Chris Dooley: ‘There was no time to celebrate, no time to eat’

When Ray Houghton scored, decorum was discarded as we Euro 88 reporters celebrated wildly

Euro 88: I was damned if I was going to witness the event chasing other supporters for quotes and racing to meet deadlines. I would be going as a fan, a paid-up member of Jack’s Green Army. Photograph: INM/Getty

Euro 88: I was damned if I was going to witness the event chasing other supporters for quotes and racing to meet deadlines. I would be going as a fan, a paid-up member of Jack’s Green Army. Photograph: INM/Getty

 

In the spring of 1988 I was a 24-year-old reporter at the Irish Press when my editor offered me a dream assignment: would I be the paper’s colour writer at the European football finals in Germany that summer?

I don’t know which of us was more astonished by my answer, but I thanked him for the opportunity and declined. I had been waiting since childhood for the day Ireland might take its place among the football nations of the earth by qualifying for a World Cup or European Championship. Now it had happened I was damned if I was going to witness the event chasing other supporters for quotes and racing to meet deadlines. I would be going as a fan, a paid-up member of Jack’s Green Army.

On reflection, however, I had to face the fact I had no money and was in no position to fund an expedition to Germany. I humbly asked my editor if I might accept his earlier offer. He didn’t seem surprised; he knew how much I earned.

On the day of the team’s – and accompanying journalists’ – departure from Dublin Airport I landed a mini scoop, thanks to Charlie Stuart, the Irish Press’s soccer correspondent, who introduced me to RTÉ’s then recently retired commentator, Philip Greene.

Greene had been the voice of Irish football through the years of desolation, the succession of false dawns that preceded Ireland’s qualification for Euro 88.

His commentaries sometimes wandered from the action, which was frustrating for the radio listener (“Athlone Town come forward again – and a very kind Athlone official has offered me a cup of tea, thank you, yes please, I’ll take milk, no thanks, no sugar . . .”), but they had a poetic quality, and his international match reports, delivered in tones of unapologetic disappointment, summed up the hard-luck, near-miss qualities of those frustrating years.

Those matches, as described by Greene down crackly phone lines from faraway, hostile European stadiums, were nights of “high endeavour for the Irish”, when the team “did so well for so long” and “bossed the game for long periods”. They were matches in which “the Italian referee did us no favours on the night” and “Ireland held on doggedly, determinedly”, until, “on 72 minutes, Giles slipped . . .”.

After all his decades delivering unpalatable news, Greene would not be in Stuttgart for the greatest day in our soccer history. He had no role to play. When I reported this in the following day’s paper the FAI invited him as its guest.

I watched the England match from the unfamiliar surrounds of the press box. When Ray Houghton put-the-ball-in-the-English-net, decorum was discarded as the Irish journalists jumped to their feet and celebrated wildly.

My main memory of that night is of the frantic pressure to write and send my reports. There was not a moment to celebrate, no time to eat. I ran around dementedly looking for quotes from anybody – fans, FAI officials, politicians. I ran into several government ministers, including Bertie Ahern and Ray Burke. To all my questions Bertie simply repeated “Ole!”. I quoted him in full.

When the England manager, Bobby Robson, lamented at his press conference that, had his team scored one goal, they probably would have scored “three or four”, my Evening Press colleague Con Houlihan, hand placed characteristically before his face, interjected: “Six? Why not six?”

With all the Irish journalists in our hotel phoning in their reports at the same time – those were the days when a copytaker back at the office would type out your article as you dictated it – the lines went down. I got through just in time to get my last piece on to the front page, five minutes after the hotel kitchen closed.

I wandered into the Stuttgart night exhausted, hungry and filled with joy. How would Philip Green have described this day, I wondered.

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