Tag Archives: YBIG

Euro 2016 Diary: A week with Catalpa and the Irish Fans

30 Jun

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Day 1, Tuesday 14th June 2016. 

A very unpromising start to the trip as Ciarán, who had been in Paris for the Sweden game, texted at 7am to say the French air traffic controllers were on strike again so a furious trawl through the Ryanair flights soon revealed that our second flight from Stansted to La Rochelle was still unaffected, despite many others in French air space having been cancelled.

Ray’s wife Louise collected me and I spent the trip to the airport checking the flight status and thankfully it remained active.

Two mid-morning airport pints and a “Howya buddy” to Keith Duffy later (travelling out for a sponsored cycle), we boarded the Dublin-Stansted flight, accompanied by a few dozen other Irish fans making their way out to France.  On arrival in Stansted, the departure board told us the flight was an hour delayed so in we went to Wetherspoons and ordered a pint and as the head settled on my Guinness, Ian Byrne from Springfield breathlessly told us the gate was closing for the La Rochelle flight, so the Guinness lay unslurped, Ray took his Carlsberg with him and Ian’s roast chicken lunch went ordered but uneaten as we all legged it to the departure gate.

I said to Ian “but the departure board said it’s an hour late”.

Ian: “When did you check that?”

Me: “Ten minutes ago”.

Ian laughed as we continued to leg it up and down stairs and escalators and the two earlier Guinness sloshing around me stomach.   We got to the departure gate and they hadn’t even started boarding, shower of shite.  Could’ve had me pint but best not take any chances and we were grateful the plane was leaving, whatever time it was, given the strikes.   We took off, relaxed and prepared for arrival at La Rochelle.

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We breezed through the tiny La Rochelle airport about 7pm and took a taxi to bring us to our digs at Pierre et Vacances and as reception had closed, a voice message had given me the instructions to get in to the place and drop our bags as we were keen to catch up with Ciarán and also Dessie and Glenn Sommerville who’d brought out our instruments last week.  Ciarán himself had only arrived at the digs before us so we got in and unloaded the instruments from Des’ car and happy that all were in one piece and we headed up to The General Humbert bar who had kindly given us the two gigs this week.

The Humbert was already very well packed with Irish fans, several of whom were known to me from YBIG so within minutes our hosts, Pépé and Nicolas Bourdel had a steady supply of welcoming pints of Guinness flowing for us and the playlist of various Irish music (including our Irish to the Core track) was beating out through the house speakers.  Fáilte go La Rochelle!!

Welcome to Humbert's

First night,Gaz and Del

We finished the night in a local bar with Belgian beer but by then we were all running on empty, tired, fairly bevvied and ready for the bed, so I don’t think we actually finished off the one beer we ordered there.  Lightweights………….oíche mhaith!

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We emerged from the beds about 10.30 I suppose.  Our room consisted of bunk beds and a sofa bed in the back room.  Ray’s height meant he couldn’t sleep in the bunks so after my initial night sleeping in the top bunk and having a pain in my hole going up and down the ladder at night needing several pisses, I was glad Ray took to the sofa bed for the remaining six nights.

We headed out for a first wander around La Rochelle and looking for some breakfast after a heavy enough first night, although it had been heavy, I’d no hangover which was a big help.  After walking up and down the harbourside a couple of times and my tongue hanging out for some food, we settled on a place beside the two big towers of La Rochelle, each notable by the tricolours of both France and Ireland being flown, La Rochelle was certainly throwing out the Céad Míle Fáilte mat to the Paddies arriving.  We devoured our French brekkie of bacon, eggs, lettuce, orange juice and coffee and enjoyed the really scenic and relaxed atmosphere around La Rochelle.  Two Irish lads joined us and after a bit of banter they told us they’d heard there was a “RA band” playing later, to which to their surprise we revealed our identity as being the “RA band” and we all had a good laugh at that label.  We told them the RA band would be playing at 7 that night, we put on our balaclavas and headed off.

We went for a little stroll around the rest of the immediate town and then had our photo taken by a photographer from Inpho.ie who was doing plenty of snapping as the fans began to steadily appear.

We headed back to our digs and took out the instruments back to the quayside as we felt it mightn’t be a bad idea to tell as many Paddies as we could that we had a gig later in the Square at Place de La Fourche opposite the General Humbert bar and indeed many were glad to know there was something for them to (hopefully) enjoy rather than just sitting in a pub all night getting hammered, it’d be nice to be outside listening to ballads and getting hammered.  So we did two or three songs down at the quayside and that was enough and we headed back up to The General Humbert with the instruments and leads and all the rest for the gig later.

As the digs were self-catering, we raided the local shop for some food and water and groceries so we could at least try to cook and eat some proper healthy food while we were staying and after filling up the fridge we headed back up to the Square to get the sound check sorted out as the gig was starting for 7pm in order that we’d be finished by 9pm when France were playing Albania.

Sound check done and start time up, Irish fans and French locals slowly but surely trickled into the narrow but picturesque Square and by midway through the two hour set, the heat was really on and the middle-aged blonde lady who owned some sort of boutique or craft shop was rocking and boogeying her way through Catalpa’s lively set of songs.  By the last half hour or so, the Square was positively rocking and as we finished the set with our usual end number “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, the Irish were in party overdrive by now and it was a great sight to see and lovely to hear the big crowd bellowing it back to us.  Our encore consisted of an acapella “Come on You Boys in Green” and a memorable “I just Can’t Get Enough” (a RA band playing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life and I Just can’t Get Enough – some RA band!) brought the house down and nearly brought the adjoining buildings down such was the noise and bouncing Paddies and French.  Amhrán na bhFiann brought the curtain down on a really brilliant night and we sold a few albums and packed up the gear.  One lad finally succumbed to his drunkenness and the by now severe perspiration by finally removing his jocks with his shirt and shorts having earlier been removed.  It wasn’t a particularly pretty sight, but it was pretty damn funny………. Only one naked fan wasn’t a bad return in fairness.

