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5 highlights from the concluding part of RTÉ's The Boys in Green

What were your favourite memories of this much-needed reflection on the glory years?

The concluding part of The Boys in Green was aired tonight on RTÉ One – here are a few of the highlights. Please share your favourite moments and memories in the comment section below.

1. “He got two for the price of one that night…”

The FAI would eventually be derided as standing for little more than Find Another Irishman, but Jack Charlton made hay by exploiting the granny rule like nobody ever had before. It worked to his benefit when he learned of John Aldridge’s eligibility and took a trip to the players’ lounge after a Liverpool game to issue the invite. 

Aldridge gratefully accepted, and then told Charlton, “The lad there, Ray Houghton, his Dad’s from Donegal.

“He made a beeline for Ray and he got two for the price of one that night!” 

Not that Charlton’s recruitment efforts were always successful, as Paul Gascoigne revealed in Colin Young’s biography of Charlton.

“After taking the Ireland job he’d asked me if I had an Irish wolfhound”, said Gascoigne. “I said no, I hadn’t – but why was he interested?

“‘If you had an Irish wolfhound, you could qualify to play for Ireland’”, came Jack’s reply. 

Source: cestrian81/YouTube

2. “It’s the best moment of my career…”

Ray Houghton isn’t the only man to put the ball in the English net. This documentary series emphasised just how often we played England in those times, including the qualifying campaign for Euro ’92. 

Tony Cascarino equalised at Lansdowne Road with a back-post header from a Steve Staunton cross, and treasures that moment as his best. 

“Scoring against England was special. The accusation in England was always, ‘Born in England: you shouldn’t be wearing the green shirt. It’s the best moment of my career, without a doubt.”

3. “‘ I won the World Cup for this country…”

Cascarino evidently had a close relationship with Jack, and he provided some of the better insights into him across the series. The return game at Wembley for Euro ’92 qualifying saw Charlton hectored by abusive supporters with chants of “Judas.” 

“I was a substitute, and Jack was talking to me as he was walking off”, said Cascarino.

“‘I won the World Cup for this country.’

“He didn’t take well to that. He was a proud Englishman, but also incredibly proud to manage Ireland.” 

Eamon Dunphy reminds us that Charlton wanted to manage England, but his application for the job in 1977 went without even a reply from the FA. Gascoigne says in Young’s book that he reckons Charlton would have been a fine England manager, “but I could see the establishment would never take him.” 

Jack was famously stubborn and often stubbornly anti-establishment: he would later be a staunch defender of Arthur Scargill and the striking miners, and Young has since posited that this may be among the reasons he has never been knighted, despite the fact that he won the World Cup and, as Niall Quinn argues in Young’s book, can perhaps be said to have made an intangible but significant contribution to the Irish peace process. 

The FA of this time had little interest in rebels of self-conviction: they didn’t appoint Brian Clough as England manager either, instead picking Ron Greenwood as Don Revie’s successor. 

Jack Riots Jack Charlton clashes with fans during the 1995 riots at Lansdowne Road.

4. “I think that affected him more than anyone knows…”

This documentary began as a retrospective on the Lansdowne Riots of 1995, but expanded to encompass all of Jack’s tenure. Telling the story of the riots was probably the documentary’s strongest point, and its highlighting of the grim reality that while Jack’s Army allowed Irish people fly the tricolour as a non-political slogan for the first time, not everyone saw the flag with such neutrality. 

Thus the British far-right group Combat-18 infiltrated the crowd at the friendly with England in 1995 and incited the riots that would jolt the country from the dreamy reverie of the Charlton Years. 

The footage of Charlton scuffling with the crowd on the field remains bracing, and the we of Charlton’s saying afterward that “We don’t experience things like that here in Ireland” felt particularly weighty. 

“I’ve always said to people, Jack was way more sensitive than anyone ever thought”, says Cascarino. “That night would have sat badly with Jack, as he was a proud Englishman who didn’t want to be associatied with that behaviour.” 

Perhaps it left a lasting impact on Charlton.

“After that, I’m not convinced that Jack didn’t fall out of love with it”, said Dave Kelly. “I think that affected him more than anyone knows.”

5. “It did what sport ought to do…”

The scene of Irish fans standing on the Anfield Kop, defiantly singing You’ll Never Walk Alone in what proved to be Jack’s farewell was powerful and emblematic of the mingling of the sporting cultures of Ireland and the North of England, which proved to be the happy alchemy that ignited the Charlton Years. 

Eamon Dunphy is a generous contributor, and while he still harbours his criticism of Charlton’s style, his valedictory on those years is worth repeating here.

“It did what sport ought to do: it brought people together, it gave them a buzz…and we beat England.” 

It’s a reminder too that while football in Ireland may never be as heady and wild as those bygone days, soon our troubles will pass and football will return in all of its flinty, exasperating glory, and it will again tether our presently distant lives together with its rich abundance of shared emotion. 

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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