Thursday, 17 March 2011

The Team That Jack Built......

As today is St.Patricks day, a day when anyone of (or claiming to have) Irish descent necks a "few" pints of the black stuff (or usually today with the aid of some food colouring - green stuff) we thought (like those people you see with the Guinness hats on down the pub) we'd stumble up on to the bandwagon and celebrate but in a footballing way. We're looking back today at that Republic of Ireland team brought together under the leadership of Jack Charlton of  1988 to '94. A team that defied the critics and became every neutral's favourite International team. They upset some people and cause some upsets in their time and we're having a look at some of those players that helped make it possible.

Packie Bonner
That save against Romania
Patrick Joseph Bonner held the record for the most capped Republic of Ireland goalkeeper with 80 appearances up till 2007 and was part of the backbone of the team that saw them qualify for Euro '88, Italia '90,  and USA '94. The Republic of Ireland announced their arrival upon the International stage at Euro '88 where the team upset all the odds in beating England with Bonner on outstanding form keeping the oppositions strikers at bay. Under Jack Charlton the Irish team played to their strengths and when you have a player like Niall Quinn in your side you want someone who can deliver the ball into the opposition's half and cause as much mayhem as possible. Twice during the first round stage of Italia '90 Bonner delivered such a ball that led to firstly Kevin Sheedy's equaliser against England  and Niall Quinn's against the Dutch. He is probably best remembered though for his heroics in the second phase's penalty shoot out against much fancied Romania. Domestically he made all of his senior appearances for one club, Celtic and was the great Jock Stein's last signing for the club.

Paul McGrath
Born in London but given up for adoption shortly after, Paul McGrath spent much of his early life in various orphanages around Dublin. A one time sheet metal worker and security guard he was playing for League of Ireland club St. Patrick's Athletic when spotted by Manchester Utd. He played seven seasons at Old Trafford before a series of bust ups with Alex Ferguson saw him sold to Aston Villa, it was here that he continued to excel on the pitch and was thought by many fans to be the best player to pull on a Villa jersey. Although lacking in pace McGrath would use his strength and reading of the play during a game at the heart of defence. Internationally he was used initially as a defensive midfielder and eventually played 83 games scoring 8 goals, he played for 12 year in total for his country and every game of Italia '90 as well as bravely performing in USA '94 against Italy. Not a bad career for a player, who due to persistent knee injuries was unable to train, he is often regarded as the most influential player under Jack Charlton's era of management.
McGrath's autobiography, Back from the Brink also chronicles his battles with alcoholism and was the most successful Irish Sports book ever.

John Aldridge
The fourth official learnt of few new words of English that day
A highly prolific goal scorer, Aldridge struggled to get of the mark for ROI. Maybe this was down to the teams style of play, but Charlton had no problem with his work rate and performance for the side. It wasn't until his 20th International that he found the net against Tunisia in 1988. When Charlton actively went out and canvassed English clubs for players via the "Granny Rule" Aldridge jumped at the chance and also suggested his team mate at Oxford at the time Ray Houghton. Once Aldridge joined boyhood club Liverpool replacing Italy bound Kop Legend Ian Rush he really hit his stride and even when Rush returned to the side after an unhappy spell at Juventus the scoring still continued, defying the pundits who claimed that the two players couldn't play in the same team and be successful. A team player for the Republic he still went on to score nineteen goals in his sixty nine appearances. He'll be best remembered for a touchline altercation during USA '94, where coming on as a sub in the sweltering heat the fourth official wouldn't allow the striker to enter the field of play for a whole three minutes even though the player Aldridge was replacing was off the pitch and sat in the dugout! Once Aldridge did get on he scored a vital goal that helped his team get through to the second round thanks to goal difference.

Ray Houghton
Scottish born, but available to the Republic through an Irish Father.Houghton was typical of a Jack Charlton era player. When the search was made for any eligible players through birth, parentage or even grand parents, it seemed that anyone who had enjoyed a Guinness in the Temple Bar district of Dublin could play for the country! (*see also Tony Cascarino) But fair play to them, they tracked down some quality players who, obviously thought they stood more chance of International football through an adoptive country than their own, it's actually become the norm these days. Houghton of course deserves his place in Irish folk lore thanks to goals against England in Euro '88 & Italy at USA '94. He was a goal scoring midfielder who would have no doubt represented the country of his birth at some stage, but Scotland's loss was the Republic of Ireland's gain. His first cap for the country also came in Jack Charlton's first game in charge. Domestically he moved on from Oxford UtdHoughton won two League Titles & a couple of FA Cup just for good measure while at Anfield. Before moving to Aston Villa and teaming up with Paul McGrath winning the League Cup in the process. He eventually wound up his career at Stevenage Borough via Crystal Palace & Reading before heading onto TV punditry.

Jack Charlton
Jack Charlton's playing career really shouldn't need summarising but for this blog I will briefly. With younger brother Bobby taken on by Manchester Utd while Big Jack was doing his National Service he came fairly late into the game. After a career as a miner he had the choice of an interview with the Police Force or a trial game with Leeds Utd. Thankfully for Leeds & England Charlton ditched the chance to walk the beat and instead chose to marshall the last line of defence in the footballing world. After impressing in the Leeds side he gained his first England call up at the age of 30 on the brink of the 1966 World Cup. I'm really not going to tell you what happened in that tournament but he did go on to form a formidable defensive unit with England legend Bobby Moore. Domestically the following season he was named Footballer of The Year and won the League Cup with Leeds the year after that, which was swiftly followed by the League Title in 1969. In the FA Cup final the year after when Charlton had uncharacteristicaly given the ball away easily & set up Chelsea's winning goal he refused to collect his runner's up medal. Internationally, following England's exit from the Mexico World Cup of 1970 he & his brother asked not to be considered for the Three Lions ever again.
Once he hung up his boots in 1973 he was offered the Middlesborough job as his first taste of management and he duly got them promoted and was awarded Manager of The Year. After quitting that job he unsuccessfully applied for the England job! But  having failed to be selected he instead moved on to Sheffield Wednesday & the Newcastle before the Republic of Ireland came calling.
He inherited a squad of talented footballers including Liam Brady, Ronnie Whelan & Frank Stapleton but they had never qualified for a major tournament. After actively canvassing English Football clubs for any Irish related players he added to his squad and upset some Irish supporters in the process who thought that the International team should have more representation from the League of Ireland. He was once quoted as saying he was quite happy to pick a team of players from the Irish League as long as the fans were prepared for the team to never be successful.
After qualifying for Italia '90 and again proving to be a thorn in England's side following their win against them in Euro '88, the Irish got through to the quarter finals to be beaten by just one goal against Italy who would eventually finish third. This was after the squad had been granted an audience with the Pope where Jack admitted that he almost feel asleep!
Upon their arrival home in Dublin 500,000 fans lined the streets to greet them.They gained some revenge on Italy after qualifying for USA '94 and beating them in their opening game. It was after this tournament that Jack was awarded the Freedom of Dublin.
But after a stuttering qualifying run and a play off defeat to Holland ahead of Euro '96 Charlton resigned. They struggled management wise to replace him, before settling on ironically an Italian, Giovanni Trapattoni who now faces the challenge of bringing in new players to continue the legacy left by Big Jack.

*Tony Cascarino one time hair dresser with an Italian Dad and English Mum played for the Republic of Ireland through an Irish Grandmother, which he later revealed wasn't a blood relative!
The ROI team had used the "Granny Rule" all the way back as far as 1964, but it was Jack Charlton who used it more to his avantage and actively did so.

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