Every four years soccer hits the world stage and memories of Ireland’s halcyon days of the 90’s flood back – the swell of pride at hearing Amhráin na bhFiann on a world stage, the flying of tricolours throughout the country is remembered as I sit down to a feast of football.
Jim told stories of the pre 90’s Irish teams and the crowds that followed them; we watched Ray Houghton put the ball in the English net in Stuttgart in the 1988 Euros and felt (and still feel) the swell of national pride and the craic that years later would make no sense to Roy Keane; Christie Moore’s Inchicore Joxer became a party celebrity and then we qualified for Italia ’90 and we became a nation of soccer enthusiasts. David filled books with stickers of footballers and we entered match scores on grids.
We didn’t win the World Cup but we went wild, flew flags, hung out bunting, sang Italian songs (Volare, Amore ) with Dean Martin and songs about Paul McGrath (ooh aah), Jackie’s Army (that we were all part of!),
Thousands of supporters, friends and family, travelled to Italy for the matches, but those of us who stayed at home, shared their adventure with equal fervour and grew more hysterical by the day.
We survived the group stage and reached the second round. OMG! Travel plans were changed and tickets were sourced and the boys hit for Genoa.
Dublin was as hot as Genoa on that Monday in June for the late afternoon kick-off against Romania. After ending in a draw we needed Packie to save and O’Leary to score and the crowds took to the streets as the travellers scrapped their flight tickets for Dublin and headed for Rome and a place in the World Cup Quarter finals – penalty shoot-outs will always bring me back to the excitement of Genoa.
The Pope wanted to meet us!!!! And although Toto Schillaci ended our dream in Rome’s Stade Olympico, the entire country celebrated the journey and we channelled the ecstasy into the homecoming.
And for ever after we thought Pavarotti sang Nessun Dorma for us!!!!
The Giant Stadium, NY, was the site of victory for the Green Army in World Cup 1994. Drawn against the Italian giants in the Giant’s Stadium we had hope more than expectation until 5 minutes into the game Ray Houghton lopped the goalie. With baited breath for the rest of the match we cheered as Paul McGrath outwitted the famous Roberto Baggio.
The fans travelled onto Orlando, a city decked out in Green and Orange…. World media found some of our travellers and we rang round family here at home so that recorders could be set and a snatch of the revellers would become part of our World Cup memorabilia. We were lauded as the “greatest fans in USA” before the heat of the Citrus Bowl combined with the talents of the Dutch on the football field.
Undaunted, the Irish team and fans hit back to NY, but unfortunately succumbed there to the force of the Mexicans. But while it lasted, the stories were great and the songs and the posters and the comraderie and the tales of the Three Amigos!
Our soccer star didn’t rise again till 2002 when once again our team qualified for the World Cup and plans were made to go EAST to Japan and Korea. This time a new generation of family travelled as my newly graduated and recently employed son, David, took off as a member of the Green Army.
It was still a relatively pre mobile phone era and so we only knew the media presentation which was weighed heavily about the Saipan debacle. We watched BBC and RTE anxiously for any news but often had to be happy with views of the returned Keane walking his dog Trigs. Keane was our lynchpin – what would happen without him!!!
But Matt Holland did us proud against the Cameroons. Another 1:1 draw against the Germans and the other Keane’s (Robbie) somersaulting victory display! We dismantled Saudi and found ourselves runners-up in the group against Spain! Less than 10 minutes into game we were 1:0 down and only equalised in last few minutes – after extra time we were still undivided so Penalties again! No joy this time as Ireland were sent home! And months of recrimination against Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy followed.
AND SINCE THEN: 2006, 2010, 2014, 2018
Brian Kerr unsuccessfully led us through the 2006 qualifiers to be played in Germany but the country fell in love with Kerr’s commentaries and Roy Keane returned to the fold – older and less able!
We got out of our group stages for 2010 World Cup but Thierry Henry’s hand halted our progress to South Africa.
Trapatonni managed us in 2014 and although Ireland weren’t contesting Ray represented the O’Loughlin branch of the Green Army in Brazil.
And now as we near quarter final 2018 in Russia without Ireland we listen to the expertise of pundits – Brian Kerr has to be a favourite with what have become known as “Kerrisms”.
MAYBE 2022 in Qatar???