When Jack Charlton brought Roscommon – and Ireland – to a (glorious) halt

By Seamus Duke

The contribution made by Jack Charlton not only to Irish football but to Irish society as a whole, has been eloquently and suitably remembered in almost every media outlet in the country since the news of his passing broke on Saturday morning last.

I feel for those who were not old enough (or yet born) to experience what went on in the country during the Jack Charlton era. It is difficult to explain the enormity of what happened when Big Jack was the Irish team manager and what effect it had on the entire country. It was an extraordinary time.

Two separate matches came into my mind as I reflected on Jack’s passing at the weekend. The first was the day of the famous penalty shootout against Romania at Italia ’90. It was a Monday. The match was at 4 pm Irish-time. The country literally came to a halt. We had gathered in the Lyons’ Den pub in Church Street in Roscommon Town, which (like every other pub in the country) was packed to the rafters.

Just before 4 pm, local photographer Gerry O’Loughlin went out and took a photo of Main Street. There wasn’t one car on the road.

Proprietor Tom Lyons promised all and sundry that he would provide complimentary champagne if Ireland won. The tension grew as the match went on, and then we were into the shootout. When Dave O’Leary scored the clinching spot-kick, the place went mad. True to his word, Tom Lyons arrived out with a tray of glasses holding what looked like champagne. However, the truth was that he had found a crate of Babycham under the counter which he couldn’t sell – and that was our treat! (Editor: insert “allegedly” here!). It was such fun. Later that night we learned that the O’Gara family would open Miss Ellie’s as a once-off. It was packed. People just didn’t want to go home. What a night.

Fast-forward to 1994 and Ireland v Italy at Giants Stadium. That game was on the Saturday, at 8 pm Irish-time. Once again the pubs were jam-packed. I was in the Royal Hotel bar that night. The details of the match are well known, with Ireland pulling off a spectacular win. The place (and the whole country) went mad at the final whistle.

I was playing music in Rockford’s Nightclub that night. There was many a great night there over the years but I never experienced an atmosphere like the one after the win against Italy. It was electric. It was like someone had cast a spell of happiness over the entire country for those few hours.

The Irish soccer team under Jack Charlton brought such joy and happiness to the Irish people at a time when things were tough here in this country. The team – and Charlton – dared us to dream. He wasn’t afraid of any opposition. Jack and his players could make us forget our cares and troubles, even if it was only temporarily.

The arguments about the style of play he adopted are for people who know far more about soccer than I do. All I know is that I was lucky enough to be alive at the time and to experience what was an incredible time for Irish sport and for the Irish people.

Thanks for the memories big man, and I hope that you rest in peace.