Lovely Little Yokes: Not Quite a New Pope

In Donegal a friend runs a shop that’s thirty foot by fifteen foot of tacky wonderment. He sells everything from 15kb digital games to Elvis Presley clocks with legs swinging from a gyrating clockwork pelvis. On a visit to him a few years ago I found an object of absolute wonderment: a statue of the Pope, with something utterly, obviously wrong.

It had George Bush Jnr’s face.

I pointed this out to him and he shrugged. The devout are willing to turn a blind eye to such facial malapropisms it seems. Much of his stock comes from China, possibly from one of those intensive artisan towns where artistic wonders of mass reproduction are whipped out in mere hours. My theory is a Google image search went brilliantly awry resulting in a run of ecclesiastical George Bushs. There’s a photo hiding on the hard-drive somewhere that I’ll post when and if I can find it.
I wish I’d bought the damned bloody brilliant thing.

(by Allan Cavanagh)

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Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx

Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx was adapted from a Gabriel Walsh screenplay and directed by Waris Hussein in 1970. The vast majority of the scenes were filmed in Dublin. It remains one of the most unusual films of the decade, sharing a kindred spirit with the likes of Harold and Maude, Electra Glide In Blue and Brewster McCloud. The anti-hero is Gene Wilder’s Quackser Fortune; a man who makes his living in a most unusual way – by collecting waste and then selling it on.

“Horse manure. Fresh dung!”

Quackser’s family do not share his enthusiasm for crap. His parents (Seamus Forde and May Ollis) want him to take a position in the local foundry while the Minister for Transport has condemned Dublin’s delivery horses as “relics of a dead past” and is anxious for them to be pensioned off. But Quackser soldiers on and happily pushes his wheelbarrow through our city centre (shot with a dingy eye by Gil Taylor). His initial female interest is Betsy Bourke (played by Eileen Colgan of Glenroe and Fair City fame). There’s a bizarre scene that shows the two of them discussing jam, marmalade and tea before stripping off at her kitchen table.

But true love strikes in the form of Zazel Pierce, a flakey exchange student from Connecticut who is
studying at Trinity College. Margot Kidder excels in this role – only her second film performance. She is full of tourist-guide information about the city that she quickly imparts to the Quackser. There’s a fairly instant chemistry between them that culminates in a memorable scene in the local pub where Zazel gives up her shoes to leather-expert Maguire (David Kelly).

Just like Godot, Quackser’s Bronx-based cousin never materialises. There is something intangible about his existence – spoken in reverent tones by the family but far removed from their drudge-filled lives in Ireland. Quackser and Zazel’s romance is also difficult to sustain – an underlying edge being present throughout despite their obvious passion for each other. This sense of doom bears fruit at the Trinity College Boat Club ball where Zazel’s boorish friends humilate the gauche Quackser. A hasty trip to a nearby hotel re-affirms their ultimate incompatability. It seems that Zazel has found herself.

The final quarter of the film centres on Quackser’s reaction to the ending of this brief affair. He liberates the horses from Spencer Dock (now condemned to death as the engine has taken over) and decides to emigrate to New York. But first there’s a pretty grotesque and hallucinatory pub scene. And then the denouement about his Bronx cousin that neatly determines his future career. The non-conformist has learned from experience and found his proper niche.

Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Park works on a number of different levels – as an offbeat romantic comedy and as a quirky portrait of a man that defiantly ploughs his own furrow. The cinematography captures some wonderful images of late 1960s Dublin. The complete film can be watched on YouTube with the first part here.  I’ll leave you with the official trailer.

(by nlgbbbblth)

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Scribble Your Name Across My Heart (a love story)

There was a boy, once. I was six and so was he. We were in First Class together, back in the days when First Class meant making your Holy Communion. With that massive ecclesiastical millstone around our necks, he’d be sent off to the Boys’ Academy of Learning and I’d be left behind in the Convent School for Premature Harlots. I suppose that was heavy on my mind. I did not want to be separated from him. He was a dashing little fellow.

Anyway, we were on our school tour and on the way back, the teacher allowed us to stop at a playground so we could stretch our legs and flake each other over the few available swings. We were each given an ice-pop as a treat. They were cheap, frozen splashes of chemicals that tasted fucking amazing but have probably since been outlawed. They were called Scribblers. They looked like pencils and so were better than the more economical Sparkles.

