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The Big Year (Part One): 1986 & Big Jack Charlton’s Appointment

Conor Heffernan discusses the historic appointment of Jack Charlton as the first non-Irish manager of the Republic of Ireland football team.

“Basically it’s all football.” –Jack Charlton

Fans of Irish football take notice, for 1986 was perhaps the most important year in the recent footballing history of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

During this year two momentous events occurred; Northern Ireland participated in its last World Cup to date and the Republic of Ireland hired Jack Charlton as manager.

It was a time when Northern football was at a peak, and Southern football was soon to improve. So the difficult question for us at Pundit Arena is where to begin?

Given the column space dedicated to Northern Ireland in recent weeks, it seems only fair to give the Republic some attention. So without further adieu, let’s dive into this fascinating time in Southern football.


Crisis times in Ireland

While Northern Ireland had been in the limelight for almost a decade by 1986 thanks to its performances in the 1982 World Cup and qualification for 86’, football down South was in a state of crisis. Failure to qualify for the 1986 World Cup meant that the Football Association of Ireland was close to bankruptcy.

The FAI was estimated to owe as much as £30,000. This was quite a substantial fee for an organisation that was largely run by volunteers. What’s more, failure to qualify for the ’86 World Cup resulted in Eoin Hand, the Republic’s manager, resigning. The FAI was faced with two problems. How to raise funds and who to get in as manager?

How bad could the funding situation have been? Terrible was the answer. Years of sub-par performances had seen Irish fans become disillusioned with international football. Put simply, people weren’t showing up to matches, weren’t buying programmes and weren’t putting money into the FAI.

The FAI became almost entirely dependent on gate receipts to finance all their work. Imagine a nightclub relying solely on revenue from the cloakroom to survive. Even big names couldn’t draw the crowds. Ireland’s last qualifying match for 1986 saw Denmark come to Dublin.

This was a Danish team made up of Jesper Olsen, Jan Molby and Michael Laudrup. This was an all-star team that prided itself on attacking football. Would Irish fans respond? Total gate receipts were £128,000, a paltry figure for an FAI in serious debt. The situation was so bad that FAI officers had to approach the FAI Junior Council for a loan to pay the wages of four full-time employees.

An Irish Boom

Desperate times call for desperate measures. The FAI needed cash and quick. Where do people turn when they need money and lots of it? In times of crisis, the lottery often seems the best option. Such was the thinking of Athlone Town’s Noel Heavy, who suggested the FAI launch an investment programme based on a national lottery in which 144 cars would be the prizes.

What could go wrong? Well firstly the FAI didn’t have two pennies to rub together, never mind 144 cars. A sponsor would be needed. Opel Ireland were approached and by some divine intervention, it emerged that Opel was also seeking a sponsorship opportunity.

The FAI couldn’t believe their luck. They went to Opel asking for 144 free cars and were told not only can you have the cars, have a big fat sponsorship check to go with them. Opel Ireland’s managing director, Arnold O’Byrne, drew up a contract that meant that the deal to supply the cars for the lottery was tied up with a four-year sponsorship contract worth £400,000 to the Association.

The lottery proved a disastrous campaign but the sponsorship deal was a win for all involved. The FAI was beginning to make money and soon found out they were actually good at it. Soon after a £125,000 deal was signed with Adidas. Opel and Adidas in quick succession. The FAI was in the black. Something that seemed impossible in 1985.

Having sorted the financial side out, the FAI now needed to appoint a new manager. The Republic of Ireland had come agonizingly close to qualification several times in previous campaigns and someone was needed to help the Republic over the finishing line. In January 1986 the FAI’s President, Mr. Des Casey travelled to England to interview candidates. Mr. Casey initially wanted to find a part-time manager.

His shortlist included famous names from England and Ireland. Jack Charlton, John Giles, Paddy Crerand, Noel Cantwell, Theo Foley, Billy McNeill and the former Arsenal full-back, Terry Neill, where all in for consideration. Ambitiously as well, the FAI had approached Nottingham Forest about the possibility of Brian Clough becoming manager. Unsurprisingly Forest weren’t keen and any deal for Clough was off.

The shortlist was soon narrowed down to just three names: Jack Charlton, Billy McNeill and Liam Tuohy. Soon only two remained when it became clear that Manchester City were not prepared to allow McNeill manage Ireland. Charlton or Tuohy. Tuohy had briefly managed Ireland in the 1970s and there was a feeling the FAI might choose him again

On 7th February the FAI Executive Committee met to select a new manager for the Republic. Charlton or Tuohy, who would it be? At the last minute, matters came to an abrupt halt. Des Casey told the Committee that John Giles now wanted to be considered for the role.

Would the Committee allow it? A debate soon began before it was finally agreed that Giles’ name could be added to the shortlist. Giles, Charlton or Tuohy? Two had managed the Republic before. The other was an Englishman. The Committee began weighing up the pros and cons of each decision.

But coy Mr. Casey was not done playing with the emotions of the Executive Committee. Once more, Casey introduced another name into the ring. A Mr. Bob Paisley of Liverpool. A Mr. Bob Paisley, who had won six English League Titles, three European Cups and one UEFA Cup.

A vote was soon taken. Unsurprisingly Paisley topped the poll with nine votes. Charlton, Giles and Tuohy each came in with three votes. First ballot over and done with and it seemed as if Paisley would be managing Ireland. The second ballot was taken with supporters of Paisley confident he would win.

Yet for whatever reason, those who had voted for Giles and Tuohy now voted for Charlton. Amazingly one of Paisley’s backers now switched their vote. The final result? Ten votes for Charlton and eight for Paisley.

The FAI had voted against hiring one of the most successful managers in English history for a man whose managerial career with Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle United who had not encountered the same heights.

Yet democracy reigns in Ireland. Charlton was appointed over Paisley and became the first non-national to hold the Irish job. In typical Jack fashion, he proved uncontactable at first. Many assumed he had gone fishing for the day.

It was only when a former colleague of Charlton, Jimmy Armfield, tracked him down, that Jack found out he had gotten the job. Amazingly, most Irish people first found out about Charlton’s appointment when Gay Byrne announced it on RTE’s Late Late Show. The reception of the appointment was frosty at best.

Charlton’s first press conference didn’t help matters either. Towards the end of the conference, one journalist asked Des Casey about the Bob Paisley application. Seeking to impress his new employers with his media savvy, Charlton chimed in saying that Casey didn’t have to answer that question.

When Eamon Dunphy protested, Charlton became incensed and soon asked Dunphy outside to fight it out. As Tom Humphries said

“Jack Charlton didn’t mean that the air-conditioning and acoustics outside would improve the quality of the discourse. He meant that outside was the place to settle the issue so that things inside wouldn’t get broken or damaged in the process.”

It was an interesting start to the Charlton era but it was a start nonetheless. Football in the Republic had experienced a seismic shift in 1986, something that will garner our attention in coming weeks.

We cannot forget however that Northern Ireland were still at the height of their powers in 1986, and were competing in the 1986 World Cup in a group with the likes of Brazil, Spain and Algeria. Could ‘Norn Iron’ repeat their 1982 exploits? Or would fortune turn on Billy Bingham’s men? Join us next week to find out!

Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.