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Jackie’s Army and Italia 90

“Put em Under Pressure” – Jack Charlton

Italia 90, the two sweetest words in the English language. The Republic had yet to experience something called the Celtic Tiger but there was still an optimism in the air. Following a strong début in Euro ’88 and qualification for the World Cup in 1990 Irish fans south of the border were on a high.

Why wouldn’t they be? They had seen Northern Ireland qualify and perform well in three World Cups. It was time for the Republic to gain some of the bragging rights, and claim she did when the side defeated Northern Ireland 3-0 in the qualifying campaign for the games in Italy.

When June 1990 rolled around fans sat around their radios and televisions waiting anxiously for news about Jackie Charlton and the Boys In Green. Larry Mullen from U2 had just produced ‘Put em Under Pressure’, one of the greatest football songs in living memory. Hopes, needless to say, were high.

The Republic’s first taste of World Cup football saw them drawn into Group F with the Dutch, the Egyptians and the old enemy, England. Ireland had defeated England in Euro 88 and the English were keen for revenge. Could Jackie pull one over on his birth nation once more? The fans of the Boys in Green were certainly hoping so. The English media was cautious about predicting the outcome. In ’88, the had written of the Republic as a second string English team. England’s 1-0 loss to Ireland had seen them change their tune. Funny, pride always comes before a fall.

Ireland versus England, June 11th 1990

“No person knows better than you do that the domination of England is the sole and blighting curse of this country.” – Daniel O’Connell, 1831

It’s almost a cliché now to hype up England and Ireland sporting occasions. The media speaks of 800 years of oppression and the Fields of Athenry will be bleated out by every Irish man, woman and child watching the match. Has such rivalry become routine? Do we care anymore about beating the English?

Arguably we do, but this writer would argue the rivalry is nowhere near its height in the early ‘90s. The Troubles were still ongoing in Northern Ireland and sectarianism was still sadly blighting Northern Ireland. England were in 1990 still the fierce enemy, and it did not matter that we had an English manager.

Our opening game in Italia ’90 saw the Republic square off with her former colonial overlords looking to shock the English once more.

For all the hype in the pre-match press, the game itself was something of a let down.

Eight minutes into the game Gary Lineker bundled the ball into the Irish goal to put England one nil up. Rather than ignite a fire in the Irish players, the goal seemed to deflate the match. Kevin Sheedy managed to pull one back for the Republic with just 17 minutes remaining. Players, fans and managers were all relieved to be put out of their misery with the sound of the referee’s whistle to mark full time.

Final score? Ireland 1 – England 1.

Ireland versus Egypt, June 17th 1990

So the England match had been something of a damp squid, but hopes were high six days later when the Republic lined out against Egypt. The Africans had held a star-studded Dutch team to a well fought draw in their opening game but despite this, Irish fans were still hopeful of a win.

Scorching heat saw both sides struggle to put together any form of consistent play. It’s perhaps best to say little of this match so we can retain our golden memories of Italia ’90. The game ended nil all and fans of the BIG were not pleased.

Enter Eamon Dunphy. Long before Mr. Dunphy was impressing us with his love of dancing and Cadburys, he was making a name for himself as a football pundit with outspoken views. Nice to see some things stay consistent. The Ireland performance against Egypt saw Dunphy publicly criticize Jackie Charlton for his lack of imagination, his long-ball tactics and for his failure to get the best from his team. V

alid criticisms perhaps but they were not appreciated at home or in the Irish camp. Dunphy’s antics saw Charlton refuse to answer questions from Dunphy at a press conference in the Republic’s hotel a week later.

Ireland versus Holland, June 21st 1990

The 21st of June saw the final round of Group F matches. England beat Egypt 1-0 to go top of the group and the Republic faced the Dutch knowing they needed a result. This match is one of my personal favourites as it shows the humour to be found in football. Ireland and Holland drew one all on the night but it was the actions of both team’s captains that gained notoriety.

As the minutes counted down, Ireland’s Mick McCarthy and Holland’s Ruud Gullit met in the centre of the pitch and seemingly agreed to play out the remaining minutes as a practice match as both sides were fully aware of the score in the English game and knew they would finish level on points if the score remained 1-1.

When the referee blew his whistle, Ireland, England and Holland had all progressed to the next knock-out stage.

Because Ireland and Holland had qualified with identical records, FIFA had to draw lots to see who finished Group F runners-up. Luck smiled on Jackie’s army as Ireland were drawn against Romania in Genoa and the unlucky Dutch were left to face the mighty West German team.

Ireland versus Romania, June 25th 1990

The Stadio Luigi Ferraris Stadium in Genoa was the venue for Ireland’s first encounter of knockout tournament football. If the Republic’s matches in the group stages had been boring affairs, the same could not be said of this match.

Both teams pushed forward during the match seeking out the all important goal. Back and forth. Back and forth. Fans of both teams watched entranced with the action. Could either side do it?

Ninety minutes went by and nothing. The tension from the players began to permeate throughout the stadium. Extra time and still goalless. Penalties would decide the winner.

Up stepped Georgi Hagi for Romania…goal. Romania one nil up in the penalty shootout. Kevin Sheedy returned the favour for the Republic. Both teams continued to dispatch the penalties until the score was tied at 4 a piece. The fifth and final penalty for both teams would prove decisive.

Daniel Timofte nervously stepped up for Romania. The weight of his nation’s expectations were on his shoulders. Timofte timidly kicked the ball towards the Irish goal…hearts stopped. Romanians sighed…Packie Bonner had saved it! Up stepped David O’Leary for the Republic. Could he become Ireland’s saviour

RTE commentator George Hamilton became the most important man in Ireland for one brief moment as Irish fans watched at home. As O’Leary began his run-up for the decisive penalty Hamilton uttered the immortal line: “A nation holds it breath… We’re there!”

Ireland had beaten Romania to go through to the quarterfinals where they would face the host nation Italy in Rome!

Irish fans took to the streets, young and all, all in celebration of Jackie’s army. It was a memory that still lasts for those fortunate enough to remember.

Ireland versus Italy, June 30th Rome

Ireland went into the game against Italy with the whole of Ireland willing them on and even a papal blessing. 24 hours before the match Jackie’s army had met with Pope John Paul who wished the Boys in Green luck. Was God on our side?

Sadly no. The Republic tried their best but could not overcome the hosts. A solitary goal by ‘Toto’ Schillaci saw the Republic lose one nil and Jackie’s Army return to Ireland with their heads held high.

Somehow Jackie Charlton had taken Ireland to the quarterfinals of a World Cup without winning a match at the tournament. That was of little importance. Italia ’90 showed the world that the Republic of Ireland deserved to be taken seriously in international football.

It showed the world the passion of Ireland’s fans and it showed the world that football still had a place for route one football. The summer of 1990 is remembered by Irish soccer fans as one of the best months in Irish football.

Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena.

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