The interpreter: Mary Hunt – ‘It was one of the best times of my life’
Euro 88: The former FAI interpreter recalls the European Championship of 1988
Euro 88: Before the Soviet Union game the FAI printed hundreds of notices for the Irish supporters, thanking them for behaving so well. Photograph: INM/Getty
In 1988 I was the secretary in the sports department of The Irish Times. I had studied in Austria and lived there for six years, so I had very good German. Chancing my arm a bit, I suggested to Peter Byrne, the paper’s soccer correspondent, that the FAI would need an interpreter. I got the job.
It was the first competitive final for everyone: the FAI, the players, the supporters, the media. I ended up doing all kinds of things: translating at meals, intervening if hotels didn’t get the food right, general admin, troubleshooting, anything.
At the start we were nervous of the potential for fallout among fans along the way, particularly some of the English and the Dutch, but everyone got on incredibly well. It was a fun-filled roller-coaster trip, a huge Mardi Gras. The Irish supporters partied and entertained in every city, and largely policed each other. The German police were so impressed they applauded the fans.
Before the game against the Soviet Union the FAI printed hundreds of notices for the Irish supporters, thanking them for behaving so well. People were grabbing them and saying they’d take them home to frame.
The celebrations and excruciating anxiety during the matches were unforgettable: elation after Houghton and Whelan scored was followed by unbearably long periods of nail-biting tension, with suspense, hope and fear etched on supporters’ faces.
The team flew to Hanover for the match against the Soviet Union, but most of the FAI officials and the media got the train, along with a big party of Irish supporters. Everyone sang and shared stories and jokes, and journalists interviewed fans. Then someone got hold of the intercom . . .
The homecoming was incredible. We knew there’d be a reception but weren’t expecting the sea of people lining the tarmac, the viewing galleries and every tier of the car parks at Dublin Airport. The whole plane went silent as one of the squad, awestruck, said, “Look. Would you look.”
It took 20 minutes to get the open-top buses to the roundabout at the airport exit road. Then, from Whitehall, on the road into the city, the crowds became humongous again. Everywhere, at every vantage point and on both sides of O’Connell Street, as we arrived in the middle of Dublin, the roads were thronged with people of all ages decked out in Euro 88 gear, singing We Are the Boys in Green, cheering, and waving flags and banners that proclaimed all sorts of things, including “Jack for Pope”. It was spine-tingling stuff.
As Jack Charlton said at the podium on the airport tarmac: “What would it have been like if we’d actually won something?”
Euro 88 remains one of the best times of my life. I’ll never forget it. – In conversation with Conor Goodman