Behold the Scribbler, bottom row.

I loved Scribblers. Of course, I loved all of the HB ice-pops: Sparkles and Fat Frogs and Super Splits and Tangle Twisters and the Brunches I gorged on once a year when my uncle came back from the UK, laden down with disposable income and misty-eyed generosity. I loved the Loop The Loops, with their chocolate top, and the Maxi Twists, with their miserable sliver of sorbet tucked into the bone-white ice-cream, and the Calippos that came in a cardboard tube that went soggy and made your fingers sticky and your mother cross. But especially I loved Scribblers. Maybe my tongue knew I was going to be a writer before the rest of me figured it out.

The little boy that I had drawn designs on was on his own, going up and down one of the taller slides at the far end of the playground. It was as good a chance as any to ingratiate myself. We were in the same class, but we weren’t special friends, which must have stung something shocking because I’m nothing if not a stereotypical Leo. Even when I was six I expected everyone to be in love with me. I had long blonde hair and hazel eyes and I looked like I’d been gently rolled out of a Timotei ad for being too scruffy. I was the perfect best friend for a six-year-old boy.

He was going up and down on the slide and I wanted to join him.

But there was the Scribbler in my hand. I’d been savouring it. I never bit an ice-pop, whether I could help it or not (and I never have since, either. Sensitive teeth). Teacher had told us that we were to finish our pops before using the playground equipment, and I was no rebel. Nor was I used to choosing any treat over a Scribbler. But this was love.

I put the Scribbler very carefully on the grass, well out of the way of racing, kicking feet, and rushed to join the little fella on the tall slide.

He was inching himself down the chute, chubby little fingers clutching its sides. The steel had been smoothed to optimum launch speed by years of little arses speeding down onto the gravel and grass below, and I guess he wasn’t the most daring young man. Not so I. I climbed the slide behind him, sat at the top and slid down with the grace and speed of some sort of space-age angel, blonde tangle sailing out majestically behind me, head thrown back like the photogenic little astronaut I was. I hit him squarely in his reticent, blocky back with my patent Clarks’ best.

He went flying off the end of the slide and landed on his backside on the gravel. He got up and turned around and his lip was quivering like a maggot on a fishing line.

“I’m telling Teacher on you!” he said. “You’re bold. You hurt me. I’m telling.”

And off he went as fast as his plump six-year-old legs could carry him.

Well, I was heartbroken. You might as well have buried my She-Ra doll or unravelled my Read Along tape of A Little Princess or told me that The Phantom Menace would one day exist. It was a feeling so desperate and so deep and strong that I still remember it  and wince, twenty-four years later. Not only had I made the object of my affection cry, but now I was going to be in trouble with Teacher and I was never in trouble with Teacher. And what a fucking wimp. Not that I knew the word fucking back then, but it formed in bile in the back of my throat as a concept and I’ve not been able to dislodge it since. Miserable little… fucker. And hot tears blurred my vision and my nose went out in sympathy with it and it was the worst day of my little life.

The worst, worst day. Because when I went back over for my precious Scribbler, some other little fucker had nicked it.

I have never forgiven that little bastard. I hope he dies roaring.

(by Lisa McInerney)

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Think Safety

This road safety film is known as Gold Star and was produced by the National Road Safety Association in 1980. By then all public information films were shot in colour which was gradually becoming the preferred choice of television set in Ireland. Although we had to wait until the autumn of the following year before ours arrived.

The opening shot features the trendy school bag of the era with the twin snap-locks. A Mustang exercise book is casually tossed in. It contains an English essay.

The theme of horseplay continues with more high jinks on the roadside as they wait for the Bus Scoile. The colour film stock proudly showcases its glorious yellow and white livery. One child veers dangerously into the path of an oncoming vehicle. This causes a stressed motorist to mutter “stupid child” while the sympathetic narrator (Mike Murphy) sticks up for the ten-year-olds. On this occasion the bus driver is calmer than his 1970s colleague and delivers a quick warning to his charges before they board the vehicle.

