Conor Heffernan looks back at the time Ireland faced up to the world champions prior to the 1994 World Cup.
This coming Tuesday will see the Republic of Ireland face off against the mighty Germans once more and hopes for an Irish victory are well…non-existent.
This time two years ago saw Germany humiliate Ireland with a 6-1 defeat in Dublin and since then the Germans have gone from strength to strength, winning a World Cup and gaining the top spot in the FIFA World Rankings. Irish fortunes have not been as rosy.
The fall of Signore Trapattoni has seen Irish football return to the drawing board, with a new management team brought on in an attempt to bring back the good times. Will Ireland beat the Germans away this Tuesday? It hasn’t been done in over a decade but history sometimes has a funny way of repeating itself. After all, no one held out much hope for Jackie Charlton’s men when they faced the Germans in 1994.
The date was May 28th 1994. 50,000 football fans had crowded into Hannover 96’s stadium to see Berti Vogts’ Germany take on the upcoming Republic of Ireland side led by Jack Charlton. The Germans hadn’t been beaten at home for six years and had won the World Cup in 1990.
Pundits were understandably confident of a German victory. Star-studded names such as Lothar Matthaus, Mathias Sammar and Jurgen Klinsmann filled a Germany side that were second favourites for the 1994 World Cup. Jackie’s Army had shocked the footballing world in Italia ’90 but few held out much hope against Germany. The Republic of Ireland went into the game off the back of a lacklustre victory over Bolivia at Lansdowne Road and many pundits were criticizing Charlton’s 4-5-1 formation.
Even Berti Vogts dismissed the Irish team prior to the match, claiming the game was of “sub-value” to him. Everything seemed to suggest that Germany would dish out a hammering. Irish fans were bracing themselves for a massacre that never came.
65 seconds into the game a chant of ‘Oh Ah, Paul McGrath’ ran through the stadium. The German fans sat silently, bemused by the Irish fans. On the pitch, McGrath smirked, perhaps aware that there was something in the air that night. The first thirty minutes however were a nervy affair for Jackie’s Army. The German team, echoing their manager’s opinion of the Irish, toyed with the Republic. Neat passes, possession football and the occasional bit of flair. The Germans were uninterested in the match. It was a friendly. Did anyone really care?
Thankfully this disinterest hadn’t infected the Irish team. The Republic had come to play football. Just thirty-one minutes into the match, Niedersachsenstadion Stadium fell silent. Against all odds, the Irish had scored!
45, 000 German fans had sat watching with their mouths open in disbelief as Ireland’s Jason McAteer had skinned Matthias Sammer and floated in a cross for Tony Cascarino to head in his 12th goal for the Boys in Green. Ireland were one-nil up in Germany after thirty-one minutes. The Germans responded furiously, angered by the disrespect shown by the visitors.
Phil Babb and Paul McGrath were left to deal with onslaught after onslaught of German attacks, led by the mercurial Jurgen Klinsmann. When the referee blew his whistle to end the first half, the 5,000 travelling Irish fans were pinching themselves to make sure it wasn’t a dream. The Republic were beating the World Champions at home.
At halftime, Berti Vogts read his team the riot act. His anger bellowed through the Stadium. Even those in the stands and in the Press Office could sense the German Coach’s rage. What was supposed to be an unimportant game had the potential to embarrass Germany. The Irish dressing room contrasted the red-hot anger of the German one. Jack told his men to stay calm, to stick to the game plan and to enjoy it. His cool demeanour re-assured the Boys in Green that they were capable of achieving something magnificent.
The tension in the Stadium was suffocating. Irish fans were worried about losing their lead. German fans were worried about losing the game. The teams emerged for the second half and it seemed that the Irish worries were well founded. Two minutes into the second half and Klinsmann nearly equalised for the home side. From the sidelines Jack Charlton reprimanded his team for allowing the Germans in at goal. The Republic heeded his warning and tightened up in defence. They were determined not to concede.
The Germans continued to press for the equalising goal and as so often happens in football, left themselves vulnerable in defence. Sixty minutes on the board saw Gary Kelly, the Leeds fullback tearing down the right wing. The Germans were on the back foot and when Kelly’s cross came hurtling towards the German penalty area it appeared that Ireland may snatch a second. Momentary panic swept through the stadium before a calm descended amongst the German fans. The ball had been cleared.
The Republic didn’t give up. Sensing blood they quickly pumped the ball back into the German area. A misguided clearance fell to Gary Kelly who cut inside and shot on his weaker left foot. The ball struck a German defender and changed course.
It found its home in the back of the German net!
Kelly was shocked. He hadn’t scored all a goal all year, even in training. Against the Germans of all teams, Kelly had found the net. RTE’s George Hamilton couldn’t handle the excitement and blurted out live on air:
“The Germans are up the Swanee!!”
The Irish Fans echoed Hamilton’s excitement. The travelling Irish fans began to dominate the Stadium. Fields of Athenry and ‘Oh ah Paul McGrath’ were among some of the songs echoing through Niedersachsenstadion. The German crowd were livid. Stars like Matthaus and Klinsmann, so often the heroes for the Germans, were now heckled everytime they touch the ball. When the referee blew his whistle to put an end to the German suffering, Berti Vogts’s team snuck away to the dressing room. Not the Republic.
Jackie’s Army took a moment to relish their momentous victory before running towards the Irish fans to thank them for their support. The Press swarmed around Jack Charlton each hoping to get the all-important sound bite for the morning’s papers.
Charlton played it cool, doling out the regular football clichés such as ‘it was our day’, and ‘I still fancy the Germans’. Just as it appeared that the Press Conference was going nowhere, Charlton smiles and tells the reporters
“Nobody beats the Germans in Germany…”
Nobody except the Republic. The highlight from the next morning’s papers comes from the Irish Times’s Gerry Thornley who titles his report ‘The Irish Leave the Champs as Chumps’.
A decade is a long time in football. Irish fortunes have changed significantly since the heyday of Jack Charlton but should Irish fans view this Tuesday’s upcoming match with fear, they should just remember we did it once before. Who knows, history may just repeat itself in Gelsenkirchen.
Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena.