I remember what I was doing when the Republic of Ireland qualified for the European Championships in November 1987. I was hurtling down Stapleton Hall Road near Finsbury Park, London, on my Kawasaki GT750. I had the radio on – the aftermarket FLF fairing fitted contained such a luxury – and was listening to the Bulgaria v Scotland match on Radio 5.
If Bulgaria won, they would finish one point above Ireland, clinching qualification to Euro 88 in Germany. What happened, however, was Scotland’s Gary MacKay scored in the 87th minute. Ireland had thus qualified for a major tournament for the first time ever. I’m sure anyone walking down Stapleton Hall Road that evening would have been startled by my incredulous roar of celebration. One of those moments you never forget.
As readers will know, yours truly is hardly the most patriotic of people. The only time I come near to it is when football is concerned; and that is more about wishing well for the beautiful game in Ireland over the institutional distraction of the GAA… an organisation that forbade its followers even attending “soccer” matches up until the 70s. It only finally allowed the game to be played at Croke Park in 2005, when the ban on "foreign games" was lifted. (As an aside, soccer is the only form of ‘football’ that is played primarily with the feet, not the hands, so is most deserving of the description).
To make things more difficult for the world’s most popular ball game, Irish schools tend to promote either GAA or rugby – at least that was the case in my schooldays. Where I attended, soccer only officially got a few weeks towards the end of the term. It was, however, the game of choice in the schoolyard all year round… a succinct commentary in itself.
So, nice to see Trapattoni’s men qualify for Euro 2012. It should be a nice boost for the game and maybe, who knows, even the country?
Altogether now - olé, olé, olé, olé…
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