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'I'm trying to come to terms with being unemployed' - The last days of Jack Charlton's Ireland

The iconic coach stepped down in 1995, but the end of the World Cup was the start of his troubles.

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This article is a part of The42′s USA 94 Week, a special series of commemorative features to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 1994 Fifa World Cup. To read more from the series, click here >

ALTHOUGH HE DID not step down for more than a year after its culmination, the 1994 World Cup felt like the beginning of the end of the Jack Charlton era.

The tournament began with a bang, as Ireland upset one of the favourites and eventual finalists Italy, but ended with a whimper, as they were outclassed by Dick Advocaat’s Dutch side, featuring the world-class likes of Denis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars, Frank Rijkaard and Ronald Koeman.

At the time, Ireland were an ageing team. Much of the spine of the side in that Dutch game — Packie Bonner, Paul McGrath, Ray Houghton, Andy Townsend and Tommy Coyne — were in their 30s. Younger players like Gary Kelly (19), Jason McAteer (22) and Roy Keane (22) provided promise, but weren’t quite at the height of their powers yet.

The climate was also a big factor. The intense heat in America was not conducive to Ireland’s kick-and-rush style, and the fact that Charlton’s squad wasn’t exactly blessed with an abundance of exuberance, with many of its players having reached their peak at Italia ’90, exacerbated their problems.

In the eight years since Charlton had taken charge up to that point, Ireland had just lost one competitive match on home turf — a 3-1 defeat to Spain in the qualifiers for the ’94 tournament.

Despite the relative success it brought though, Charlton’s approach was not to everyone’s taste. Though acknowledging that the manager could be “okay” on a personal level, Roy Keane was fairly scathing in his criticism when looking back on this era in his first autobiography. The remarks are fascinating, particularly in a modern context, when it’s hard to ignore the fact that an Irish side with Keane as assistant manager was criticised for its own supposedly unattractive style and simplistic tactics.

The way Jack Charlton approached the game made us difficult to beat away from home,” Keane wrote, focusing on the positive aspect of this style initially. “We dug in, scrapped for every ball and pressed our opponents all over the pitch whenever they had possession. Opponents unfamiliar with the English game didn’t relish the constant harassment. Our style didn’t change much at Lansdowne Road where, roared on by a passionate crowd, we played at a pace few visiting sides were comfortable with.”

Keane added: “Lansdowne Road was a rugby pitch and played like one.”

Other sides, he explained, couldn’t play their “fluent pass and move game”.

“The more difficult it was to control the ball on Lansdowne’s poor surface, the more time we had to get our tackles in and regain possession.”

Keane suggested that Ireland were simply content to be at major tournaments and that they had underachieved at the 1990 World Cup with a side “arguably more gifted” than the English team that reached the semis.

Roy Keane and Paul McGrath 18/6/1994 Roy Keane was not a big fan of Jack Charlton's style. Source: Allsport/INPHO

According to Keane, former Arsenal star David O’Leary, who was famously ostracised from the team in the early part of Charlton’s reign before returning at Italia ’90 and scoring the winning penalty in the last-16 match against Romania “viewed Charlton much as I did — as a bit of a joke”.

“My relationship with Charlton was virtually non-existent,” Keane recalled. “He treated me more or less the same as all the other players. We weren’t so much footballers with individual contributions as foot soldiers carrying out orders. To describe us as pawns on a chessboard would be unfair — to the game of chess. 

“The view from the dressing room did not support the Charlton myth. The preparation for games was haphazard, the tactics no more sophisticated than those Graham Taylor favoured at Watford and England.

“The style was not made to measure for their talents… In measuring Jack Charlton the only comparison I could make was with Brian Clough. Where Clough was astute and capable of detailed analysis, Charlton merely blustered, was short on detail, long on generalisations to do with ‘putting them under pressure’ and ‘getting tight’ on your man. Unlike Clough, who placed immense trust in the ability of his players, Charlton appeared terrified the players would do their own thing. ‘Play it as you see it’ was Clough’s motto. ‘Play it as I see it’ was Charlton’s.

