Most Irish people of mine & preceding generations have an abiding love for Jack Charlton. In an era when we were, as a people, downtrodden & directionless & still very much under the heel of the bishop & the gombeen, he gave the ordinary people of Ireland pride & fighting spirit & something unambigously heroic to cheer on.
Ray Houghton’s early goal against England in Euro 88 remains one of the greatest moments of my life. We chewed the carpet in my house until the final whistle, and then we exploded in joy – crying, cheering, gibbering, spontaneous yodelling, speaking in tongues…the whole lot. Such scenes of ineffable overjoy were everywhere in Ireland & among the Irish abroad that day. It was as if three million had simultaneously shot up MDMA & come up on the hottest, highest rush of all time ever. But that is to downplay it – no substance could ever replicate the effects of beating the English in 1988. I was 12 & I knew what it meant to live & win against the toughest of foes!
Two years later I was 14 & in a bar in a west of Ireland town downing pints with two girl peers of mine, who were 13. It was the 1/8th final of Italia 1990 & we were on the way to beating Romania & getting farther in an international competition than would have been dreamed of a few years earlier. The bar was, like every other bar in Ireland, heaving with jolly, expectant inebriates. Everyone from 11 to 110 was getting happy pished in there, half of them spending money they didnt have just to be part of the collective ecstasy that winning high level international soccer matches was for us all back then.
Somewhere in the course of the evening we were joined at our table by couple of lads from the six counties who had travelled down in a van for the craic – vans were our mobile hotels back then, many’s an irish holiday was spent in them. They were about 20, they bought us pints, they chatted up the girls & worked on edging me out. The day went on, Ireland won, carnival erupted again & again everything was possible & nothing disallowed. The two girls went off with the two men, & i went back to where i was staying, locked.
Next morning one of the now-missing girls’ younger brothers knocked on my door & said their mom wanted to talk to me & would i come down & see her for a chat. My girl friend had not come home last night at all, apparently. Fuck! Down I went to her house, not wanting to be blamed, shitting a brick & facing an ethical dilemna. Should I lie to protect my friend….no-one wants to be rat, well not in my day anyway.
But I adored the girl’s mother. A hard-working woman bringing up kids on her own after being abandoned by a useless drunk of a husband. A woman who had suffered greatly & often but who remained genorous, calm, hospitable, capable, dignified & above all undefeated – in a time where defeat was the default for working class people. The least I owed such a hero of the people was the truth about last night’s events, right?
So I put on a show of resistance in my friend’s living room & didnt cough up what I knew to her mom until the third or fourth time the question of whereabouts was put.
Just as i had finished mumblingly & sorrypussedly confessing about nordies & a van, & the shock & rage was exploding in my friend’s mom’s brain, in walks my friend. Bad timing. Mom went for young wan like cheetah for gazelle, pouncing on her without warning & at light speed. With her bare hands, Mother bate daughter round the living room in front of me, smacking her, pucking her, roaring & shouting the whole time, a whirlwind attack. The beating went on for a while & ended when mom swung her against the wall & down she slumped, a heap of snot & tears & shivering sorrows.
Off I fucked as soon as quick as I could.
Was the beating right or wrong? We are all of course against beating children in general. I am certainly no-one to judge either way in this case & I know the woman, now passed & deeply missed, was not in the least violent to her children on an everyday basis – in fact much less so than most other parents of the time & place.
Perhaps there are some who feel they could have dealt more pacifically with such a difficult circumstance. I would find such people hard to credit to be honest. As far as I know, my friend didnt spend a night away unannounced for the rest of her childhood.
This is some of what Jack Charlton RIP brings up for me. As I said, most all my generation loves Jack as we would love a God, but we all love him in our own way & we all have our own Jack Charlton Tales to tell. Thanks for taking the time to read mine.