By Ernie Fahey
I can only write from experience when referring to Jack Charlton. I was a child when he became Ireland manager in 1986 and a teenager when he stepped down in 1995. Those years are my first memories, childhood through to becoming a teenager.
Jack Charlton was a significant part of this, a constant, in a similar manner to Santa Claus. Just like the man from Lapland, I was a big fan. For a young boy from east Limerick, there was a superhuman aura to Jack and what he represented. I didn’t need posters of Spiderman.
I was lucky that my father was a ‘soccer man’. We went to many matches together during Jack’s reign. Getting a Wednesday off school to go to watch the ‘Boys in Green’ in action was a great privilege.
I can vividly remember going to the England match in November 1990, Tony Cascarino scored a fine header to level the match with only minutes remaining; the raw euphoria amongst the crowd was unforgettable, by contrast the English support was furious. They were great times.
Watching Jack’s team would evoke the full gamut of emotions. I didn’t enjoy the matches when they were in progress, Ireland were either desperately defending a slender lead or trying to equalise to stay alive in a major tournament or qualifying campaign. It was always gripping.
Much of Jack’s reign was typified by moments of ecstasy or agony. Seven minutes from the Euro 88 semi-finals when Wim Kieft scored a fluky goal to send Holland through and Ireland out.
Losing out on qualifying for Euro 92’ due to a late Gary Lineker goal in Poland to send England through, in hindsight probably our best team ever.
I remember leaving the sitting room upset when Jimmy Quinn scored that volley for Northern Ireland that looked like stopping Ireland qualifying for ‘USA 94’, thankfully Alan McLoughlin’s equaliser rescued the situation and the rest is history. The golden moments are now legendary, Stuttgart, Genoa and New Jersey to name but three.
Looking back now, I feel Jack’s greatest achievement was hauling Ireland onto the top table of world football, the so called aristocrats didn’t like playing us, there was no patronising platitudes from opponents prior to games. Ireland were a handful for anyone and were to be avoided when draws were made in Geneva (Uefa) and Zurich (Fifa).