First Gig

General Humbert’s was absolutely jammed so we decided we needed a quiet comedown from the huge gig high, so we strolled down the street and around to the small but very hospitable Café La Renommée, accompanied by our roadies Des and Glenn and also Paul Lucas from Clondalkin and his beer glove.  The landlady was delighted at our custom as we reflected and wound down with some really nice beers (landlady stood us one on the house) and word got to us that the Irish Daily Mirror had captured our last few numbers and posted on its Facebook page, with views already at some 30,000!!!  We laughed and saluted our good vibe from this and called for five more beers and a Coke for young Glenn.  Dessie then decided he’d buy a glass of champagne back for the landlady, but Dessie being Dessie, decided to buy the whole bloody bottle and share it amongst us.

Ciarán: “For Fuck’s sake Dessie, that’s too much, thanks a million but that’s too much”

Dessie: “Memories Ciarán, memories!!”

Sláinte Dessie.

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First gig in Cafe Renommee

We headed back to Humbert’s and were treated to a hilarious rendition of “Where’s Me Jumper” from Paul Lucas with Ray weaving about behind him.  Very funny it was.

A great night, which I believe we finished with a kebab and fries down the road in Le Rif.

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Day 3, Thursday 16th June.

Bit ginger getting out of the leaba this morning but again, despite some tiredness and a raging thirst, the headache was missing and once Ray had kindly rustled up a decent bacon omelette and Ciarán had delivered some coffee making filters, we were up and running again and ready to face another day of football and beers in La Rochelle.

Tommy Shields from Loughrea had been on during the morning.  Tommy had done an incredible amount of preparatory work to promote La Rochelle to the Irish YBIG members and had, with the also incredible support and generosity and tenacity of Pépé and Nico at General Humbert’s managed to organise a Fans’ game for charity in the local football stadium for the Friday.  So it was arranged for 4pm that Tommy and I, with Nico and Pépé would meet with the Mayor and some of his entourage and get some photos ahead of tomorrow’s game.

YBIG shirts to Bourdels

We  (Ray and Ciarán and myself) first headed up to a fine little bar called Le Diplomate where about a dozen Paddies were playing pool and some of the women playing board games so the landlady was enjoying the good atmosphere in her boozer.  We left there to go back to last night’s venue Café La Renommée to watch the England v Wales game and I legged it at half time with YBIG shirts to give to the Mayor, Nico and Pépé and took a few photos outside the pub.  A players’ meeting was also set up for later, but on reflection it wasn’t a great idea with the Northern Ireland v Ukraine game on after the England game so I didn’t really get to meet any of the players ahead of tomorrow (I only previously knew five of the twenty three) but that was ok.  England got a jammy last minute winner to beat Wales, while Michael O’Neill again proved what a canny gaffer he is by steering the Nordies to a 2-0 victory over Ukraine to all but guarantee their Green and White Army a place in the last 16.  Remarkable but not altogether surprising given my knowledge of O’Neill.

We were all Hank Marvin anyhow and Ciarán persuaded us to get some grub at the café beside the stage where we did the gig.  A U2 Tribute band were playing there and we reckoned it’d be good to see what they were like while having some grub and a glass of wine.  The band was excellent, the glasses of wine became several bottles and I hated the seafood platter.  Ciarán went to town on it, Lucas was 50/50 and Ray seemed to enjoy it so much he went and fell against the French quare wan beside our table knocking over her beer.  The rest of us fell about the place while Ray, with not a word of French and barely audible English, apologised profusely to the stricken Mademoiselle and replaced the spilt bottle while the rest of us regained our breaths from the laughter.  Pépé and Nico joined us and helped finish off the platter and to our amazement and gratitude took care of the bill. We headed back over to the Humbert for a bit, but after listening to Shane Long’s on Fire the last two nights, we took our leave of the heaving and singing Paddies and went for a quiet one down the street in The Troll Bar, again by that stage the livers were crying enough and my disdain for the seafood platter meant I was absolutely ravenous so I nipped next door to Le Rif Kebab shop and filled my boots before strolling back to Pierre et Vacances at a late hour.

Seafood Platter

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Day 4, Friday 17th June.

Fans’ Match Day.Another non-hangover morning which was becoming increasingly impressive given the volume of beer I was putting away so once breakfast was consumed, all was well with the world again.

Des drove us all out for an hour down the motorway to Ile De Ré (via McDonald’s for Glenn) for a bit of a change of scene and it was a nice enough spot where we enjoyed a quayside beer.  Ray particularly enjoyed the trees and bushes and he was actually very upset that we were leaving all that shrubbery and scenery behind and heading back down the road to our base.

After arriving back in La Rochelle, we watched the first half of Italy v Sweden in Le Café Renommée and Glenn (who would be my assistant for the match) and I headed up to Humbert’s as we were due to leave on the bus to the Fans’ game at 4.30.  Tommy decided (rightly) we’d watch the end of the Italy game and there were huge cheers when Italy scored a late goal to make it two wins out of two and increase our chances of qualifying from the group if we could get a win in either of our last two games.

So we all barrelled into the bus about 5pm and I was at last able to meet all the players who I wasn’t yet familiar with.  All seemed keen and ready to go but with 22 players in the squad, I had a real test to make sure everyone got sufficient and as equal minutes as possible so me brain had to work harder than it did since arriving in France.

The set up was very impressive, a very nice local football stadium, bars open at the end of the ground (also selling food) and Nico and Pépé had done amazing work in getting commemorative kits for the team with their names on the back as well, really brilliant and went down a treat with the players.  The pitch was in decent nick but my concern was its size, really wide which would test the hangovers of the players!

So we kicked off about 6.30 and national anthems and the French lads presented Tommy with a commemorative shirt with “O’Malley” on the back (for the Carl O’Malley Trust, the Irish side of the charities, “Neuf de Coeur” was the French charity) and a La Rochelle shirt also and off we went.