Of all the set-ups I’d been part of, going back to Rockmount AFC, through Cobh Ramblers and Forest, the Irish international camp was by far the worst organised.”

Of USA ’94, in which Keane was deemed Ireland’s Player of the Tournament by The Irish Press, the Corkonian said: “Interestingly, we played some good passing football in between bouts of serious defending. This sometimes happened on good days with Big Jack’s Ireland. We’d throw out the game plan and do what came naturally to most of us.”

However, Keane also described the tournament as “a bloody nightmare” and felt that the opening 1-0 win over Italy had created a sense of complacency.

“Ireland’s World Cup ended that day in Giants Stadium,” he claimed.

“The rest of USA ’94 was wiped from the memory

“Now that we weren’t going to be disgraced, we could relax and party.”

Jack

Keane’s controversial views, however, were not shared by all the Irish players. Speaking to The42 in 2014, Alan McLoughlin — whose crucial goal against the North secured Ireland’s passage to the ’94 World Cup — was far more positive in his assessment of Charlton.

“There’ll be quirks in every manager whether or not they’re successful, they’ve all got their little daft ways,” he said. “But Jack was a character, and he played the game with the press and with the players. He knew how to play the game whereby most of the time, he’d have the media eating out of the palm of his hand.

“Tactically, I don’t think he was the best coach I worked under, but he had great knowledge of the international scene given how many games he played at that level, and he had success getting the best out of the players he had — I’ve been managed by fantastic man managers who weren’t particularly good coaches and they still got good results.

“But he could be tactically very astute as well — to move Paul McGrath into midfield and have him in there, while playing with Mick McCarthy and David O’Leary as centre-backs, he knew what to do to get the best out of his players — that was the strength he had.”

Alan McLoughlin 17/11/1993 Alan McLoughlin says Charlton could be very astute tactically. Source: INPHO

The ’94 World Cup could not match the euphoria of Italia ’90 four years previously, while the performances were far less impressive than those produced by the team at Euro ’88. There was a sense of regression in some quarters. Even before the tournament, Charlton had suggested he would resign if his side failed to qualify, having narrowly missed out on the Euros two years previously.

After the Dutch defeat, Charlton, with his contract due to expire midway through the following Euro qualification campaign, was asked if he would step down. The Ireland boss declined to answer the question.

A post-World Cup piece in The Irish Press noted: “Four years ago when someone called on Jack Charlton to resign as manager of the Irish team, you knew it had to be either Eamon Dunphy or Dermot Morgan, doing one of his impressions of Eamon Dunphy.

This time around, there is an identifiable cleavage among Irish football analysts: those who feel Charlton has reached  the zenith of his career and those who don’t.”

The piece went on to suggest that the strong bond he had cultivated with the fans would likely work in Charlton’s favour: ”Four years ago, he missed an Opel press function to spend a night with the fans. On several occasions, he has sought quiet pints with the fans in bars such as the Hill 16 on Gardiner Street rather than face television cameras and anxious press men.”

After the World Cup, however, the team declined further. Missing a couple of players through injury for some vital qualifiers, most notably up-and-coming Man United star Keane, who was absent for much of the campaign, Ireland struggled as the older players stuck around perhaps a year too long. 

Despite a promising start, a series of disappointing results followed — a 0-0 draw with lowly Liechtenstein, back-to-back losses to Austria, a comprehensive 3-0 setback versus Portugal and finally another 2-0 defeat against the Dutch, this time in a one-off play-off at Anfield that would see the winner progress to Euro ’96. The result was enough to prompt Charlton’s resignation, having spent nearly 10 years in charge of the national team.

After meeting with senior FAI officials in December 1995, it was confirmed that Ireland’s most successful manager ever was stepping aside, with Kenny Dalglish and Mick McCarthy touted among the early potential successors.