The key message here is that adults bear the lion’s share of responsibility for road safety. Mike solemnly informs us that when something special happens in a young lad’s day he won’t be able to think about anything else. The camera focuses on a gold star being placed on a copy book. These were a major feature of teaching techniques when I was in second and third class.

So it’s back to the besieged adult as he daydreams at traffic lights:

“They can often be guilty of the same sort of blindness. They don’t remember their own childhood”.

The excited and starred-up boy then crosses the road without paying any heed to the oncoming traffic.

PS – the opposite to a gold star was a red one. A cruel form of negative marking.

(by nlgbbbblth)

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Mind Yourself!

The vast majority of Irish public information films seem to only now exist as memories. However there are a couple that have been preserved. Here is one – produced by the National Road Safety Association during the 1970s.

It starts with an alarm clock – both sound and vision. It’s a familiar morning scene; a schoolboy (David) having breakfast with his unseen Mammy. He grabs his bag from the hall and walks to the bus stop. In quick pursuit is his friend Paddy – a messer. A quick scuffle and Paddy is lying on the grass verge. Just then the Bus Scoile pulls up and the stern voiceover solemnly states:

“Horseplay on the side of the road is stupid”.

The bus driver is not a happy man. He grabs Paddy and gives him a piece of mind. The bus continues to the school, the children alight and wait to cross the road.

Now to try and guess a more exact date for the production. There are a couple of clues; the school bus registration plate dates from the first half of 1973, while the closing shot features a sample from the Safe Cross Code film (1975). Therefore, I am guessing: 1976.

A mention must also go to the classic drum action as the National Road Safety Association logo forms on screen. Breaks!

(by nlgbbbblth)

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Finbar’s Class

Finbar’s Class. I remember but snatches from it. A rebellious earring here, some cheeky backchat there, valid teenage angst wrapped up in a threadbare blanket of bad rapping and someone’s hideous ‘90s puffa jacket. It was mid ’90s young adult fare from RTÉ and about as edgy as the channel ever got, outside of rounding on Annie Murphy of a Friday night.

The premise, if I remember it correctly, was that Michael Sheridan was teaching a load of tarmac terrorists in an inner city Dublin school, when, possibly inspired by Whoppi Goldberg in Sister Act 2, he realised the only way to reach them was through glibly modernised music therapy. Cue lots of East 17-style posturing and Carol from Fair City wearing a tracksuit, or something. I don’t really remember.

However, I did come across this recently.

I’d like to say it brought memories flooding back, but alas, my brain is a one-way street and Finbar’s Class, while clearly brilliant in its own scuzzy way, was not very memorable. I remember loving it, but I don’t remember why. And yet, the scenes depicted above would be controversial now – cartoonish moneylenders! Heroin! Bras! – so it genuinely rots my receptors that Finbar’s Class has since sunk into some sort of RTE netherworld: consigned to the vaults, forgotten. That looks like Fair City on GHB, for Christ’s sake! Surely such a show would have been right up the street of me and my teenage devotion to Melvin Burgess books. So why is it that the only thing I remember is bad singing in moody postures and Michael Sheridan’s mildly disapproving smile?

Can any of you other ‘90s kids dredge this up for me?

(by Lisa McInerney)

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The Liberty Belles

The Liberty Belles were formed in 1969, out of the Francis Street Parish Club in Dublin. The area is known as The Liberties – hence the name of the girls’ singing group. Originally a dozen members, the numbers had swelled to 30 singers and a total membership of over 60 by the time that this album was released. Their mentor was local priest Father Foley who enlisted the support of Tom Gregory (guitar), Shay O’Donoghue (piano and organ) and Frank McCarthy. The LP was recorded in the Eamonn Andrews Studios in Dublin and released by Dolphin Records in 1971; Dolphin Discs being the name of a long-running record shop located in Talbot Street.

The album has been compared to The Langley Schools Music Project which is not too far off the mark. Given the era there is the inevitable Hair connection. Two tracks from the hit musical are featured – a serene Good Morning Starshine and a groovy Aquarius.

Hurry Home and Snowbird (made famous by Anne Murray) are plaintively performed with a maturity that belies the girls’ tender years – their ages ranged between 11 and 15.  A haunting version of Brahms Lullaby concludes a most entertaining first half.

