When Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland recorded that famous 1-0 victory over England at Euro ‘88, I’d just turned 15 a few weeks earlier. So I was exactly the same age as my son Patrick is now.
“Are you going to watch the game tonight?”
“What do you mean who’s playing? Ireland and Luxembourg!”
“Why would I want to watch that, Dad?”
We’re just interested in Premier League and European clubs
We obviously live in parallel universes but everything is relative. In 1988, I had the same sort of interest in soccer, in sport generally, that Patrick has today. The difference is that I looked up in awe at the Irish team then. But that is not the case with Patrick today.
“We’re just interested in Premier League and European clubs, transfers and fantasy football. All my friends are the same. It’s such a pain when there’s an international break. But we follow Ireland in rugby!”
It’s not scientific. But little doubt he and his mates are genuinely more tuned into the Premier League and Champions League rather than Nations Cup and Ireland’s (probably already doomed) attempts to reach next year’s World Cup finals in Qatar. Granted, success breeds success and all that, but it is interesting to note that the next generation, based on my mini straw poll of a bunch of 15-year-olds maintains such little interest compared to my day.
Then again, we were spoiled
But it isn’t difficult to understand the lack of interest when we have had to Google some of the players named in various Irish squads over the past 10 years or so and what clubs they play for. Then again, we were spoiled. In the week when we were once more reminded of the profound impact Jack Charlton made to sport, life and culture in this country through the magnificence of the TV documentary, Finding Jack Charlton, I looked up the Irish team which defeated England that June day in Stuttgart; Bonner, Morris, McCarthy, Moran, Hughton, Houghton, McGrath, Whelan, Galvin, Aldridge, Stapleton.
Three played first-team football with Celtic in Scotland. Celtic finished third that year. Three were in the first team of the 1988-89 English first division champions Liverpool, two played with second-placed Manchester United (MU), two with Spurs (13th) and one, the great former MU striker Frank Stapleton, then with Derby County (15th).
Leaving aside Celtic and Derby, the Liverpool, MU and Spurs players playing today in the positions occupied by Irish players back in 1988 are, Mo Salah, Jordan Henderson, Sadio Mane, Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes, Sergio Reguilon and Son Heung-min. That’s the bones of a world-class team.
We are not producing the quality anymore
I may be conflating matters, but it managed to give Patrick a sense of the quality of the Irish team of the time made up generally of Liverpool. MU, Spurs and Arsenal players. The subs that day included Niall Quinn (Arsenal) and Kevin Sheedy (Everton). David O’Leary and Liam Brady weren’t even in the squad.
We can argue the reasons why this is no longer the case. We are not producing the quality anymore or the big money in the Premier League is attracting the world’s best players at the expense of Irish, Scottish, Welsh and maybe even English players.
When I was 15 and a bit, Ireland beat England
Then again, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are arguably in a better situation than the Republic of Ireland right now.
When I was 15 and a bit, Ireland beat England. When Patrick was aged 15 and a bit, Ireland lost at home to Luxembourg. That is where it’s all at.
A journey to work which would have taken 25 minutes for most of the past year is now taking 50 minutes. It is one barometer showing how the recent relaxing of rules will not make an ounce of difference to many who have self-relaxed the rules anyway.