Christy Moore: ‘I’ve sung Joxer Goes to Stuttgart 3,000 times’

Euro 88: Without a nail in a tyre Joxer would never have made it to Germany

Christy Moore: Joxer Goes to Stuttgart captured the mood of 1988.  Photograph: INM/Getty

Christy Moore: Joxer Goes to Stuttgart captured the mood of 1988. Photograph: INM/Getty

 

It’s customary for key moments in Irish history to be documented in song – The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Boolavogue, The Foggy Dew. When Ray Houghton headed in the winning goal against England in the 1988 European Championship we needed a bard to quickly write a big, timeless ballad about it.

Christy Moore’s Joxer Goes to Stuttgart may lack the gravitas of many of Ireland’s best-known ballads, but it captured the mood of 1988. The song is not so much about the tournament as about the exodus of Irish fans to Germany to cheer on their team at Euro 88. (Never mind that most of our squad was made up of English players who were called to play for Ireland either by dint of birth or by having a grandparent from the ould sod.)

Euro 88 was the first time Ireland had qualified for an international tournament, and “the first time Whacker put his foot outside Inchicore”, as the song goes.

Moore was swept up by the football fervour that year, and although he didn’t drive off to Stuttgart he was “on the couch for the duration”, watching the coverage, he says. Moore wrote the song in 1989 and released it as a single the same year.

We got a puncture outside Portlaoise. I spent four hours in the van while Sid went off to get the spare fixed at 3am. By the time he returned I had the basics of the song in place

How did he come to document the moment in song?“Purely by accident,” Moore says. “We got a puncture outside Portlaoise coming home from a gig in Kerry. As luck would have it the spare was also punctured. I spent four hours in the van while Sid went off to get the spare fixed at 3am. By the time he returned I had the basics of the song in place. Without that nail in Portlaoise, Joxer would never have made it to Stuttgart.”

Some lines in the song will spark nostalgia from a 30-year remove: the autobahn looking “like the Long Mile Road”, as the Ford Transits and Toyota Hiaces packed with duty-free barrelled towards Stuttgart; the “first Fleadh Cheoil in Europe” as “Sean Óg got out the banjo and Peter played the mandolin”.

Does Moore have fond memories of those innocent times?

“I don’t dwell too much on what’s missing. I do miss the kids being childer. I miss the energy I had in my 40s. I miss the ma and all the friends since departed. I miss having to go to the barber, Green Shield stamps, Micheline McCormack, Helen Lucy Burke, Hibernia . . . ”

Although Joxer, Whacker, Sean Óg, Peter and the Fräulein Joxer met on the banks of the Rhine, they are fictional characters. “Some of the situations described were factual but lifted from different scenarios,” Moore says. “The atmosphere of the song is reminiscent of going to Fleadh Cheoils in the mid-60s in Mick Curran’s Bedford van.”

There are some surreal moments in the song, not least the scene as the final whistle blows, when Joxer and Jack Charlton join arms in victory and sing Revenge for Skibbereen. Is this a reference to the Famine, as documented in that famous ballad Skibbereen, and has Moore ever sung or recorded Skibbereen?

“Never sung Skibbereen,” he says. “When I was writing the song I was not thinking of the Famine, just trying to create a bit of crack in Heroin City.”

“I have sung Joxer at almost every gig for 30 years, maybe 3,000 times. I still enjoy those four minutes, still love dogs howling at the moon and the roars forever celebrating Ray Houghton’s goal.

“Last week I sang the song in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and York – riots in the gods, bewilderment in the dear seats.”

At the end of the song we learn that Whacker went back to Inchicore and is living with his mam. But what does Moore think became of Joxer?

“When Joxer got back from Stuttgart he entered a silent order and now lives the monastic life in Munster. I visit him once a year and sneak in Kimberley biscuits and Sweet Aftons. The good man hears my confession and offers spiritual guidance.”

Ireland’s recent humiliation in the World Cup qualifiers is a long way from the celebrations of 88, and we face a long summer sitting out the World Cup in Russia. Does Moore think we’ll ever get those glory days back?

“There are always glory days . . . Every day I’m able to get out of bed is a glory day,” he says. “We’ve got rugby, rowing, GAA, hurling to distract us, until the next soccer guru arrives.”

Joxer Goes to Stuttgart

The song begins . . .
It was in the year of 88, in the lovely month of June,
When the gadflies were swarming and dogs howling at the moon,
Ah with rosary beads and sandwiches for Stuttgart we began,
Joxer packed his German phrase book, and jump leads for the van.
Ah well some of the lads had never been away from home before.
It was the first time Whacker put his foot outside of Inchicore.

. . . continues . . .
Ah next morning none of the experts gave us the slightest chance.
They said that the English team would lead us on a merry dance.
Ah with their Union Jacks all them English fans for victory they were set
Until Ray Houghton got the ball and he stuck it in the net.

. . . and concludes . . .
Ah now Whacker’s back in Inchicore, he’s living with his mam,
And Jack Charlton has been proclaimed an honorary Irishman.
Listen do you remember that German’s daughter on the banks of the River Rhine,
Ah jeez, well didn’t she show up in Ballyfermot last week.

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