A piece by Stephen McGrath in The Irish Independent gave a sense of the day’s sombre proceedings.

Baggot Inn punters loudly chanted “stay on Jack, stay on Jack” as he entered the establishment for talks.

“[Charlton] tried manfully to put the best face on things afterwards, but he didn’t look happy.”

IRELAND V HOLLAND EURO CHAMP PLAY-OFF Jack Charlton's last match in charge of Ireland was a 2-0 defeat by Netherlands. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

John Givens of Media Sport was quoted: “We stopped off at the Hill 16 pub for a pint. Jack told an old lady crossing the road to be careful. ‘I don’t mind dying for you Jack,’ she told him.

“I’m trying to come to terms with being unemployed,” the piece quoted Charlton as saying.

“One man told him he had been unemployed for four years. He offered to buy Jack a pint and show him where the Werburgh Street unemployment exchange is.

“I have resigned. That’s it,” he blared at anyone daring to approach.

He was followed around the pub by reporters, but they got few quotes. At one point, he paced up and down a back room on his own.

“The occasion was more like a wake than a party celebrating 10 years of achievement.

“Have a pint and some lunch. It’s all over, there’s nothing to say,” he told a hungry press pack.

Charlton elaborated on his decision reading from a prepared statement at a press conference. “The country is in my blood now and I intend to spend a lot of time here in the future among my friends,” part of it read.

Baggot Inn manager and Charlton’s son, John, along with business partner Frank Gillespie, suggested he may have been pushed into leaving the role before he was ready.

John criticised “unwarranted comments in the media for someone who has given the service to this country that he has given”.

“Jack didn’t want to fall out with the Irish people and consequently decided to go,” Gillespie said, before adding that the FAI “made him resign”.

“I am sure in a few months’ time, they will say: ‘We made a mistake.’

“Jack has a high profile and that’s why a lot of sponsors were attracted to the FAI. I don’t know if they will be as anxious to put as much money into football when Jack’s not here. They’ll have to get someone with a high profile [to replace him].”

However, in his autobiography, Charlton would later play down the notion that his exit was to some extent forced on him.

In my heart of hearts, I knew I’d wrung as much as I could out of the squad I’d got — that some of my older players had given me all they had to give,” he commented.

FAI President Louis Kilcoyne was among those to pay tribute to the departing manager: “The success of the team under Jack has raised the morale and self-esteem of the whole nation, including the many thousands of Irish people living abroad. And the behaviour of the fans has improved the public image of Ireland all over the world and the marketability of all things Irish, particularly in the tourist sector. Thanks Jack; you have been a manager in a million.”

Louis Kilcoyne 1995 FAI President Louis Kilcoyne pictured at the 1995 press conference. Source: INPHO

Long-time Charlton critic. Eamon Dunphy, meanwhile, hoped the team would lose its “fair weather fans” after the manager’s exit.

“I think it is a happy day both for football in this country and for Jack.

“I had no personal relationship with Jack, but I don’t regret anything I said.

“The style of play adopted during the last 10 years has now been shown to be redundant.”

The legendary journalist Con Houlihan was more positive in his assessment, describing Charlton as an “icon” and “first class,” but also complaining that his Irish teams were “woefully conservative”.

“I believe that with a bolder approach, we could have achieved more,” he wrote

I suppose that this conservatism is easily explained: he was born into one of the most stressed parts of Britain at a distressed time; he served under two managers who were the antithesis of the romantic — Don Revie and Alf Ramsey.

“Hence came his attitude towards Liam Brady — and to a lesser extent Ronnie Whelan and Frank Stapleton. He was grievously at fault too in ignoring League of Ireland and underage football on the home front.

“Let us hope that our new supremo — if he is to be supremo — will be aware that the Republic is not a football desert.”

Miriam Lord was more sympathetic, writing: “What most people want, more than anything, is for Jack to know that he is still welcome here anytime, and that he will never be forgotten and that he’ll still be as popular despite handing the job over to someone else.

