I remember the afternoon Ireland played England in Euro 88. I was 10-years-old and my friends couldn’t decide whether we’d go fishing for the day or watch Ireland play.
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We chose the latter and I remember filling in a wall chart at home and wrongly crediting John Aldridge for Ray Houghton’s goal against England. The celebrations were chaotic in Kildare and Stuttgart.
After that game we couldn’t countenance fishing at the expense of watching Ireland. Not now we were hooked. At home we stoked up the barbeque ahead of the draw against Russia and spent the rest of that summer trying to imitate Ronnie Whelan’s spectacular goal.
By the time Ireland got around to playing Holland, we knew the Dutch starting eleven, that Ajax was in Amsterdam and spent the days before and after that match reading Shoot magazine and cooking yellow pack quarter-pounders in Donegan’s up the road.
The sun shone that summer. Twenty-four years on the memories remain vivid and warm.
It was the same when Ireland qualified for their first World Cup in 1990. I remember watching the penalty shoot-out in O’Mahoney’s next door, Dave O’Leary coolly dispatching the winner and some auld fella swiping my scarf when we went down town to celebrate.
I even remember the weather and the kick-off times. The sun shone for all our group games in 1990, England and Holland were evening matches and Egypt was on a Sunday. It was overcast for the Romania game and rained when we played Italy in the quarter-finals. That contest was on a Saturday night and I can still see Toto Schilacci reeling in celebration after his match-winning goal. We ate pizza too.
The evening we played and beat Italy in the Giant’s Stadium in New York, I drank Guinness. It was my first taste of alcohol. Three baby cans taint my memories with a greeny blur but I know we watched every game of that tournament in a converted shed, smoking out the window and retreating to a green area to impersonate the Brazilian duo of Romário and Bebeto. I remember the final in the Rose Bowl and Roberto Baggio missing a penalty, Brazil lifting the cup and Packie dropping the ball against Holland.
Then there was Saipan, the 2002 World Cup and the Keane-McCarthy fallout, but the personal memories from that tournament remain just as strong. Our opening game against Cameroon kicked-off early on a Saturday morning and I remember friends staying up through the night drinking pints and some passing out minutes after the game started.
I remember crashing a scooter in Cyprus the day we played Saudi Arabia, wondering what to do with the wreck and Red McArdle telling me the best move was to run it off a cliff into the sea and tell the police it was stolen. I didn’t.
Then there was the quarter-final against Spain, the penalties and the pub in Naas opening ahead of time so we could all get in and claim our seats. I remember Spanish visitors to our town wondering at our celebrations that evening because “we won today, not you guys.”
I remember kissing a girl I liked that evening, the design on her green t-shirt and thinking it was still a great day, even though we lost.
I remember all those things from all those summers and so much more. I think of those tournaments as wonderful times full of happy memories and filled with the people I love, my family and friends who shared the similar joys along the way.
Because for me, there is nothing else that weaves a better thread through summer memories and ties them all together like Ireland’s participation in a major soccer tournament. I sometimes wonder how 24 years on from Euro 88, I can recall the detail of those two weeks when regularly, I struggle to find my Oyster Card.
The years 1988, 90, 94 and 2002 were the staging posts of my childhood, adolescence and adulthood. The legacy of all these memories means I’m relishing what lies ahead in the coming weeks because I know more will be made and some will be cherished.
Three years ago, I had the good fortune to interview Jack Charlton for a radio station in Fulham. When the interview cut for a break I took the opportunity to thank him for the memories and the summers that made my youth.
It was unprofessional but in an understated way he said ‘don’t mention it.’ But for me those times and those memories can never be overstated.
Now c’mon you Boys in Green, let’s go and make some more.