There’s a spiritual vibe on side two with righteous versions of Oh Happy Day and Amazing Grace. After competent takes of the catchy Scarlet Ribbons and harmonious Yellow Bird, the LP finishes on an apt note – the togetherness anthem of positivity known as United We Stand.

However my favourite track on this charming LP is their version of the Cuban classic Guantanamera. I love hearing the spoken word section being delivered in a Dublin accent.

Full tracklist.

Side 1
01 Good Morning Starshine
02 Hurry Home
03 Snowbird
04 Guantanamera
05 I Made So Many Friends
06 The Lullaby

Side 2
07 Oh Happy Day
08 Scarlet Ribbons
09 Aquarius
10 Amazing Grace
11 Yellow Bird
12 United We Stand

(by nlgbbbblth)

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Just a fluke … and a septic mange mite. With a side of rhynchosporium to go

Harry Molloy takes on the Dune spice worms

There was really nothing to match the particular quirkiness of dinner time in an Irish household in the 80s. It was a time when spaghetti bolognese was the very pinnacle of cuisine-based daring and you were urged to eat every single thing on your plate lest the poor children in Africa psychically know food was going to waste via some Catholic church-based mind link (probably), and weep even more tears of suffering.

And then, of course, there were the ads on the radio for liver fluke. The wireless was constantly tuned to RTÉ Radio 1 at ear-bleed levels in McDermott HQ. This meant every main meal was a welter of fluke-based terror, and appetite would die instantly as a solemn, disembodied voice would lecture in the ad break – mid extended weather forecast – as to the dangers of rhynchosporium, bovine fasciolosis, septic mange mites and other horrible things involving the bowels, arses and intestines of sheep and cows.

Jesus, what to do to fix this dire prognosis! Apparently something along the lines of a dose of Triple A Golden Maverick, ably advertised on TV to a soundtrack of the theme tune to spaghetti western Il Pistolero Dell Ave Maria and starring Harry from Fair City, and all would be well again. Ok, so it’s actually a milk-replacement product for calves but hey – I had to get it in here somehow.

And why dinner time? Easy: the farmers were all in post-milking to listen to the weather news, and ever tuned to the art of market segmentation, the fine bucks at Peter Owens and their ilk block-booked all the ad space for dinner time to catch them at their tay. Well I mean, how better to get into their brains as they supped than by planting the idea of the exact right brand for their particular sporocyst, eh?

What, you thought it was just a fluke? Never.

(by Kirstie McDermott)

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The Green Army (With Guest Appearance by ‘Borat’)

Irish football fans like to think of themselves as the best in the world; it’s pretty much a self-awarded accolade but it’s also undoubtedly true that they are well regarded by those that have encountered them. The reputation was forged at a time when English football fans (or at least a sizeable minority of them) were still terrorising towns and cities across Europe, so it wasn’t too difficult to look good in comparison. But boozy good-naturedness is not the sole preserve of the Irish — the Danes had a similar reputation on their first World Cup in Mexico in 1986, and other Scandinavians and the Scots are largely known to be the same. You might even say that the majority of football fans anywhere in the world, behave just like that — whatever followers of snottier sports might say — but the bad eggs, of course, will always stand out. Regardless of whether the Irish are unique in their good behaviour, there is something remarkable about large groups of mostly young men drinking so much yet causing little or no trouble.

The video below, which I found on YouTube, sums up Ireland’s fans rather eloquently. It was filmed in Bari three years ago (on April Fools’ Day, no less) on the occasion of Ireland’s World Cup qualifier away to Italy. A sharply (or maybe tackily) dressed young man is apprehended by a group of fans, who delight in his supposed similarity to Borat. There’s an initial hint of menace in it, not intentional but the fellow might be forgiven for being worried by a group of foreigners taking such a keen interest in his appearance. After nervously declining an offer of being lifted on someone’s shoulders, he finally joins in with the fun, with another mustachioed local sharing the heat. You have to admire his perseverance and good humour as it was a situation that might so easily have been misinterpreted, given the probable language barrier. Having been in Bari myself on that trip, I can testify to the wonderful welcome the locals gave the Irish fans, despite dire warnings that local businesses were going to rip us off at every opportunity. The Irish fans’ banter in this video could have veered into mean-spiritedness but ultimately it’s generous and endearing. The very fact their poor ‘victim’ really looks nothing at all like Borat only makes it all the funnier.