The Irish reporters, who have been following him for the last decade, began to get weepy [amid news of his departure], and they started a whip-round to buy him a bottle of champagne.”

Ireland’s generally impressive form under Charlton was credited with making the country more attractive for tourists, while it was linked to other notable success stories of the decade — Riverdance, U2 and Mary Robinson’s Presidency.

The Daily Telegraph’s Christopher Davies described Charlton as “a good man prone to occasional fits of bad temper”.

The journalist likened the contrast in Charlton’s humane treatment of Paul McGrath’s drinking problems to the manner in which Liam Brady and Gary Waddock had been ruthlessly cast aside in the lead up to Italia ’90.

He recalled the particularly egregious decision to substitute Brady, in his final international match, after 25 minutes against West Germany.

Asked if he had any regrets about his treatment of the former Arsenal star who is widely considered to be one of Ireland’s greatest ever players, Charlton replied: “Yes, I should have taken him off earlier.”

Liam Brady Charlton was criticised for his treatment of Liam Brady. Source: James Meehan/INPHO

There was a softer side to Charlton too, however. His room at the ’94 World Cup contained ample supplies of complimentary alcohol, with journalists and players occasionally invited to join him.

“When we went in, there was a (free) barrel of Guinness and, typical Jack, no glasses apart from his own,” Davies recalled. “One hack used Charlton’s toothpaste glass while yours truly emptied and washed the only other receptacle — an ashtray, which was duly filled.”

On the footballing front, Davies added: “If the modern game is overtaking him, he knows when to get out. Now that tackling as Charlton knew it is outlawed and the Continentals have moved in, he realises he has to hand over the reins.”

Despite the troubled end to his campaign, Charlton remains an Irish legend to this day. Now 84, only last year, he was part of a reunion for Ireland’s Euro ’88 squad.

There has been much debate over whether the Boys in Green overachieved or underachieved during that memorable era, but more important than any football result is the impact Charlton had on Irish people, helping bring together a nation at a highly divisive time.
“Jack Charlton started the Peace Process and he was responsible for the start of the Celtic Tiger era in Ireland,” Niall Quinn has said. “And he did it just by being himself.
If you go back to when he took the job, it was unthinkable for an English manager to come into our game in Ireland and do what he did. Why? Because English people weren’t comfortable coming to Ireland, so it was a big step for him. And Irish people were not as comfortable with English people as they are today and there was an underlying suspicion of them. We were brought up to believe that as kids. I was 14, 15 when the hunger strikes were going on and there were black flags outside houses in the street and everybody in Ireland said Margaret Thatcher was the devil. That was only five years before Jack came, and it had not cleared up by any stretch of the imagination.

“It was a risky move for him but one that he took absolutely full on and embraced from day one. He dealt with any political suspicions really well, and in his way. He was blunt and won the people over, not by launching a PR campaign, but by just being himself. Look at the way he asked for a light after he’d been given some shocking abuse by the crowd in Belfast [during a Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland World Cup qualifier].”

ire Jack Charlton and members of his Euro '88 squad pictured at a reunion last year.

In a 2017 interview with The42, Charlton’s biographer Colin Young added: “I travelled to Ireland around about that time as well — not many people did it. Things that you take for granted now, two flights a day from Newcastle with Ryanair, that just didn’t and wouldn’t have happened back then. The Troubles were at their height and to a certain extent, the games against Northern Ireland lay testimony to that.

I don’t think Jack ever worried about that side of things. He had one conversation in his whole time as Ireland manager about politics and religion and realised he was way out of his depth.

“The best thing he could do was just manage the football team to the best of his ability, not get involved or embroiled in any of the stuff that is going on in the background. But by being the way he was, by being successful and by being the first Protestant manager, by being very Geordie, which is actually quite close to Irish people and Irish culture, people embraced him and it was never really an issue.”

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Paul Fennessy

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