Growing up in the shadow of Jack Charlton's Ireland 3 years ago

Growing up in the shadow of Jack Charlton's Ireland

Big fella, long shadow.

There is a generation of Irish football fans who have no living or waking memory of Stuttgart, Genoa or Giants' Stadium. Every Irish game they've ever watched has been tinged with a sadness, a longing for the scenes they grew up hearing about. Jack Charlton changed Irish football for us. He ruined it in a way, he made it immeasurably better in another. What a legacy to leave behind.


That generation of Irish fans owe so much of our childhood memories to Charlton's teams. We grew up with souvenir Italia 90 milk bottles inexplicably in the press. Our teabags were kept in commemorative 'Jack's World Cuppa' tea caddies. Among the VHS tapes in the press were 'The Road to America' and a homemade copy of David O'Leary's penalty against Romania with "DO NOT RECORD" written on it in a manner that suggested you would not be welcome in the house again if it was recorded over for 'Home and Away'.

We all know where our parents or older siblings were when that penalty was scored. We've heard of the scenes in Dublin and across the country during that summer. We've heard them time and time again, but we never, ever get sick of them.  They're as big a part of our folklore as any other event in the last century. Considering Ireland as a state in its current formation didn't exist a century ago, that's some achievement.


We know all the words to 'Put 'Em Under Pressure', and we belt it out at every wedding we go to, even when the bride and groom and half the guests there weren't even born for its release or meaning. We know what the Harry Ramsden challenge was, and we might just about remember the devastation of Anfield in 1995 while not really understanding why it was in Anfield.

Our first major tournament was 2002, and that was finally the chance to have our Italia 90. The famous 1-1 draw against Germany had everything Irish teams under Jack Charlton always had; heart, grit, solid defense and even an ability to play a little bit of football if we forget ourselves for a second. It was fitting that Robbie Keane's goal came right out of the Jack Charlton playbook; Mark Kinsella from his own corner flag, Niall Quinn with a flick-on and a Robbie Keane finish off the post.


Drama. Giant-killing. Ecstasy. We felt like we finally understood.

That evening, my family sat around the kitchen table for dinner, and we knew it was a different day because the television was on during dinner so we could watch the goal again. My Dad, who was watching the game at a work event where Jack himself was in attendance, was on a slightly later train than expected for some inexplicable reason. As Keane's goal replayed, Mam said "if he hadn't scored that, wouldn't you all be sitting here miserable?".

That was the point.

Irish football, as long as we've known it, has teetered between despair and euphoria with little in between but boring 1-1 draws against Georgia. But that euphoria never existed before Jack Charlton. Before him, we did all just sit there, miserable. Because the goal never happened. Ireland never won.


My generation are really still waiting for our Italia 90. We've had flashes of it. But we've also been in as many major tournaments in the last 26 years as Jack managed in just six.

He gives us something to aim for as fans. We won't settle for any less than what our parents enjoyed. Maybe we'll never reach it, but we'll give it a lash.