Ray Houghton: ‘I hit the spot. Then it was pandemonium’

‘It was my first international goal, first big tournament. There was this massive high’

 

Ray Houghton knew, of course, that he had done something special that Sunday afternoon in Stuttgart back in June 1988, but the full extent of it, he suggests, is still sinking in even now, 30 years on, as people continue to tell him their stories about him putting the ball in the back of the English net.

The move that led to the goal took a matter of seconds, yet it has been replayed and relived so many times that it seems almost to go on forever in the minds of the people who cherish the memory. Kevin Moran’s long free kick was poorly dealt with by the English defence, and Tony Galvin hooked the loose ball into the box, where Kenny Sansom miscued his attempted to clear it.

“Shilton was out a bit, so there was a lot of goal to aim at,” Houghton says about the moments that followed. “It sat up, and I was under no real pressure. It was just a case of picking your spot – and I hit that spot. Then it was pandemonium.”

There certainly was, and, after Ireland held on to win the game, it endured well into the night, leaving the midfielder in no doubt about how much it meant to the Irish in Germany. What he came to appreciate only later on was how much it meant to the Irish everywhere else, too.

“At the time you’re just delighted,” he says. “It was my first international goal, my first big tournament and we were playing England. I was just coming off the back of losing a cup final with Liverpool, which had left me a bit despondent, and then there was this massive high.

“The celebrations in the stadium were tremendous, and then there were all the people in the hotel afterwards, but what I didn’t really have a sense of was what it was like back home; you just didn’t get that when you were at the actual tournament.

Euro 88: Ray Houghton (second right) heads Ireland’s winner past Peter Shilton. Photograph: Bob Thomas/Getty Euro 88: Ray Houghton (second right) heads Ireland’s winner past Peter Shilton. Photograph: Bob Thomas/Getty
Euro 88: Ray Houghton (second right) heads Ireland’s winner past Peter Shilton. Photograph: Bob Thomas/Getty Euro 88: Ray Houghton (second right) heads Ireland’s winner past Peter Shilton. Photograph: Bob Thomas/Getty
Euro 88: Ray Houghton moves past Kenny Sansom on his way to scoring against England. Photograph: Bob Thomas/Getty Euro 88: Ray Houghton moves past Kenny Sansom on his way to scoring against England. Photograph: Bob Thomas/Getty
Euro 88: Ray Houghton moves past Kenny Sansom on his way to scoring against England. Photograph: Bob Thomas/Getty Euro 88: Ray Houghton moves past Kenny Sansom on his way to scoring against England. Photograph: Bob Thomas/Getty

“I know now, of course. You are in football for a short time and out of it for a very long one, but I still get recognised for that goal, and the one against Italy,” six years later, in the World Cup.

“I’ve been blamed for everything – marriages, divorces, people having babies, you name it – and I still love hearing the stories, because it’s entirely clear how much joy they bring to the people telling me them, how much joy the goal brought them.

“I remember one fella told me that his father had never watched a soccer match before, that he was a staunch GAA man, but he came in to watch that one and celebrated the goal, and he was so proud. I thought, Was it really that important, that it could change the way people looked at things?

“But it was obviously part of something much bigger. When you came back you could see how Euro 88 had affected people.”

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