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Group 6: A Tough Apprenticeship as an Irish Football Fan

The football fan’s worldview is irrevocably shaped by his or her first exposure to the game; the screen burn of those formative months or years lingers on their inward eye throughout their whole life as a supporter. For many fans, the formative years take place between the ages of eight and ten. For me it was no different. Football had always been around me when I was very young and I have some startlingly early memories of it — I retain a few oneiric flickers of the 1978 World Cup: the ticker tape and that impossibly dark winter sky, this despite being still a few months shy of my third birthday. And in case you might think my memory is playing tricks on me I can also remember our family moving house three days before the final, an experience I was not too pleased with but which is still clear in the mind (though its proximity to the World Cup final was something I only learned about many years later).

I remember the 1982 World Cup too — Northern Ireland beating Spain and Maradona getting sent off against Brazil. The following year there were cup final wins for Sligo Rovers and Manchester United. All of this was absorbed but I was little more than a curious bystander, pretty much like many of the people I know as an adult — just about interested enough to make small talk about football but no further than that.

In summer 1984 that all changed. I can’t really remember why but it was possibly the discovery of penalty shoot-outs that tipped it. There were quite a few thrilling ones that year, first of all Tottenham beating Anderlecht to win the UEFA Cup, then Liverpool’s famous defeat of Roma in the Italians’ own stadium and the epic Spain v Denmark clash in the semi-finals of the European Championships. From now on football would be one of those yardsticks of life —  my memories of every year between then and my late teens are primarily informed by what was happening on the field at the time. I took to the new-found sport with a zeal that had its precedents hundreds of thousands of times over in the history of the game. While the Irish national team was far from my main pre-occupation at the time it was still something to get excited about and that all started for me in September 1984.

My only previous encounter with the boys in green was a European Championship qualifier a year earlier when Ireland, in yet another torridly difficult group, threw away a two-goal lead at Dalymount to lose 3-2 to a Ruud Gullit-inspired Netherlands. All that detail I learned later but I remember bits of the match, mainly because my mother told me that in Holland the locals spoke, not Hollandish but Dutch, a linguistic eccentricity that would stump me for many years. Other than that my knowledge of Ireland as a footballing nation was fairly non-existent. I came to Ireland v the USSR at Lansdowne Road on the 12th of September 1984 pretty much as Cortez might have approached the Pacific, staring out from that peak in Darien. It was a stirring performance against a strong Soviet side, who, even if they hadn’t qualified for the European Championships, had quite frighteningly filleted England 2-0 at Wembley four months earlier.

Late on in the match Michael Robinson, a winger who looked perpetually dogged and sweaty and who is now Spain’s number one sports broadcaster, turned his man on the right hand side and cut it back for Mick Walsh, another Irish cosmopolitan — at the time a crowd favourite at Porto — to slice the ball past Rinat Dasaev into the Soviet net — not the last time the mighty Tatar would be beaten by an Irish player. I still remember the leap of delight I made as the goal went in, mainly because it’s the same one I perform every time Ireland score. I didn’t think too much of it at the time but I was probably primed for great expectations of this Irish team. How wrong I was.

It all began to come undone a month later when Ireland travelled to Norway. The Scandinavians were still part-timers back then (something the British and Irish media used to never tire of pointing out). People with better knowledge than my nine-year-old self would have known of Norway’s legendary 2-1 win over England three years before but that was all pre-history for me (in those days you relied on back issues of Shoot! and Match picked up at sales of work to piece together past narratives). I was expecting a win. It had to be a win. What we got instead was an abject disaster. Ireland started brightly but, spurred on by the mercurial PSV Eindhoven captain Hallvar Thoresen, Norway were soon cutting them to pieces.