It soon became apparent that the French selection had eh, played before as our defence and Barry Donovan in goal were very quickly working overtime and although it took an unlucky own goal off Kieran “Scamper” O’Donoghue (another bloody own goal following Ciaran Clark in Paris) to open the scoring, the French team just were too good for our thrown together team.  Despite everyone doing their complete best and giving 100%, the half time score read 6-0 to the French.

I changed the formation to 9-1-0 for the second half.  Sorry, 3-5-2 and shoring up midfield helped somewhat, although France stretched their lead to 7-0 early second half, but finally came our moment.

Patrick Lynn volleyed a fine shot home to open our scoring and away he went on a triumphant sprint to celebrate.  Forrest Gump would’ve been proud of him and as it was turn to be withdrawn, he did it for me anyhow, finishing his run on our touchline and puking his ring up.  I thought I was seeing things, but another vomit made its way onto the grass as we all pissed ourselves laughing while Patrick probably near pissed himself while heaving up last night’s ale.  We rallied and reduced the arrears to 7-4 and their keeper made some fine saves so we made a game of it (Ross Zambra scoring two and Mick Donnelly making up for a hilarious early fall on the touchline with the other Irish goal) and the game finished on a 7-4 scoreline and everyone seemed to enjoy taking part in the game.

I wish to thank very sincerely all the lads who lined out for us and kept going to the end and again to Nico, Pépé and Tommy for all they did in getting this organised, an incredible amount of work went into this day.  The 22 brave men and true from Waterford, Nenagh, Omagh, Athlone, Dublin and Galway were as follows:  Barry Donovan, Kieran O’Donoghue, Damien Ryan, Mark Beaumont , Ciaran Kiveney, Eoin O’Flaherty, Joe McCormaic, Patrick Flaherty, Lewis Brien, Francis Creaven, Patrick Lynn, John O’Neill,  Alan Forrestal, Ross Zambra,  Colin McKenna, Ian Campbell, Padraig Brock, Shane McNamara, William Condon,  Mick Donnelly, Ryan Kelly and John O’Connor.  I gave my commemorative shirt to Glenn.

We availed of a quick beer and hot dog before boarding the bus back to town.

Fans Team

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We then were invited up to the wine bar just up from Humbert’s called Le Guignette for a small players’ reception where drinks (Ricard’s pastis, very nice and Jameson whisky) would be served. Eventually all (or nearly all) the lads filed in and we enjoyed the drinks that were put on for us and both national anthems were sung to put the seal on a very enjoyable afternoon

Tommy and Gaffer

With Bordeaux looming large early in the morning (buses would leave at 8.30am), it was hoped I’d hit the bed early.  Some hope.  Ray and Ciarán did do the sensible thing but I was going about many of the players thanking them for today and having a pint with many of them, so before I knew it was fuck off o’clock in the morning again and I eventually wobbled back to Pierre Et Vacances.  A really enjoyable day and night all the same!

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Day 5, Saturday 18th June.  Ireland v Belgium.

Got out of the pit gingerly at 7.30 but excited nevertheless at the day ahead.  Steve Krijger from YBIG had his work cut out with the French coach drivers as they had completely altered the agreed lists of names to the allocated coaches so we left about an hour late as Steve had to pretty much start from scratch and then there were issues with the drivers over rest periods and whatnot, they make our unions look exemplary really.

We brought the instruments on the bus which in hindsight was a silly idea.  Everyone was knackered, hungover and other emotions so a singsong was low on everyone’s priority and the coach to Bordeaux was very quiet.  We reached Bordeaux about midday and the weather was slowly improving.  Ciarán’s wife Catríona had arrived in Bordeaux so he went into the city to meet up with her and the rest of us hung about the vicinity of the stadium to find some food and drink stalls.  I decided to stay off the gargle ahead of the match and glad I did, but all round me most lads and lasses were tucking in again and fair play to them.

Eventually about 1.30 we decided to head up to the stadium and the security check was passed pretty quickly.  The Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux it must be said is absolutely top notch inside but the steep walk up to our 2nd from the back seat was arduous enough but we settled into the seats about 2pm and soaked up the pre-match atmosphere.

The game itself isn’t really worth going back over, we were very disappointing having played so well against the Swedes and the match is particularly memorable for an abject refereeing performance from the Turkish clown, but that’s not to say he cost us the points.  We were shite on the day and Belgium recaptured a bit of form, so 3-0 wasn’t a particularly unrealistic scoreline.

I was  however raging at Aiden McGeady’s full time disappearance down the tunnel at full time without so much of a wave of acknowledgment to the Irish fans.  Robbie Keane ensured all player and subs did so, but McGeady had gone and I was bulling at him.  We filed out of the stadium bewildered, deflated and chastened.

Stade de Nouveau

We didn’t fancy a trip into the city centre and back out again for the coaches (8.30 departure time, it was now 5pm) so we braved the big queues and scant bar service in the nearby Ibis Hotel for some post-match sorrow drowning.  The mood was understandably flat but the beers kicked in after an hour or two and my past and present Social Welfare lads in Frank Aherne, Paul Doolan, Liam Butler and Dave Galvin and their gang got a bit of a singsong going which lifted spirits and killed another hour, we’d a bit of crack anyhow.  Ray and Dessie headed off to get a case of beer for the coach back and having bumped into our old pal Gerry Reardon from the FAI and several more YBIG lads in the Ibis, I strolled up philosophically but slightly giddily up to the coach back having rang Louise back home with the story of the day.

Social Welfare Heads

Catríona joined us in the coach and again, the instruments remained in their cases, although the Aherne crew (those who stayed awake after the post-match beers) tried and failed to sing Celtic Symphony several times and those of us at the back made our through the Kronenburg 1664 bottles, as did a certain individual who raided the fridge of Dessie/Ray’s beers knowing they weren’t his.  Ray spotted this mortal sin and reminded him gently to whom they belonged and he returned them to the fridge smartly.

