FORMER Liverpool and Republic of Ireland international Ray Houghton made a surprise appearance on a West Cork Schoolboys League ETP Zoom call last week.
All 22 WCSL Emerging Talent Programme U13 squad members were taking part in a routine Zoom call when an unexpected guest made a surprise appearance.
The players were reaching the end of an on-line quiz when the following question was posed: which Irish player scored the winner against England in Euro ’88 and Italy in USA ’94?
As the players scribbled down their answers, the question’s subject made a shock appearance from an adjoining Zoom waiting room.
Cue plenty of open mouths and gasps before all 22 players settled down and got the opportunity of a lifetime to question a man who represented his country 73 times (scoring six goals), played at two World Cups, won two First Division League Championships and two FA Cups with Liverpool plus a League Cup with Aston Villa.
‘We didn’t tell the boys that Ray was coming on so they got some shock when his face appeared on screen,’ WCSL U13 ETP Manager David Hall told The Southern Star.
‘Ray spoke to the lads about the importance of maintaining their physical development, keeping fit and doing their daily exercises, especially during lockdown. He reinforced the words of our physical education officer Mary Gleasure.
‘Ray gave examples of when he was released by West Ham and signing for Fulham, how important it was to prepare properly. He answered all the lads’ questions and basically gave them a pep talk about what they need to do before getting back on the pitch. As ever, Ray was generous with his time and the lads couldn’t believe it when they saw his face pop up on their screens.’
It has been a difficult time for young footballers all over the country and not just in West Cork. Covid-19 decimated the SFAI’s calendar including the postponement of the 2020 SFAI Kennedy Cup in the University of Limerick.
Hall and his U13 squad are just one group of West Cork’s extensive ETP set-up and have continued their off-field work despite the pandemic restrictions. Mary Gleasure’s individual programmes for each of the U13 squad have never been more important as grass-root football players await a HSE and Government green light to return.
‘The lads are adhering to Mary’s individual exercise programmes and that’s kept them active during the current lockdown,’ Hall added.
‘That’s hugely important as it is a structured physical development programme and based on each player’s exponential growth into young adulthood. As you can imagine, a lot of the players are getting fed up and missing attending training sessions with the rest of their team mates.
‘Ray’s appearance came at a great time because it gave everyone a boost when they needed it. He spoke about being small when he was developing as a young player. Ray never gave up on his dream of becoming a professional footballer and explained all the sacrifices he had to make to the lads.
‘He had a captive audience, I can tell you. The highlight of the Zoom call was all the player’s dads and brothers trying to avoid the camera whilst stretching to get a look at Ray and listen in to what was going on!’