. The final qualification match venue was in doubt as the game loomed as there had been some horrific murders on both sides of the divide in the weeks preceding the game, but eventually it was decided Windsor Park in Belfast would stage the game amid unbelievably tight security.  No tickets were made available to Irish fans, although a few did get their hands on them but kept themselves very low key inside the stadium.

Qualification was drifting away when Jimmy Quinn scored for Northern Ireland midway through the second half. A baying and goading home crowd, whipped into a frenzy by Northern Ireland Manager Billy Bingham sensed blood, but they were silenced after 78 minutes when regular sub Alan McLoughlin rifled home a glorious shot to level the game up.  The game ended 1-1 but we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as the game in Seville was still in progress.

After interminable injury time in Seville, the final whistle blew, Spain had clung on to beat Denmark 1-0, so in the space of 90 minutes, Denmark had gone from topping to group to elimination, Spain went through as winners and we pipped reigning European Champions Denmark on goal difference. I went through a record number of cans of beer that night and haven’t beaten it since then, the nerves were shot to bits but gave way to utter elation and delight as my first thoughts honed in on planning the trip Stateside, which was duly done over the coming months.

Remaining from our trips to Euro 88 and Italia 90 were Fergus and Rodney Bishop, Derek Keane, Brian Evers and Dave Dunne. We joined forces with a group from CYM Terenure so we had a massive group of lads together on tour as we arrived on 16th June in upstate New York’s magnificent Pearl River Hilton Hotel which would be our base until the day after the Italy game in New Jersey.


USA94 5

The day before the Italy game, we enjoyed a brilliant few hours in New York’s “Little Italy” district as we lunched in an Italian restaurant and had great banter with the Italian-Americans as they tried to guess the winning Italian margin the following day. We took their cockiness with good grace as you could never underestimate the Irish in the Charlton era.  Some of the older Italians we met were right out of “Goodfellas” and being here in New York at World Cup time was just the only place in the world to be as a football fan.  We couldn’t wait for tomorrow.

USA94 3

So finally June 18 arrived. The day began with a barbecue in Sandra and Ed Brady’s (who kindly booked all our magnificent accommodation) house in upstate New York.  Sandra’s brothers, Dave and Mick Simpson were among our travelling party, so the house was jammed with us all looking forward to the game.  Irish music blared through the speakers and we had a plenty of food and a few beers before we all headed out in rented cars to the Meadowlands Complex in New Jersey and the imposing and spectacular Giants Stadium loomed into view.  It was a warm and humid day in New Jersey and kick off was 16.00 local time, conditions that would be far worse when Ireland travelled to Orlando, nevertheless the 4pm start would still pose questions for the Irish players.


USA94 4

We bounded up the steps towards our seats in plenty of time for kick off and I will never forget the sight that greeted me. There were Irish EVERYWHERE.  We had assumed the support would be even enough given the Italian-American population and their devotion to football and the Azzuri, but it seemed the Irish had, as is their habit, plundered the majority of the tickets.  Giants Stadium was turned into a home venue for Ireland and of the 75,338 people who crammed into the Stadium, 60,000 must have been Irish, from whatever generation.

The teams were announced on the giant scoreboards behind each goal (these were the pre-internet/mobile phone days, so we had to wait to find out the teams).

Italy: Pagliuca; Tassotti, Costacurta, Baresi, Maldini; Donadoni, Albertini, Dino Baggio, Evani; Roberto Baggio, Signori.

Ireland: Bonner; Irwin, McGrath, Babb, Phelan; Houghton, Sheridan, Townsend, Keane, Staunton; Coyne.


Four of the Italian starting line-up had starred in the 4-0 Champions League Final mauling of Barcelona only a few weeks previously (Tassotti, Maldini, Albertini and Donadoni).  Massaro had come on as a sub and scored and Baresi was suspended for that Final, so the task ahead of Ireland was truly monumental.  Add to that doubts over the fitness of Ireland’s Paul McGrath and the aforementioned heat issue, Little Italy’s Goodfellas had good reason to expect an Italian victory.

Twelve minutes into the game, the massive Green Army was shaking Giants Stadium to its foundations. John Sheridan sent a long ball from the right for Ireland’s lone striker Tommy Coyne to chase and he challenged Costacurta who couldn’t clear properly.  As the ball dropped, Baresi tried a risky header to a fellow Italian just outside the Italian box.  Busy and alert as ever, Ray Houghton nipped in to intercept and as the ball settled, Houghton, almost off balance, tried his luck with his weaker left peg.  The ball rose and dipped perfectly, as Italian keeper Pagliuca, off his line, was unable to jump high enough to paw the ball away.  Like Houghton’s goal in Stuttgart, the ball seemed to take an eternity to hit the net and when the net did bulge, it took us our customary split second to check there was no linesman’s flag or referee’s whistle for a free out.  There was neither from the men in black (or purple in this case) as Dutch referee Mario Van Der Ende ran towards halfway signalling a perfectly good goal.  We celebrated in customary Irish style, grabbing anyone and everyone within grabbing distance, roaring and hollering and losing our head in joy and disbelief.  Ireland had gone and done it again, Ray Houghton had gone and done it again.  In Stuttgart, we soon realised we had another 84 minutes to hang on.  This time, Houghton would make us wait a mere 6 minutes shorter, 12 minutes gone, Ireland 1, Italy 0.