We arrived back in La Rochelle near 11 I suppose and went back to Pierre Et Vacances and dropped the instruments back into the room.  I reckoned it was way too early to go to bed on a trip like this despite the defeat and tiredness and with a goo on me from the coach beers, so Ray and I and Dessie headed back to Humbert’s.  Jaysus you’d think we’d won the match such was the atmosphere.  Some lads were a bit horrified at the idea of Irish fans enjoying themselves after such a crushing defeat and I may have had that view years ago, but I’m of the view nowadays that we only lost a game of football and we may as well make the best of it afterwards.  We spent most of the rest of the night down the back at the smoking area and I again had a bit of a wander to chat to various YBIG/Fans team lads.  Nenagh’s Kieran O’Donoghue who has really caught the Ireland bug, fervently and repeatedly told me of how he hopes one day to have a “Houghton moment” supporting Ireland.  I promised him he would.  It would come a lot sooner than both of us imagined……….

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Day 6, Sunday 19th June.

Yet again, despite another long day and night on the sauce, I didn’t have to reach for the Disprin.  I did however decide Dioralyte would be a good call given the gig later on where nervous and physical energy would be used up, but up to now, the health was standing up really well.

Ciarán headed out on a drive to L’Ile de Ré with Catríona so Ray and I headed up to Humbert’s early afternoon as Ray’s beloved Tyrone were playing Cavan in the Ulster Semi and that’d be shown in Humbert’s.   Tyrone blew a match-winning position to draw the match and Ray’s head in his hands at that levelling Cavan goal was a sight to behold as were the expletives towards Tyrone’s carelessness.

Today was also our second gig day and while many Irish had departed in comparison to Wednesday’s gig, we were still optimistic of a sizeable audience and so it proved.

Second Gig

Again, many French came to hear us and as hit the home straight and again with the audience now dancing and doing a conga to “Always Look on The Bright Side of Life” (captured for Joe.ie), the aforementioned blonde lady from Wednesday was again rocking and rolling in her upstairs window.  She was spotted by the Irish crowd below and when “I just Can’t Get Enough” started up, the Irish fans serenaded her from below and it was a great sight to see as the blonde lady lapped up the attention laughing her head off.  We gave Antoine (the sound engineer) the option to head off to watch the French game as we ran overtime, but fair play to him, I think he was enjoying it too much to leave anyhow so he stayed till the end and we ended the show with a grand reception from the Irish and French crowd.

We hurriedly packed up the equipment and headed back to Humbert’s and managed to find seats so we settled into them and enjoyed watching Wales make shite of Russia to top the group while England laboured to a scoreless draw with Slovakia.

We had great bit of crack anyhow after two really satisfying gigs and Catríona had christened me and Ray as “The Odd Couple” as the theme music from that movie was sung our way.  Tommy Shields again appealed for the last few euro of charity donations with the slogan “Fuck it in the Bucket” and as the night wore on and Shane Long became yet again a raging inferno and the Welsh fans in Humbert’s celebrated their qualification to the knockout stage, the night ran into familiarly late territory indeed.   I have no idea what time we ambled back to Pierre Et Vacances.

Second Gig After

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Day 7, Monday 20th June.

So, last full day for us in La Rochelle, the time just pissed in, which it always seems to when you’re having so much crack and whatnot. Catriona was heading for Dublin so Ciaran headed out the airport in the morning and meself and Oscar just lazed about the apartment, with Oscar doing a spot of clothes washing in the basement.  We then had the oul beer thirst so strolled up to Le Diplomatique and enjoyed a couple of quiet ones with virtually nobody else in the place for an hour or two.

Having put the instruments into Des’ car, we then headed back to Humbert’s as Nico wanted to just conclude all our business and have a pint or two with us before it got full in the boozer again so we did that and enjoyed the crack with Nico.  How Nico and Pepe aren’t on their knees at this stage is a mystery, their stamina is incredible.  They’ve slept only 2 or 3 hours a night for the past week so I’m sure they’ll enjoy their rest after the thirsty Paddies have moved on finally, much as they’ll miss us all taking our shoes off for the Boys in Green, bellowing out Shane Long’s on Fire, Putting them Under Pressure and all the rest of the Irish playlist we heard the past week at General Humbert’s.  The staff have been seriously under pressure for a week and fair play to them, the wait for a pint was never overly long and they remained smiling, professional and brilliant in the face of a Paddy boozing onslaught the likes of which I’m sure La Rochelle has never seen and likely will never see again.

As it was the last night, we really enjoyed just chilling and having the crack and Nico kindly offered me a lift back to the airport tomorrow.  Ciaran and Oscar (Ray) were taking the train to Lille in the morning so I’d be Billy No Mates from early tomorrow. Again, what time we left there is completely unknown to me.

Final night in Humbert's

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Day 8, Tuesday 21st June.

Awoken early enough as Ciarán and Ray headed for the train station to take them to Lille and Wednesday’s deciding match with Italy.  Went back to sleep and then spent the morning tidying the apartment before checking out, visiting the Aquarium and then having my first proper meal with proper food (apart from breakfasts) for a week.  Killed the hours pretty well and Nico left me back to the airport as promised…………………..Au revoir La Rochelle.

Au Revoir Humbert's

So that’s it.  It was an absolutely brilliant week in La Rochelle and I’m so glad we stayed here for our Euro 2016 base.  Getting to play two gigs with Ciaran and Ray and the reaction to the gigs will stay in my memory bank forever.  Meeting old and friends and making new ones is always another highlight of Ireland trips, but above all, the kindness, hard work and decency of Tommy Shields, Nico and Pépé Bourdel was what made our week in La Rochelle possible, so a special thanks to those three as I conclude this diary.

To the Irish fans who enhanced an already enviable reputation in world football, bloody well done lads and lasses.  As Jock Stein said all those years ago, “football without fans is nothing”.

Once more with feeling……………”Shane Long’s on fire, your defence is petrified, Shane Long’s on fire”……………etc

The End

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Brady rekindles Irish love affair with its football team.

