Ireland Away Days | Italia '90

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Ireland Away Days | Italia '90

After tasting success at Euro ’88, the prospect of Ireland taking part in the carnival of football that is the World Cup was a whole new prospect for Irish fans.
23rd Jun 2020

The performance of Jack & The Lads in Germany had done wonders for the popularity of the game domestically, but also unleashed a new wave of Irish identity and passion around the continent.

After qualifying for the 1990 World Cup with a win over Malta, the race for tickets would be like never before.

Patrick Redmond, a founder of the London Branch of the Republic of Ireland Soccer Supporters Club (RISSC) remembered the demand for tickets: “I met a Spanish fan while we were at Euro ’88 in Germany and managed to get him tickets to the Ireland and Spain qualifying game, no problem at all.  But after qualification, it was near impossible to get a ticket. I somehow managed to get tickets for the World Cup through an Italian bank in London – if you weren’t going in a large group you had no chance.”

Peter Coffey, a fellow founder of the London supporters club, saw how swiftly the popularity in the national team changed in a relatively short space of time.

He explained: “Let me put it into perspective. We organised a trip to watch a game at Lansdowne Road against Switzerland in 1985 and the only way to get most people on the trip was telling them Bruce Springsteen was in concert in Dublin – so most people went to both. 

“Believe it or not, we bumped into Bruce outside the Gresham Hotel on O’Connell Street and I spent 20 minutes trying to convince him to play at the Workman’s Club on the quays – he declined.”

Peter, whose family hail from Tipperary, said he was one of 23 who made the trip via car, train and ferry to get to Italy but his journey was far less eventful than others from the RISCC London

“A few of them decided to stay on Malta and get the ferry across to games,” he remembered.

“On the day of the England game, there were gale force winds and there was no way the ferry should have sailed. People came off the boat with broken limbs. The waves were so bad one Irish fan was tossed that high he hit his head off the ceiling and was knocked unconscious. After that a few refused to travel back to Italy by boat again.”

A first World Cup game for Ireland would bear similarities to their opener in Euro ’88, a clash with neighbours England on neutral soil.

A chance for revenge for the Three Lions or more glory for The Boys in Green?

Wicklow-native, Declan Finnegan, who moved to London in 1971, recalls the build-up to the England game. He said: “The newspaper reports in the UK were all about how Ireland got lucky in Stuttgart and it wouldn’t happen again. There was hardly any mention of the performance of Ireland two years earlier, it was completely dismissed.”

Kevin Sheedy had the honour of scoring Ireland’s first ever World Cup goal, an equaliser that cancelled out Gary Lineker’s early strike in Cagliari.

Peter added: “There was more talk after the game in the English press about Lineker’s, ‘accident’ than our performance to hold England to a draw.”

A non-European side awaited Ireland in matchday two when they took on Egypt and for the Boys in Green it was the first time they were going into a tournament game as favourites. It finished up scoreless in Palermo.

Patrick, whose father is from Dublin, said: “Perhaps because Egypt were an African team people were almost dismissive of them. There was a lot of disappointment after the draw and I think a lot of fans felt we should have beaten them comfortably. Cameroon were another African side at that tournament and they had beaten Argentina. Egypt were one of the more established African nations in football terms so it was never going to be a walk over.”

A re-match against European Champions Netherlands would await Jack Charlton’s boys with qualification from the group on the line. 

Ruud Gullit gave the Dutch the lead but Niall Quinn pounced on a Han van Breukelen mistake in the 71st minute to earn a 1-1 draw for Ireland. However, the last few minutes of the game were what many remember.

Patrick said: “Ireland and the Netherlands entered into a ‘non-aggression pact’. England were 1-0 up against Egypt, so us and the Dutch knew we could qualify with a draw and both teams ended up passing the ball with no pressure from the opposition. I’d never seen anything like it before”

The Netherlands, however, didn’t get the luck of the draw. They were drawn against West Germany while Ireland were picked to take on Romania.

And so, Ireland headed to Genoa to face a Romanian team that had finished ahead of Argentina in Group B.

The country, the squad nor the fans knew it at the time, but June 25th, 1990 would go down as one the greatest days in the history of Irish football.

Peter said: “It’s strange, it was one of my most memorable days as an Ireland supporter but it wasn’t the most memorable of games.

“I remember we were the opposite end from the penalties and in the upper tier. There was a big screen in the corner and that’s where I watched them – I couldn’t look at it live! It was that tense. 

“When Packie Bonner made the save from Daniel Timofte, the whole place went crazy. Then we saw David O’Leary stepping up and everyone around me was saying ‘what’s he doing taking a penalty?’. He took the penalty well to be fair to him.”

Patrick added: “When it went to penalties I thought, ‘isn’t this the goalkeeper who made four saves in the 1986 European Cup Final shoot-out for Steaua București?’. That was my only knowledge of Romanian football at the time. His name was Helmuth Duckadam, but luckily he wasn’t playing – fortunately he’d only got two caps for Romania.”

It would finish 5-4 to Ireland on penalties with ‘the big man from Donegal’ Packie Bonner the hero.

No sooner had the jubilant flurry of green tracksuits swarmed the pitch at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris, the phonelines between Ireland and Italy were alive with fans back home looking to join the World Cup party.

A Quarter Final against the host nation in Rome on a Saturday night was unsurprisingly one of the hottest tickets on the planet. But among those lucky enough to secure his place among the crowd in the Stadio Olimpico was Declan.

He said: “I thought I’d have no chance of getting a ticket but the man who owned­ my local pub said to me ‘do you fancy going over for the Italy game?’. I thought he was winding me up, but he’d managed to get two tickets from someone he knew in Dublin.

“The whole tournament had been an adventure but after we beat Romania it all became very real. When you get to that level of football, every team has a chance in a one-off game - you just need a bit of luck.

“We got on a flight the morning of the game and we didn’t even have anywhere to stay. We were saying ‘what we going to do if we win?’. We had no gear with us or anything.”

Peter said: “I thought we had a chance of beating Italy. When you get to that stage of a World Cup, you do think you have a chance of going all the way. Italy were slightly better than us on the night, though we did have opportunities. Salvatore Schillaci was the man of tournament and it was him who did the damage.” 

And so, on June 30th, 1990 Ireland’s World Cup adventure would end in the Italian capital but 30 years on that run to the Quarter-Final only served to enhance Ireland’s reputation as a footballing nation.

Declan said: “In the immediate aftermath of that game there was a lot of disappointment but still to this day I remember sitting in the airport speaking to fans and we agreed that if you had offered us a chance of the reaching the Quarter Final of a World Cup and going out to the hosts, we’d have snatched your hand off.”

Peter summarised: “We punched above our weight for a small country. I am very proud of what we achieved. Every player showed up, performed well, and wore that shirt with pride. That’s all you can ask for as a supporter.”