The times we lived in: The good old days with Jack on the ball

Photograph by Peter Thursfield published: June 20th, 1988


As yet another World Cup kicks off without the participation of an Irish team, it’s clear that not only have we not qualified for this year’s feast of footie in Brazil, we’ve forgotten what it even feels like to qualify.

Hence this week’s image. Some may feel it’s just too cruel to feature a beaming Jack Charlton, pictured at Dublin Airport on the team’s return from the European Championships in the summer of 1988. Au contraire: we’d argue that it’s an excuse to bask unashamedly in the memories of World Cups past.

It was, that tournament in Germany, the start of a yellow brick road which would eventually take us to the dizzy heights of Italia ’90 and USA ’94.

Everyone has their own cherished tales from those days. Packie Bonner saving the Romanian penalties. Tiny Ray Houghton hitting the back of the net at the Giants stadium in New York to give us victory over an Italian team which boasted the silken skills of Roberto Baggio and Paolo Maldini.

And over it all, Charlton’s oh-so-distinctive countenance presided. He had won a World Cup medal himself when England triumphed in 1966 – but we didn’t hold that against him. He was the first foreign manager we ever had, and we gave him a long, long leash. We admired his fondness for fishing. We tolerated his habit of calling a spade a spade, even when it wasn’t. We even celebrated him in song with Give It A Lash, Jack. When his long face broke into a smile, as it does in our photo, we smiled with him.

The long ball was another matter altogether. We may have forgotten what it feels like to qualify for a World Cup: but who could forget sitting through Ireland v Egypt, the infamously uneventful nil-all draw which spurred Eamon Dunphy to throw his pen across the floor of the RTÉ studio and the BBC’s Barry Davies to fall asleep for 20 minutes, providing no telly commentary apart from his gentle snores?

So it wasn’t always thumbs up, Jack. But even the long ball was better than being cast into the outer darkness. In 1988 the caption on our photo read: “Jack’s Back”. If only, lads. If only. These and other Irish Times images can be purchased from:

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