RIP Jack Charlton
The word ‘legend’ gets thrown away too nonchalantly in this day and age for my liking. A few good seasons or in some cases one decent game and people are tagging you with the legend tag. This has led to it losing meaning and being relegated to just another word. It’s sad because on Saturday morning I woke to the news that a true legend of Irish Football had passed, but because of the devaluation of the word I feel by just saying a legend has passed doesn’t do justice to what Jack Charlton meant to Irish football.
When Charlton joined the Irish set up in 1986 we had never qualified for a major tournament. With a population at the time of just over 3 million, we were very much seen as the scrappy underdogs who never packed a punch significant enough to cause any real damage. That was all about to change as Charlton put together a squad who never stopped swinging and had the power of a nation behind their punches. In 1988 we qualified for our first ever major tournament, the European Championships.
Despite not making it out of the group stages by the narrowest of margins, the team returned to a heroes’ welcome. They had fought valiantly against bigger foes and even managed to send the country into mass celebrations with a famous 1-0 win over England. It’s still to this day very much a ’Where were you’ moment. Maybe it was the mass amounts of alcohol consumed by the nation in the post celebrations acting as encouragement but we really began to believe we could be more than the plucky underdogs.
Two years later and ‘Big Jack’ as he became fondly known was leading us into our first-ever World Cup. The nation celebrated each game as if it could be our last and when Packie Bonner saved Romania’s fifth penalty in a shootout the country went crazy before nervously waiting as David O’Leary stepped up to possibly send us through to the quarterfinals of a major tournament. He scored and the country erupted. “Put ‘em under pressure”, the official team song during the World Cup campaign, blasted from all corners for the next five days until hosts Italy finally sent Jack and his boys home… once again to a heroes welcome.
We once again qualified for the World Cup in 1994, reaching the knockout stages before losing to the Netherlands, and in 1996 Charlton resigned after wringing “as much as I could out of the squad”. After his resignation he was awarded honorary Irish citizenship, the highest honor the Irish state can bestow on a person. Sadly, we lost ‘Big Jack’ on Saturday at the age of 85. He will never be forgotten though as his eight years as Republic of Ireland manager inspired a nation to believe, not only in their team but also in themselves.
Slán le Jack agus go raibh maith agat.