23 Jun

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What a night to be Irish. What a night to be a football fan. What a night to be an Irish football fan in the Stade Pierre in Lille last night. What a night to be Robbie Brady who joined Irish winning goal scoring hero Ray Houghton in the annals of Irish footballing folklore by glancing home Norwich team mate Wes Hoolahan’s sumptuous pass to send Ireland and their outstanding supporters on to a Last 16 showdown with hosts France in Lyon on Sunday.

Houghton’s winning goals against England and Italy in 1988 and 1994 were opening group games so Brady’s winner carried extra significance as Ireland simply had to win to prolong the Irish party in France.

Ireland’s dreadfully disappointing defeat to Belgium four days previously in Bordeaux resulted in Martin O’Neill making four changes to that starting eleven. Increased youth, vigour and strength saw Shane Duffy and Richard Keogh oust John O’Shea and a battered Ciaran Clark in defence while Glen Whelan and Hoolahan made way for Daryl Murphy and James McClean. The centre half clear out was a calculated gamble by O’Neill and Seamus Coleman was handed the armband.

Antonio Conte also rang the Italian changes but for altogether different reasons as key players from their opening two wins were rested with the Italians already group winners.

New skipper Coleman displayed instant intent with a crunching calling card on a yelping Italian and Jeff Hendrick followed suit moments later. Ireland were here to win and though both were lucky to escape a card from Romanian rookie ref Ovidiu Hategan, the two challenges set the tone and Ireland drove forward.

Hendrick went agonisingly close with an early piledriver that shaved Sirigu’s post and James McCarthy, McClean, Shane Long and Murphy were aggressive, tenacious and terrier like in unsettling the Italians.

Long and Sirigu squared up for a mutual yellow card as Ireland’s pressure was clearly rattling Italy and Sirigu pulled out a fine save from Murphy’s header from Brady’s corner but Ireland were well on top in the opening exchanges.

Defensively Ireland were comfortable although Duffy was nervy in possession early on but Coleman was relishing his captaincy as he cajoled and roared approval at a McCarthy challenge.

Ireland’s fans sensed blood as well and though Immobile went close enough with a snapshot it was their only shot as the half drew to a close. Before it did close however, Ireland fans were seething at referee Hategan.

An earlier Ogbonna foul on Murphy inside the box should’ve been punished by the ref, but when Brady fed McClean in a promising position, he was clearly fouled and bundled over by Bernardeschi but amazingly Mr Hategan let it pass. Robbery, daylight robbery from the Romanian.

Italy emerged for the second half with added appetite after a likely dressing down from
Conte and Zaza had a volley just too high to remind Ireland of his danger, but Keogh and rookie Duffy grew in stature as the game wore on and Ireland fans willed their warriors on relentlessly.

Murphy tested Sirigu and from the follow up Coleman might’ve done better but this pressure remained incessant as Italy were flustered and passing the ball terribly due to Irish pressure and harrying.

Ireland still needed that priceless goal and O’Neill sacrificed a much improved McCarthy for McGeady and a spent Murphy made way for the mercurial Hoolahan.

Italian sub Insigne almost gave Italy a most undeserved lead when he set off on a solo run and his excellent shot beat Randolph all ends up, but rebounded off the post to safety.

As Robbie Keane was readied after 81 minutes, Ireland looked like their moment had arrived. A defensive lapse allowed Hoolahan in on a one on one, but agonisingly his shot lacked conviction and Sirigu saved easily.

That moment looked to have passed but a moment later and with Keane still chomping to get on, Brady took possession in his own half. He advanced and fed McGeady to his right. Brady ran on. And ran on. And nobody tracked the lung-busting late run.

McGeady fed Hoolahan with a key pass and if anyone was in
doubt about Hoolahan’s state of mind, they needn’t have had
any. Hoolahan’s cultured left peg and wonderful football vision pierced Bonucci’s retreat and such was the pace on the pass, the still running Brady only had to make sure he made contact with the ball. He did. Sirigu had no chance and the Irish fans behind the goal sent up a Celtic cacaphoney of celebration as a spent and already emotional Brady slid to acclaim a memorable and bloody good goal.

He had started the move, showed desire and intelligence to keep going and Hoolahan’s magnificent delivery was final redemption for all those lonely years being ignored by Trapattoni. What a moment. Lille was in utter pandemonium.

Keane put his kit back on as Stephen Quinn came on instead to keep the Irish door shut for the final five minutes and stoppage time. Italy were done however, reduced to a cynical and beaten team by a Herculean Irish performance and the Boys in Green saw the time out without incident.

The final whistle was predictably wild in Irish celebration of a famous but ultimately meaningful win. Given little chance following the loss in Bordeaux, O’Neill deserves huge credit in having the balls to make key and brave changes to the starting XI.

The players deserve massive praise for a performance of guts, discipline, skill and belief and it was these traits and more besides that kept the huge Irish support’s similar belief. The fans deserve the extra game (and who knows maybe more) in France.

Make no mistake, Ireland have a chance next Sunday in Lyon. They have momentum, belief, purpose and unity. France will write them off at their peril. The ghost of Henry 2009 still stalks Irish fans and this team will do its utmost to banish it. Forever.

This is a turning point in the O’Neill reign. Things weren’t right in Bordeaux and he moved to put them right. He did. This is also a turning point in the Irish public and their relationship with its football team.

They are in love again. It has been too long.

 

Euro 2016: Clough Disciples can take us past Group Stage

7 Jun

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So as the Irish team prepares to leave for their magnificent looking Versailles base (Saipan it certainly isn’t) and with new contracts just hours ago having been agreed for Irish boss Martin O’Neill, assistant Roy Keane and other staff members, it should be a fairly happy Easyjet flight that leaves these shores tomorrow.

It’s been a very interesting seven days since Ireland’s final warm-up defeat to Belarus in Turner’s Cross and the squad announcement and apparent fall-out (among some sections of the Press anyhow) of Roy Keane’s perceived disaffection with some of the Irish players’ performances in that Belarus game.

