With the Corona virus wreaking havoc across the Irish sporting landscape lets look back to a happier time particularly for fans of Irish Soccer. Jack Charlton would hold the post as manager of the Irish national football team for 10 successful years in which he transformed the nations view and passion towards the sport. He would lead the team to 3 major tournaments the first three in the country’s history and provided some shocks along the way. His endearing personality and love for Ireland led him to be hailed as an indoctrinated Irishman and being known as one of the most popular men in Ireland.
Born in a mining village in the North East of England Jack Charlton went on to have a glittering playing career with Leeds united and England in which he won various honours at both club and international level, the pinnacle of which being the 1966 world cup win, before becoming a club manager in England. This was not expected by many of his ex-teammates who felt he was unlikely to go into coaching after his playing days. A towering and hard as nails centre half in his playing days Charlton was never going to be a pushover on the side-line and took charge of Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle enjoying long term stints at both Middlesbrough and Wednesday. Then in late 1985 Charlton accepted the Fai approach to replace Eoin Hand as manager of the Irish National team. Charlton surprisingly beat out the star-studded former Liverpool boss Bob Paisley for the job and his appointment was met with considerable shock in the country.
Charlton first taste of International management came with a win in the Icelandic Triangular tournament and by this time Charlton’s high pressure and long ball tactics were well engrained in the squad. Next was the task of qualifying for Euro 88. Ireland were placed in a tough group with Bulgaria, Scotland, Belgium and Luxembourg. Charlton’s Ireland side met criticism due to their style of play through qualification but ultimately triumphed after a Scotland win in Sofia saw Ireland through to Germany. Jack was hailed as this was the first tournament the team has ever qualified for and there was a great sense of excitement across the nation. Ireland were drawn with England, The USSR and Holland and faced Charlton’s native homeland in Stuttgart on Matchday 1.
Ireland weren’t given a prayer particularly after star man Liam Brady was ruled out of the Finals due to a knee injury. However, an early Ray Houghton goal and a heroic performance from Pat Bonner gave Ireland a famous one nil win over the old enemy. Next up was the Soviets and a stunning Ronnie Whelan goal earned the boys in green a share of the spoils in a 1-1 draw. Ireland went into the final game needing just a draw with the Dutch to qualify. A resolute performance kept the scores level before an 82nd minute heartbreaker saw Ireland eliminated with 1-0 defeat. Jacks team were still given a great reception after a great performance at the tournament.
Then came the big one, qualification for the Italia 90 world cup. A John Aldridge double away to Malta saw Ireland through to there first ever finals. Ireland were again to face the English and Dutch along with Egypt. Three draws were just about enough as Ireland reached the round of 16 but the group was not without controversy. A poor 0-0 showing against Egypt prompted an infamous feud between Eamon Dunphy and Charlton in which both men fired insults back and forth. Despite this side story the nation was very much in a total party atmosphere. Ireland then won a famous penalty shootout against Romania as a nation held its breath before David O Leary fired home the winner. Charlton’s side then famously had an audience with the Pope prior to a quarter final showdown with the hosts in Rome. It just wasn’t to be for Jackie’s army as they sank to a 1-0 defeat. The squad were given a hero’s welcome home and paraded the streets of Dublin. Charlton was now firmly cemented as a true National icon and was loved up and down the Country.
Euro 92 ended in disappointment as the squad failed to qualify as England piped them by just a point in qualification. USA 94 was a different story however as a point against the North saw them through in a fiery encounter at Windsor Park. Charlton famously shouted up yours to Northern Ireland manager Billy Bingham at full time. Ireland opened the group with a famous 1-0 win over Italy at Giants stadium with Ray Houghton again proving to be the hero. Ireland then fell to a 2-1 defeat against the Mexicans a game in which Aldridge and Charlton almost came to blows with the fourth official. For these actions he was suspended from the final group game a 0-0 draw with Norway which was just enough to see the boys into the last 16 once again. Ireland were knocked out by Holland 2-0 to end another successful campaign.
Charlton’s Ireland career ended in disappointment as the boys in green lost a playoff with holland at Anfield and failed to qualify for the 96 Euros in England. Charlton resigned shortly after. Jack Charlton will always be remembered by fans of Irish sport as the man who finally brought some pride and success to the National Football team. He had some tremendous highs and is still viewed by most as the greatest manager in the history of the Irish football team.