Three minutes before half-time Pål Jacobsen played a long one-two with Arne Larsen Økland, stole past a ball-watching Mark Lawrenson and sneaked the ball in under Jim McDonagh’s body to put Norway 1-0 up. I remember the goal well, the ball seemingly taking an eternity to nestle in the net. It was my first exposure to a now familiar sense of dread — the Irish goal under siege. It’s an ominous sense I get with none of the club sides I support, one that is part-horror, part-fatalistic resignation. The goal deflated Ireland, with their efforts in the second half barely troubling the Norwegians, who could have won by more. “Luxembourg 1954, Denmark ’57 and Cyprus in the last World Cup are the only away matches in this tournament Ireland have ever won,” says Jimmy Magee in his commentary. I’m not sure if I consciously absorbed that plain fact as I sat glumly on the couch but it soon became apparent to me that Ireland’s track record was not one of world-beaters.

Whatever about 1957, there was going to be no victory in Denmark in November 1984, not against what was probably Europe’s finest side at the time (had they not stumbled on penalties against Spain that summer they may well have beaten France to take the European Championship). Ireland never had a hope, holding out for 26 minutes until Tony Grealish made the very unwise move of playing a perfect pass to Preben Elkjaer, who easily outstripped Mick McCarthy to put Denmark ahead. The rest of the match was all Denmark — Elkjaer adding a second just after half-time before putting Søren Lerby through for the third. It was hot knife-through-butter stuff. After 55 minutes it was 3-0 and I feared the worst. Somehow Ireland managed to keep the scoreline like that till the end. It was a thorough drubbing, of the sort that Ireland wouldn’t really experience for another 11 years when Portugal tore them apart in Lisbon (I won’t count the return game against the Danes in Dublin a year later, which was largely academic from Ireland’s point of view).

Ireland didn’t have another World Cup match till the following May (played during the regular season run-in — unthinkable today) and that gave them the opportunity for a few friendlies. First up was the visit of world champions Italy to Dalymount Park, where an avaricious FAI allowed 40,000 people to crowd dangerously into the crumbling Phibsboro stadium. Kick-off was delayed half an hour and it was a miracle there were no serious injuries. When Heysel happened three months later, there was really no sense of shock — football stadiums were seriously dangerous places back in those days, with or without hooligans. Ireland lost 2-1, a creditable result, with Gary Waddock scoring a fine consolation goal. There was also a scoreless draw away to Israel and a visit to Wembley, where England beat us 2-1, with Gary Lineker scoring his first goal for his country, a result which remains their last win over Ireland.

The match in May was against Norway, a 0-0 draw at Lansdowne Road. For some reason it was not televised so I had to follow it on crackly medium-wave radio. By all accounts it was a dire match and also curious for being the only outing for an O’Neill’s strip that would never be seen again. Apparently it was green with an orange band across the chest. I recall it only from black-and-white press photos of the match and I don’t know why it was cast aside straight away. A plain green and white number was worn for the visit of Switzerland a month later, when Ireland began to make up lost ground with a comfortable 3-0 win at a sunny Lansdowne Road, a game in which a young striker from Millwall named Tony Cascarino made his debut. The Swiss had started the group brightly with two wins and a draw but a 4-0 drubbing in Moscow the previous month had unhinged them and they were very much in disarray at Lansdowne. The goals came from Frank Stapleton, Tony Grealish, with a looping header he hardly knew about, and Kevin Sheedy. The mini-heatwave continued till the following weekend when Ireland met Spain at Flower Lodge, only the second time a full international was played in Cork. The match was part of the Cork 800 celebrations and was a keenly fought scoreless draw.

In a tightly contested group, with a lot of teams taking points off each other, Ireland went into the summer second on five points, one point behind Denmark and ahead of the Swiss on goal difference. Denmark looked likely to win it but Ireland might have been forgiven for thinking second place was within their reach. The problem was they still had to play the Soviets — in Moscow — and the Danes in Dublin, as well as an away trip to Switzerland. Another problem was the USSR’s three remaining matches were all at home. Denmark, on the other hand, had to travel for three of their remaining four, giving us some faint hope they might slip up.