In my opinion, Keane was absolutely on the money, but I would also wager there was calculated method in his comments that had the complete backing of his gaffer. The squad hadn’t been announced and a couple of spots were up for grabs on the flight, yet far too many of the eleven who started (with most if not all unlikely to feature in the starting XI against Sweden in Paris next Monday, barring injuries) against Belarus failed miserably to lay down a marker to O’Neill that they could merit a starting place if the cards fell their way.

For me, the biggest contrast in attitudes and ability on the night were Aiden McGeady and James McClean. In terms of natural ability, McGeady is streets ahead of McClean. In terms of honesty of application and attitude, McClean blows the moody and enigmatic McGeady out of the water. Aiden McGeady rescued a crucial opening qualifier victory in Georgia twenty one months ago with that world class goal (his second on the night) and looked set to finally blossom in the Irish shirt after so many infuriating performances lacking in end product and effectiveness. A move to Everton following a productive enough spell with Spartak Moscow looked set to further McGeady’s cementing of his reputation as a top class player. Sadly, it has all gone pear-shaped for McGeady as injury and loss of form saw him slip out of favour with Martinez at Everton. The fact that a well-meaning move to Premier League chasing Sheffield Wednesday utterly bombed should fill O’neill and Keane and indeed all of us, with complete fear at how low McGeady’s stock has now fallen. His first half performance against Belarus bore that out. He was ineffective, disinterested and completely bereft of any semblance of sharpness. He is lucky to be boarding that plane tomorrow.

McClean on the other hand bounced back from a pre-season slaughtering in the British (and some Irish) media over his God Save the Queen stance in a pre-season friendly for West Brom, followed by the annual November nonsense (Poppygate) by absorbing the  garbage with his usual class and steadfastness and then becoming a regular in the first team at The Hawthorns. He had a fine season (despite a couple of silly red cards) and demonstrated last Tuesday against Belarus that not only did he want to be certain of making the squad, he wanted to show O’Neill that he covets a starting spot in Paris next Monday. This he did by making some  crunching tackles from the off and covering the ground in his usual manner and getting in a quota of crosses. He was everything McGeady wasn’t. McClean however must get his timing right or he will incur referees’ wrath.

It was Keane’s post-match comments however that made the headlines and I really don’t understand the fuss that was made of them, with some speculating already that there might be unrest in the Irish camp as a result! What utter rubbish!
Has it not occurred to anyone that both O’Neill and Keane were managed by one of the greatest managers of all time in Brian Clough? Has it not occurred to those who felt Keane was out of order that these two former pupils of Clough might now be indulging in some

well-rehearsed cajoling and psychology to ensure all twenty three Irish players know what’s expected of them? Has it not occured to anyone that the players might actually agree with Keane (and O’Neill who himself was unimpressed with the Belarus showing)? And if they don’t agree with Keane and were “hurt” or “stung” by the criticism, well maybe they should pack it in and let their wives/girlfriends massage their poor bruised egos.

In my opinion, the timing of this perceived criticism of several players was absolutely spot on, be it personally from Keane, or if it was prompted by O’Neill himself, with Roy the usual “bad cop” trotted out so everybody would be listening.

We travelled to Poland in 2012 without a clue what our management team was thinking or saying due to their pigeon English. We travelled to Poland, despite several players being patently unfit, wrongly assuming all was well and smelling of roses in the camp. We travelled to Poland on a wave of utterly misplaced confidence. O’Neill and Keane are ensuring we don’t repeat that  mistake this year.

So what of our chances in the group? I am cautiously optimistic we can advance through the group. Sweden are workmanlike and honest and have Ibrahimovic. Ibrahimovic can be and has been shackled before and if Ireland can do a job in containing their big star, we can

definitely gain a point at least from the opener. Three points is not beyond us either given the O’Neill knack in getting into his players’ heads (the Clough factor) and playing above themselves when it matters.

The fitness of Jonny Walters and Robbie Brady is key to our chances in Paris. Walters was our talisman and Player of the Qualifiers. Brady has become key for set piece delivery and eye for a goal (both play-off legs v Bosnia). Deprived of one or both of them could mean the difference between no points and three next Monday. I believe both will make it as this game should determine our duration in France.

Belgium will hugely miss the absence of Kompany, when he is fully fit (if he ever will be again), he is one of the best defenders in world football. Despite the rich talent at Marc Wilmots’ disposal, Kompany’s absence will make a difference to the fate of Belgium. On their day however and depending on how we’ve fared in Paris, this is probably our toughest game of the three and I would take a point now from Bordeaux.

Italy are Italy, despite the retirement of Pirlo and the absence of a centre forward of note to score the goals they need. Despite Italy’s tradition and history, I firmly believe Ireland can win this one and an avoidance of defeat in the other two games should be enough for us to make the last 16.

Make no mistake however, this is still a bloody tough group for Ireland and history has taught us that anything is possible on any given day, be it positive or negative, so my belief we can progress beyond the group stage is peppered with caution.

If everyone is fit (and I mean 100% fit, not Euro 2012 fit), I think the starting XI will be as follows: (4-5-1) – Randolph, Coleman, O’Shea, Keogh, Brady; Walters, Whelan, McCarthy, Hendrick, McClean; Long.

We’re all set, let the games begin and let us hope we see us make it beyond the group stage for this time in a European Championship! GWAN IRELAND!

 

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!

Martin O’Neill: Irish Tinkerman?

13 Oct
O'Neill got his mojo back in the win over Germany

O’Neill got his mojo back in the win over Germany

What to make then of Martin O’Neill’s first ten qualification matches as Irish gaffer? A record of five wins, three draws and two defeats has been enough to progress Ireland to the perilous play-off situation next month and with a goals record of 19 scored and only 7 conceded, I think it’s fair to laud the Derryman on making the play-offs in a group containing World Champions Germany, an always formidable Poland and an improving, if ultimately careless Scotland under Gordon Strachan.