As the first half wore on and the dream Irish start settled down, Italy’s slick passing began to worry us, with Roberto Baggio in particular finding pockets of space to get on the ball and try engineer chances with Signori, but Ireland’s five man midfield was plugging the gaps well, with a young Roy Keane loving every moment against this illustrious and battle-hardened Italian team. Rookie centre half Phil Babb grew into the game effortlessly, but when you had Paul McGrath beside you, that’s how it worked out.

Ah Paul McGrath, or Ooh Ah Paul McGrath, what hasn’t been said/written about Big Paul on that amazing day? McGrath’s performance would turn out to be probably the finest 90 minutes by an Irish player before or since.  What was all the more remarkable is that McGrath had picked up a virus that severely restricted movement in one of his arms and his very appearance was in doubt.  But McGrath was an exception.  One little cameo among countless interventions that day stands out.  A clearing header from an Italian cross, seconds later another crucial header while seconds later again, he made an immaculately timed tackle as a 1-2 from Baggio and Signori looked like getting in behind us.  That tackle brought a roar that almost equalled Houghton’s goal and it was pure McGrath gold.

The second half, while not as tortuous or Alamo-esque as Stuttgart six years previously, was no less tense. Bonner only had one crucial save of note to make, a fine parry from a Signori snap shot.  Otherwise it was Italy passing and probing, but Babb and McGrath in particular snuffing out the danger.  At the far end, Sheridan rattled the Italian crossbar after brilliant work from Keane down the left.  Keane wasn’t far behind McGrath for Man of the Match that day and Keane collected Ireland’s Player of the World Cup for his efforts during the tournament.

Ireland would not be denied however. The Italians ran out of ideas as McGrath broke their hearts time and again. Not even Champions League Final goalscorer Massaro, on as a sub, could make the difference as Ireland’s thirteen heroes dug in (McAteer and Aldridge replaced Houghton and Coyne) and Mr Van Der Ende finally signalled, well, the end.

Baseball cap-clad Charlton threw his arms in the air having received congratulations from Italian Coach Arrigo Sacchi. Mick Byrne planted the obligatory kiss on Big Jack’s cheek as the masses of Irish fans celebrated another remarkable win in an opening day group game.   Ireland 1, Italy 0, we could scarcely believe it and we were here again to savour the moment and embrace all round us.

Paolo Maldini hailed McGrath’s performance in his after match interview and coming from one of the finest defenders of all time, this was something to hear and savour, but Maldini was correct, McGrath had been just amazing on the day.

The victory over Italy twenty years ago on this date was in my opinion a more impressive victory than the England one six years previously. While the English one was more satisfying given it was our first match in a finals and it was against our biggest rival, beating the Italians in the World Cup was of far more significance.  England went on to lose all three games at Euro 88, Italy went onto the World Cup Final after losing to Ireland, only to lose to Brazil on penalties with amazingly, Massaro,  Baresi and Robert Baggio all fluffing their kicks.

Beating Italy at USA 94 also proved to be the high point of that World Cup odyssey. A savagely hot day in Orlando with a ridiculous 12 noon kick off saw Ireland lose 2-1 to Mexico, with a 0-0 bore draw with Norway back in Giants Stadium being enough to again see us advance to the last 16.  Holland however were far too good for us in Orlando on Independence Day as we succumbed to two first half goals from Bergkamp and Jonk.  Charlton’s squad was beginning to age and seventeen months later, Charlton himself was gone as Holland again proved our undoing in a Euro 96 play-off (2-0 again) at Anfield.

But as World Cup fever is upon us since 12th June, today is a good day to again salute Ray Houghton and his big game winning goals and Paul McGrath for his virtuouso performance.



It would be remiss of me to not remember the six football fans who were brutally murdered by the Ulster Volunteer Force while watching this match in The Heights Bar in Loughinisland, Co Down.    As these were the days before mobile phones and instant social media news, we didn’t know about this atrocity until the next day or two as we remained in America.  The bar was targeted as it was frequented usually but not exclusively by Catholics and it remains an unsolved case.  The dead were Adrian Rogan (34), Malcolm Jenkinson (52), Barney Greene (87), Daniel McCreanor (59), Patrick O’Hare (35) and Eamon Byrne (39), all Catholic civilians.   We remember those people, twenty years on and it serves to remind us to keep football and sport in general where it belongs, very much in perspective.

Phelim Warren, 18th June 2014.

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.