FOR many, Jack Charlton provided the soundtrack to our childhoods.
I’m one of the children of the 90s. That decade seems a century away from this one, but there was a wonderful simplicity to it. It was a stripped-down decade that slowly introduced us to change. I started it in Penneys and finished it in Adidas. Everything seemed more straightforward than it is now. If us 90s kids had the chance to go back in time to any decade, it would be the 90s – and that first summer would be a popular destination. All aboard the nostalgia train.
I had just turned eight years old by Italia ’90. That was my first proper introduction to football – and I was hooked. The memory banks have no recollections of Euro ’88, but the fuzziness turns to memories two years later, somewhere before the tournament kicked off in Italy, and it involves Jack Charlton and my mother.
I blame Big Jack for inadvertently getting me in trouble at home before a ball was even kicked at Italia ’90. He’s the reason Ireland qualified for the tournament and, if I looked hard enough for someone to blame other than myself, he’s also the reason I was on the end of a bollicking from my mother one morning before school. They say all Kerrymen are cute hoors but here is evidence to the contrary; we’re not born with it, it develops over time.
At school I was bartering stickers for my World Cup ’90 album, getting my hands on stickers I needed but the trouble was I didn’t have the stickers I was promising in return. Somehow, this filtered home. And off she went. It was all Jack’s fault, I maintained, but we made up shortly afterwards when Kevin Sheedy scored that equaliser in the group game against England.
That picture hangs very clear in my mind’s eye. The sitting-room curtains were closed to keep out that evening’s sun. And it was sunny that evening, one of those old, warm summer’s nights when even the sun was slow to move on. After Sheedy scored, I was off down the back garden where we had six apple trees, in two rows of three. The back three held the apples, the front three didn’t because they were the goalposts. I spent as much time throwing the fallen apples into the ditch as I did kicking around. But Italia ’90 was up and running – and Big Jack had another fan.
I remember too my mother landing home from town one day with the cassette tape of ‘The Team That Jack Built’. She bought it in Penneys. It’s not one of the better known or more popular Republic of Ireland football songs, but still, even now, it takes me right back to the kitchen at home that summer and playing that song over and over again.
‘We’re going to shout out loud, we’re going to show we’re proud, ya, they’re the team that Jack built’.
Then there’s the classic Put ‘Em Under Pressure, and Give It A Lash Jack, two songs that when they’re played now can transport the children of the 90s back to that era of long and warm summer days, and day after day spent playing outside. Even now, they’re a reminder of a different and almost mythical world. And it’s because of Big Jack’s Boys in Green that thousands of kids across the country have stronger memories of that summer than maybe some that followed. He took football into every corner of the country and we were all swept along by him and his team.
In the November after the World Cup, and as a nation came down from that high and the Packie Bonner posters on our bedroom walls were turning up at the edges, we were back on the rollercoaster when the Republic of Ireland played England in a Euro 1992 qualifier at Landsdowne Road.
It was an early afternoon kick off and everyone in my national school, from juniors up to sixth class, piled into the hall to watch the match. That would have been unheard of before Big Jack and Italia 90, but that was the effect he had on the entire nation. Everyone stopped and watched when Ireland played. Schools even ground still. No homework, too.
Ireland drew 1-1 with England that day. Tony Cascarino scored the equaliser. He was the special guest at the 2015 West Cork Sports Star Awards and, no surprise, there was plenty of Big Jack tales regaled that night. And we’ve seen a huge outpouring of love, respect and anecdotes since Big Jack’s passing last Saturday morning.
He was the Englishman who became an Irishman and who put Irish football on the map and made the world take us seriously, but his legacy, away from the transformative effect he had on football in this country, is the memories he leaves each and every one of us who were fortunate to experience those heady days. In the end, it’s the memories that stay with us. Sheedy’s goal at Italia ’90. Packie Bonner’s save against Timofte. Bonner’s grimace against The Netherlands. Alan McLoughlin’s goal against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park. Ray Houghton’s strike against Italy four years later at USA 94. Bonner’s mistake against The Netherlands. All memories, each invoking their own emotions.
Big Jack led the band for years, we all followed, and he gave us the soundtrack to our childhoods and a collection of memories and moments to revisit.