Much has been made of O’Neill’s team selections since the group got under way thirteen months ago away to Georgia. The big questions before that opener in Tbilisi were would he go Trapattoni-like with a rigid and strait-jacketed 4-4-2? Would he play three at the back as he often did at Celtic? 4-5-1 (when defending) or 4-3-3 (when attacking)? Would the mercurial and forgotten (under Trapattoni) Wes Hoolahan finally find a regular place in the starting eleven?

In that first game away to Georgia, he elected to play three in central midfield with Whelan, McCarthy and Stephen Quinn getting the nod, flanked by McGeady and Walters, with Robbie Keane on his own up front. Ireland won the opener 2-1 in what was a very patchy performance, rescued by McGeady’s injury time wonder goal. In eight of the subsequent nine qualifiers he went for the three in the middle. The game he didn’t was Scotland away where Darron Gibson and Jeff Hendrick made little impression with Long and Walters getting no service up front and McClean and McGeady totally ineffective out wide, where Scotland deservedly won 1-0 at Celtic Park.

O’Neill always kept everyone guessing as to his starting eleven and I would wager that includes his players. Below are the amount of changes he made to the starting eleven from game to game following that opener in Georgia:

Gibraltar (home), five changes,won 7-0

Germany (away), three changes, drew 1-1

Scotland (away), five changes, lost 0-1

Poland (home), seven changes, drew 1-1

Scotland (home), two changes, drew 1-1

Georgia (home), two changes, won 1-0

Gibraltar (away), one change, won 4-0

Germany (home), four changes, won 1-0

Poland (away), five changes, lost 1-2

While losing players to injury and suspension is always an issue in international football, I’d be doubtful that many teams with the same pool of players available as Ireland would make as many changes from game to game as O’Neill did. The five changes from the memorable win at home to Germany to the disappointing loss in Warsaw three days later were in my opinion unduly excessive. In my opinion, Christie (superb against Germany) should have been retained and moved to left back for the exhausted Ward with Brady remaining in midfield where he excelled against Germany with Hendrick and McCarthy That midfield three showed more than enough in that remarkable victory to merit being kept together in a match where a victory or 2-2 draw was very much attainable and thus avoiding the shark-infested waters of the play-off. With O’Neill breaking up that trio, reverting Brady to left back (a position he is still coming to terms with) and not convincing Hoolahan to give it socks for an hour or more in Warsaw stunted the massive momentum the team created after beating the World champions. In a game we should have taken to Poland from the off, the return of Whelan alongside McCarthy and Hendrick saw us return to ponderous and predictable midfield graft rather than the mobile and progressive stuff we saw with Brady, McCarthy and Hendrick three days previously. While not in the social media league of Glen Whelan-bashing, I really feel a corner was turned in terms of midfield passing and mobility in that Germany victory and bringing Whelan back handed over a pre-kick off initiative in Warsaw and our attacking play on the night bore that out in what was as bad a performance as the Glasgow defeat (which Whelan missed to be fair!) in terms of the dearth of attacking play and chances created.

So Martin O’Neill has many conundrums and dilemmas ahead of next month’s play off, the draw for which is next Sunday.

Over the ten games, he started twenty four different players.  Those ten games didn’t reveal a clear identity or philosophy of play under O’Neill apart from the expected honesty of effort and pride in the shirt. A philosophy seemed to be emerging with the Herculean performance over the Germans, or was that merely a one off or false dawn given the subsequent disappointment in Warsaw?

O’Neill really needs to find the correct blend in his midfield three that makes this team more threatening coming forward. Performances such as in Warsaw, Glasgow and the first half at home to Poland cannot be allowed to continue. He must do without Walters (and John O’Shea) for the first leg of the play-off. Walters has been a real stalwart in the campaign for his application , tenacity and nicking of crucial goals such as the winner against Georgia and the opener against Scotland at home. He will be missed, but maybe it gives Hoolahan another chance as a roving wide player with (hopefully) a fully fit again McGeady on the other side and and the central trio of Hendrick, McCarthy and Brady given their head again.

A bold approach can see us on that plane to France, leaving Scotland at home next Summer to mind the two islands. Ruthless and brave decisions have to made by O’Neill. Let’s hope he gets those decisions right over the next 180 minutes of football.

Footnote:

For the record, below is the list of players who started matches in the qualifying group.

John O’Shea 10

Jonathan Walters 9

Glen Whelan 7

James McCarthy 7

Jeff Hendrick 7

Seamus Coleman 6

Robbie Keane 6

Wes Hoolahan 6

Robbie Brady 6

Aiden McGeady 5

Shay Given 5

Marc Wilson 5

Stephen Ward 5

James McClean 4

David Forde 4

Richard Keogh 3

Cyrus Christie 2

Shane Long 2

Daryl Murphy 2

Darron Gibson 2

Stephen Quinn 2

Ciaran Clarke 2

David Meyler 2

Darren Randolph 1

*************************************************************************************************************************************************

Phelim Warren, 13th October 2015

@freewheeler12

James McClean: An Irish Fan’s Take.

22 Jul

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Much has been written in the past couple of days regarding the “controversy” generated by James McClean’s admirable stance (literally) when the British national anthem was played in his English club’s (West Brom) friendly match in America over the weekend.   Much guff has been written about it and too much but predictable guff has been written by Twitter and Facebook keyboard warriors. Some of stuff by “reputable” journalists in the UK has been predictably pathetic and comments on RTE’s “Soccer Republic” by football pundit Damien Richardson were lazy and nonsensical in stating McClean shouldn’t play in England if he won’t stand and face the British flag for the British National Anthem.

 

What remains however in my opinion is that James McClean demonstrated intelligence, consistency, respect, bravery and steadfastness regarding his nationality and beliefs and as a Dublin-based Irishman, I applaud his actions heartily.