After a frustrating 0-0 draw in Berne, Ireland went to Moscow in October, where the Soviets were nigh invincible. Having pummelled Switzerland in May, they beat Denmark 1-0 in September. In front of 100,000 fans at the Lenin Stadium, Ireland held out remarkably well without ever looking like scoring. The inevitable came on the hour when Spartak Moscow’s Fyodor Cherenkov rattled a far-post volley past McDonagh. In the dying seconds, Oleh Protasov, who, three years later, would break our hearts with a late equaliser in Hanover, finished it off with a header from close range. Interestingly, both matches against the USSR are available in full on YouTube. They make for contrasting viewing, the first a rousing performance with Ireland running rings around a disoriented Soviet side; the second a magisterial passing display by Valeriy Lobanovskiy’s men that Ireland had nothing to counteract.

Ireland were out, with — as the cliché would have it —  only pride to play for in the final match in Dublin against Denmark. There wasn’t much pride to be taken in that performance though. Needing a win to be sure of qualifying ahead of Switzerland, the Danes ran riot, even more impressively than twelve months earlier in Copenhagen. Elkjaer cancelled out Stapleton’s opener within seconds and a brilliant individual goal by Michael Laudrup put Denmark 2-1 up just after the break. A stupendous chip for the third by right-back John Sivebaek — now a big league agent — would earn him a move to Ron Atkinson’s Manchester United and Elkjaer finished it off fourteen minutes from the end. Denmark were going to their first ever World Cup; Ireland, after two near misses in the previous two tournaments were left licking their wounds, in fourth place, one point ahead of Norway.

The Denmark match was also, curiously, the subject of a Desmond Morris-narrated documentary, a TV adaptation of his 1981 book The Soccer Tribe. It was broadcast on ITV just before the World Cup finals the following June and Morris was wheeled on to chat shows and news bulletins for his opinions on things ranging from hooliganism to penalty shoot-outs. The film itself was an overly fussy analysis of body language and so called tribal codes, which sounded risible to my ten-year-old ears but an interview with Frank Stapleton struck a chord. He said that winning 1-0 was an unsatisfactory result because ‘you want to win with a bit of style’. The arrival of a certain Geordie as Ireland manager a few months later would prompt Stapleton to reconsider those words. Given he continued to be vital part of Jack Charlton’s set-up for the next five years — unlike others from that campaign, such as Grealish, Robinson and, for a long time, David O’Leary — Stapleton surely did reconsider them.

The Mexico 86 campaign was deflating in the extreme for an Irish football fan and spelled the end for Eoin Hand’s five years in charge. There were cruel jibes in the media — one joke was ‘how did the Irish soccer team commit suicide?’ ‘They died by their Eoin Hand’ — but Hand had done a fine job with a team the draw was never kind to. Goal difference and awful refereeing decisions cost us a place at Spain 82, behind Belgium and France but ahead of the Netherlands. Our path to France 84 was blocked by Spain and the Dutch, and we finished third despite a record 8-0 win over Malta. Group 6 of Mexico 86 qualifying was equally onerous, being pitted against two of Europe’s form teams. The Danes and the Soviets would both light up the finals in the opening round before faltering at the knock-out stages. Both would make it to Euro 88 with the Dynamo Kiev-bolstered USSR reaching the final, which might have gone differently had Igor Belanov not had a penalty saved by Hans van Breukelen when they trailed the Dutch 1-0. The two sides also played a match in Copenhagen in June 1985 that many people agree is one of the greatest World Cup qualifiers ever. That both teams so nonchalantly swatted away the challenge of an Ireland containing players we can only dream of having in the side today underlines how strong they were.

The Charlton era began in Spring 1986 with uninspiring displays at home to Wales and Uruguay. The triangular tournament win in Iceland in June was a novelty but nobody was taking too seriously wins over the hosts and Czechoslovakia. It was in September that year, when we came from behind twice to draw 2-2 with World Cup semi-finalists Belgium in Brussels in our first Euro 88 qualifier, that fans began to suddenly imagine that change was on the way. That was the sort of match we usually lost in agonising circumstances. We all know what happened next, even if it took a miraculous Scottish win in Bulgaria to actually send us to Germany. Still, the fatalism of the Irish football fan, forged in the dark days of the late seventies and early eighties, has never gone away and will accompany us all the way through the Euros. It’ll be a familiar sense of dread I feel when the likes of Iniesta, Jelavic and Balotelli are bearing down on the Irish goal.

(by Oliver Farry)

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