JACK CHARLTON holds a special place in the hearts of Irish soccer fans the world over.
‘Big Jack ‘was the man who made the Green Army believe. He took them to a first European Championship, a first World Cup and a place in the quarter-finals of the latter.
His football might not have been the stuff of Pep Guardiola, but he made the Ireland team organised and difficult to beat, buoyed on by the mantra of “put them under pressure” and a sense of togetherness that echoed across the country.
It was an approach that drew memorable results. Some of the best ever seen by lovers of the beautiful game from these shores. For over a decade he put Irish football on the map and created memories that will last a lifetime.
Picking seven of his most memorable games doesn’t do justice to the impact he enjoyed but it’s certainly a start.
Here are a few of all-time classics.
England 0-1 Republic of Ireland – Euro ‘88
Ireland had already defied the odds to reach Euro ‘88, topping a qualifying group containing Scotland and a Belgium team that had reached the semi-finals of the World Cup two years earlier.
But things got even better once Charlton’s team took to the pitch at the Neckarstadion to face-off against his once-beloved England.
Bobby Robson’s side were the overwhelming favourites but wilted in the stifling heat of a sunny Stuttgart afternoon with a looping header from Ray Houghton, a Scotland-born Charlton recruit, giving the underdogs the best possible start after six minutes.
While Ireland defended doggedly for much of the game, the win owed much to the brilliance of Packie Bonner in goal, who kept the likes of Gary Lineker and Peter Beardsley at bay to seal a memorable win.
Republic of Ireland 1-1 Soviet Union – Euro ‘88
The Big Jack era may have been synonymous with a long-ball style of football, but for the first half of Ireland’s meeting with eventual Euro ‘88 finalists the Soviet Union, Charlton’s team proved they were capable of playing creative, attractive football.
Played out in front of 38,308 fans at the Niedersachsenstadion, Ireland took the lead on 38 minutes with a goal that was the perfect blend of the two approaches: a long throw from Mick McCarthy spectacularly finished off by Ronnie Whelan, connecting with the ball in acrobatic fashion to send the fans into delirium.
For 36 glorious minutes either side of half-time, Ireland had one foot in the semi-finals. It wasn’t to be though. As the game wore on and Ireland became increasingly defensive, the Soviet’s struck back through Oleh Protasov to level the scores.
Ireland went on to narrowly lose to Holland in their final group game – but there was no shame in that.
England 1-1 Republic of Ireland – World Cup ‘90
Two years on from that famous night in Stuttgart, Charlton came back to haunt England once again at the 1990 World Cup in Italy in what was Ireland’s first ever appearance at the finals.
Played out on a barmy evening at the Stadio Sant’Elia in Cagliari, it was England who took the early initiative this time around with Lineker giving Bobby Robson’s team the lead on nine minutes.
Ireland stayed in the game though, cheered on by thousands of travelling fans with Larry Mullen Jr’s “Put ’em under pressure” the soundtrack to proceedings.
They were eventually rewarded for their determined efforts on 73 minutes with Kevin Sheedy scoring via a crisp low drive to send the Green Army into ecstasy. Big Jack had done it again.
Republic of Ireland 1-1 Holland – World Cup ‘90
While Ireland’s 1-1 draw with England was impressive enough, it paled in comparison to the achievement of taking a point off the Dutch.
Charlton’s team had gone toe-to-toe with the Oranje two years earlier at Euro ‘88, where a late goal from Willem Kieft broke Irish hearts and extinguished hopes of a place in the knockout phase.
But Ireland would gain some modicum of revenge at the Stadio La Favorita in Palermo. Even though they had the likes of Ruud Gullit, Ronald Koeman and Marco Van Basten in their ranks, the reigning European Champions found it tough going against the Irish.
Despite once again slipping behind early on following a well-worked goal from Gullit on 11 minutes, Ireland kept fighting and, crucially, kept themselves in the game.
They were duly rewarded, albeit fortuitously, on 71 minutes when Niall Quinn pounced on a mistake from goalkeeper Hans van Breukelen, who miscontrolled an overhit back pass, to level the scores.
That was all Ireland needed to ensure they qualified from the trickiest of groups.
Republic of Ireland 0-0 Romania – World Cup ‘90
The Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa hosted what remains as the pinnacle of Ireland’s achievements at a major tournament under Charlton. Having narrowly avoided a second round tie against Argentina thanks to Romania’s superior goal difference, Ireland nevertheless had their work cut out for them against a talented side featuring a young Gheorge Hagi.
But Big Jack’s boys gave it their all yet again, tackling hard, battling for every loose ball and winning header after header like their lives depended on it.
At the end of 120 minutes of gruelling and at times difficult watch football, the two teams faced off in a penalty shootout. Packie Bonner was the hero first, saving Daniel Timofte’s penalty after four perfect spot kicks apiece.
Then it was just left to defender and substitute David O’Leary to seal victory with as calm a penalty as you are ever likely to see in the circumstances. Cue bedlam.
Northern Ireland 1-1 Republic of Ireland – World Cup ‘94 qualifying
By the time the 1994 World Cup rolled around, Ireland’s status among the footballing elite had risen to such a level few were surprised to see them qualify for a second successive finals.
But Ireland’s qualification for USA ‘94 was arguably more impressive than that of Italia ‘90. Drawn in the toughest of groups alongside a heavily fancied Spain and Denmark, who were fresh from winning Euro ‘92, Ireland defied expectations yet again to qualify automatically.
Finishing a point behind Spain, Charlton’s team pipped the Danes to second place on goals scored – not bad going for a team constantly castigated over perceived negative tactics.
Qualification was sealed in dramatic fashion too with a 1-1 draw against Northern Ireland in Belfast.
Played in front of a hostile crowd at Windsor Park, Ireland once again overcame adversity. Having gone a goal down with just 16 minutes remaining, Big Jack’s boys responded quickly despite the intimidating atmosphere, levelling through Alan McLoughlin just four minutes later.
With Spain playing and beating Denmark in the other group decider, the draw was enough to see them through.
Italy 0-1 Republic of Ireland – World Cup ‘94
Ireland tended to start tournaments with a bang and that proved the case once again in the baking sun of the Giants Stadium in New Jersey. Huge contingents of Irish-American and Italian-American soccer fans turned out for what was, in some ways, a World Cup grudge match.
Four years earlier, a rare mistake from Ireland’s Packie Bonner had gifted Italy’s Salvatore Schillachi the only goal of a hard-fought quarter-final game. There would be no repeat four years on, however, with Charlton marshalling his troops for one more showpiece win.
Taking the lead on 11 minutes through a clever lofted strike from Houghton, Ireland defended doggedly for the remaining 79 minutes with Paul McGrath earning most of the plaudits for an imperious defensive display that saw him keep Roberto Baggio, the best player in the world at the time, in his pocket. Bonner in goal did his bit too.
It paved the way for another surprise run to the knockouts. Alas, it wasn’t to be this time around with Ireland slipping to a 2-0 defeat to their old adversaries Holland in the second round. Still, it was a hell of a ride while it lasted.