 

Let’s get one thing straight. James McClean did not turn his back when God Save the Queen was struck up. His ten team mates turned to face the flag, James turned to face the original way the players were facing. James McClean is from The Creggan in Derry, a city scarred so badly by The Troubles. The Bloody Sunday atrocity of 1972 still remains seared on the psyche of the people of Derry, not least on McClean’s mind as he was growing up, when British paratroopers opened fire on unarmed and defenceless nationalist citizens of Derry, with fourteen people losing their lives. That it took 38 years for the British Government to apologise for the killings, the lies and the cover ups added to a justified sense of anger and bitterness among the nationalist community. James McClean listened to and learned what happened in 1972 and like any fair-minded person, knew where the blame lay.

 

McClean wrote a hugely thoughtful, measured and respectful letter to his chairman at his then club Wigan Athletic in 2014, when McClean opted to not wear a Remembrance Day Poppy on his shirt last year. I am quoting McClean’s statement in full here:

 

Dear Mr Whelan I wanted to write to you before talking about this face to face and explain my reasons for not wearing a poppy on my shirt for the game at Bolton.

I have complete respect for those who fought and died in both World Wars – many I know were Irish-born. I have been told that your own Grandfather Paddy Whelan, from Tipperary, was one of those. I mourn their deaths like every other decent person and if the Poppy was a symbol only for the lost souls of World War I and II I would wear one. I want to make that 100% clear .You must understand this.

But the Poppy is used to remember victims of other conflicts since 1945 and this is where the problem starts for me. For people from the North of Ireland such as myself, and specifically those in Derry, scene of the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre, the poppy has come to mean something very different. Please understand, Mr Whelan, that when you come from Creggan like myself or the Bogside, Brandywell or the majority of places in Derry, every person still lives in the shadow of one of the darkest days in Ireland’s history – even if like me you were born nearly 20 years after the event. It is just a part of who we are, ingrained into us from birth.

Mr Whelan, for me to wear a poppy would be as much a gesture of disrespect for the innocent people who lost their lives in the Troubles – and Bloody Sunday especially – as I have in the past been accused of disrespecting the victims of WWI and WWII. It would be seen as an act of disrespect to those people; to my people.

I am not a war monger, or anti-British, or a terrorist or any of the accusations levelled at me in the past. I am a peaceful guy, I believe everyone should live side by side, whatever their religious or political beliefs which I respect and ask for people to respect mine in return.

Since last year, I am a father and I want my daughter to grow up in a peaceful world, like any parent. I am very proud of where I come from and I just cannot do something that I believe is wrong. In life, if you’re a man you should stand up for what you believe in. I know you may not agree with my feelings but I hope very much that you understand my reasons.

As the owner of the club I am proud to play for, I believe I owe both you and the club’s supporters this explanation.

Yours sincerely,

James McClean

 

Not exactly your typical comments from a modern day footballer. Indeed it is so rare for a footballer these days to comment on any issue with any degree of insight or intelligence, so McClean’s statement was particularly well written and thought out.

 

For people then to state McClean is a hypocrite for earning his living in England but not “respecting” God Save the Queen just defies all logic. McClean completely respected the National Anthem by remaining silent and still. If he had turned to face the British flag, we could then accuse him of being a hypocrite given his Remembrance Day statement. But he remained true to himself on his beliefs. If you want disrespect of a national anthem, look and listen no further to a sizeable amount of English fans who sing(?) their national anthem willy nilly during matches and in bars and on the streets without any regard for the appropriateness of a national anthem. That some deem to sing it while using a Nazi salute demonstrates who the hypocrites are when it comes to national anthems.

 

If you want disrespect for a national anthem, cast your mind back to a World Cup Qualifier in 1989 at Lansdowne Road between Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The North’s keeper, George Dunlop indulged in a notably and blatantly disrespectful session of hopping up and down on the spot as the Republic’s anthem “Amhrán na bhFiann” was played. Where was the outrage back then, the calls for Dunlop to be disciplined in the way McClean has been called out to be sacked by his club West Brom and ran out of the UK by the mob mentality?

 

If you want respect for a neighbouring Head of State, anybody care to remember Martin Johnson’s pathetic game of one-upmanship on his Irish hosts at a rugby international at Lansdowne Road in 2003? Johnson led his team to the Irish side of the red carpet deliberately and when politely asked to move to the English side, refused, which caused the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese to trudge through a heavy and dirty surface for the pre-match handshakes. Bravo Martin.

 

Then enter McClean’s club manager Tony Pulis into the affair. Tony Pulis signed McClean during the Summer, surely knowing full well that McClean took and maintained a stand over Remembrance Day. After McClean’s actions over the weekend, Pulis was quoted as saying his player should have turned to face the flag “like everybody else”. Oh really Tony? Did not it occur to you that James might have a mind of his own when it came to British national anthems or remembrances? Pulis then said McClean has been “reminded of his responsibilities”. What responsibility is that then Tony? Did he do a Gazza and mimic a flute-playing bigot? No. Was McClean found drunk behind a the wheel of a car? No. Did McClean beat up his wife/partner? No. Did James break a fellow professional’s leg and put a career at risk? No. I could find other examples of appalling acts of modern day players and their “responsibilities” but I think I’ve made my point. So don’t talk to James McClean about responsibilities Mr Pulis.

 

In short and in this fan’s eyes, James McClean behaved respectfully, rationally, consistently and bravely. He is used to social media backlashes and is clearly ready and able to deal with the flak. His opinions and stance remain rare in a modern day footballer and the fact that he won’t have stuff rammed down his throat and ordered how to carry himself as a proud Irishman is as admirable as it is correct.

 

I’m sick of people talking down to us on what Irish people should or shouldn’t sing about, what events of history and people we choose to laud or celebrate, trying to hide and tuck away history and events, events that shaped this country and have shaped James McClean into the person he is. James McClean may not be an outstanding footballer but he’s an outstanding Irishman.   We should learn from him.

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

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.

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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.

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

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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?

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

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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.

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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.

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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”………

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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.

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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”

Or:

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.