BY: BRIAN STRAHAN
1988 – At ten years of age you might not have had any real identity. Not that a large plethora of your peers would have been heavily associated with political movements or swept up in the pop revolution of the time. You couldn’t get lost watching Ireland’s rugby team compete in a Triple Crown match or a Liverpool derby. It just hadn’t happened for you yet. But the opening credits of MacGyver on a Saturday evening could be enough for your reality to start slipping into the background and engulf you in a feeling of warmth for the evening. The A Team, maybe, had a similar effect. If both were showed on a Saturday evening you would be delirious. And maybe that was your identity; escapist American drama. Until you fell in love that Summer, that June.
You remember little or nothing of the start of the match. The only Ireland match under Jack Charlton that you weren’t enthralled with from the start; to the TV, the match, the players you would come to know better than you ever would have envisaged. By the Christmas of 1988 you would have the video highlights package of the tournament. You would proudly recite George Hamilton’s TV commentary for the goal to the few who would be bothered to listen. But you didn’t care, his words were a celebration of the day you were born as an Ireland fan. But you weren’t taking up a passing interest, like so many of your Irish peers, you fell quite deeply in love.
Kevin Moran launched a free kick from well inside Ireland’s half. You were passing time, not concentrating on the match, a little interested from the buzz, but you weren’t watching Murdoch torment B.A. Mark Wright and Gary Stevens both went for the same ball ahead of Frank Stapleton and made a mess of it and it dropped to Tony Galvin. When he blindly crossed it a nation groaned as it fell to the feet of the diminutive Kenny Sansom, an actual chance missed. The afternoon would offer few of them. But Sansom, in trying to clear, scooped it back over his own head. John Aldridge found himself with the ball dropping to him in an unexpected position and he had the foresight to head it diagonally to the smallest man on the pitch. Ray Houghton.
In goes Aldridge, and Houghton; one-nil, and Ray Houghton has got the breakthrough.
Ray Houghton somehow looped the ball right back across the goal and into the far corner. of Peter Shilton’s net. Incredibly, and it was incredible, the 50-1 tournament outsiders ,Ireland, had scored. Tony Adams held his hand aloft, but to no avail. Jack Charlton cracked his head off the upright of the dugout and fused physical pain with the revelry that surrounded him on the Irish bench, deep into the crowd and those watching the unforeseen at home.
Endeavour and effort were what followed from England. The more Gary Lineker tried to score the deeper your resentment grew. Why this austere looking gentleman was trying to ruin your day, you just didn’t know. He was clearly trying to hurt you and yours, the feeling that was manifesting itself was raw, you were unsure where to go with it. You were excited and angry and anxious and these feelings hadn’t met in such proximity before, but now they had fused rapidly and you felt almost overpowered. You worried for the remainder of the game.
But this intensity coupled with excitement was intoxicating. You were addicted to something and you didn’t realise it at the time, but Ray Houghton’s goal, twenty five years ago today, was the catalyst of a life long love affair with your national team.
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