Fintan O’Toole: Jack Charlton allowed us to accept the English part of our Irishness

The two countries’ hybrid urban culture was a truth universally unacknowledged

Jack Charlton of Leeds United goes through before scoring past Arsenal’s Bob Wilson at Elland Road, 1971. Photograph: PA Wire

Jack Charlton of Leeds United goes through before scoring past Arsenal’s Bob Wilson at Elland Road, 1971. Photograph: PA Wire

In the 1966 World Cup, I supported the Soviet Union. I did this on humanitarian grounds. A Christian Brother told me that the Russian players would be sent to the salt mines of Siberia and worked to death if they did not win. My grandmother had applied the same logic in 1953 when she shocked the priest in City Quay church by asking him to say Mass for the repose of the soul of Josef Stalin, pleading “But sure, he needs it more than anyone else.”

Besides, I liked the names: Lev Yashin, Igor Chislenko – better than Nobby Stiles anyhow. They reminded me of my hero, Ilya Kuryakin from The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a man so cool he could carry off a white polo neck without looking like a dork. And I suppose I was already then what I have always been: a perverse little git. Because every other boy, on the road and in school, was cheering for England. 

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