I heard a couple of hours ago that the great Jack Charlton had finally broken free of his mortal coil and gone to where the good people go. I never met him. I never spoke to him. I never shook his hand. But he had a huge influence on my life.
Italia ’90. I was working in the Bank. Rather than have staff call in sick, our lot decided to bring in the beer and the TVs. We’d close the doors and sit, together, as a staff, and watch the matches. I remember running into an American sailor trying to get a taxi back to the docks to catch his ship. He couldn’t understand what was going on. No busses on the street. No taxis on the roads. The city of Dublin was deserted, the only signs of life seeping from behind pub windows with the collective roars of appreciation and groans of near misses as the boys in green took on the world.
Picking the pub to watch the match was important. You had to be with mates. Sitting on your tod wouldn’t do it justice. I wasn’t a great fan of soccer. I couldn’t see the sense of it really. A bunch of millionaires chasing a ball around a pitch and doing very little with it? But the fellah I was dating was heading for the Lord Mayor’s in Swords so out I went. And wow. What a mind-shift. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. It didn’t matter where you’d come from or where you were headed – every single person in the pub that night was living the moment. In the present. Totally there.
Grannies had their perms dyed green, white, and orange. Dogs, too, suffered the same fate. Shops closed. Time stood still. Each time Jack Charlton and his lads took to the pitch, Ireland held its collective breath and prayed.
It wasn’t lost on us that we were all enthralled by an English man. Even the old diehards forgave Jack Charlton his birthright and some said that had there been a presidential election that year and had he run, he’d have won, hands down. Charlton said of himself that he was as much Irish as English – he was given honorary Irish citizenship in 1996 along with the Freedom of Dublin City.
Before Jack, we’d not done much on the international football arena. But with him in charge, we made the European Championship in West Germany in 1998, our first World Cup in 1990 where we got to the final eight, and four years later, we were back in the World Cup again in the USA. Wasn’t that the time when the hospitality tents in the city of Boston ran out of beer before the Irish match had even kicked off? Maybe I have it wrong. It’s all a jumble of hearsay and stories, anecdotes and accounts of things that happened when we were one, united behind Jack Charlton and the boys in green.
I remember his appearances on the Late Late Show. I remember his humour, and his accent, and that funny way he had of looking at you as if to say ‘yeah, right!’
For someone who has to remind herself to put the second c in soccer, I’m sad today. I’m bawlin’ as I type. The man was a legend. It’ll be a while yet before I get rid of this particular earworm …
We’re all part of Jackie’s Army
We’re all off to Italy
And we’ll really shake them up
When we win The World Cup
‘Cos Ireland are the greatest football team!
Rest in peace, Jack. And thanks for all the great memories.
Lovely pictorial review in The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/football/gallery/2020/jul/11/jack-charlton-a-life-in-pictures