Ireland Away Days | USA '94
The disappointment of missing out on EURO ’92 had been forgotten as The Boys in Green followed the path of many Irish men and women with a trip across the Atlantic Ocean.
Among the thousands of Irish fans following that path were 57 members of the Derry Republic of Ireland Soccer Supporters Club Derry City (ROISSCDC).
Chairman at the time Michael Doherty, along with the late Paddy McCauley, current Secretary Jim Barr and Treasurer Gerard McMonagle, had helped set up the group in 1992 with the club raffling off tickets for £5 to fund a two-week trip to America and a ticket to each group game.
“We sold 20,000 tickets,” said Doherty. “The demand for the raffle tickets was quite incredible. There were a lot of people who missed out on going to Italia ’90 who wanted to make sure they were involved this time. We had everything booked. The tickets, the flights, the hotels, but you couldn’t make it up, we had to play Northern Ireland at Windsor Park and get a result to ensure Ireland was going. I’m not sure what would have happened if Alan McLoughlin hadn’t scored that goal.”
Their first stop in the USA would be New Jersey as Ireland went head-to-head with the nation that had dumped them out of their last World Cup campaign – Italy.
Richard McKinney, former club Secretary, said: “You wouldn’t have known there was a World Cup on.
“There wasn’t much signage and the American people weren’t talking about the World Cup. When we got to the stadium I was expecting there to be more Italians than Irish, especially with it being in New Jersey, but the Italians must have sold their tickets to the Irish fans because it was green, white and orange everywhere.”
Twelve minutes into the opening match and Ray Houghton, a man who had written himself into Irish folklore six years previously with a goal against England at EURO ‘88, took a speculative shot from 30 yards out.
McKinney said: “We were sitting up at the very back behind that net and I remember seeing the Italian goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca off his line and as Houghton hit the shot I’m convinced the keeper thought it was going over but then realised too late it wasn’t and did a second take to try and catch it. It nestled in the net and the place erupted. People fell on top us and we fell on top of people in the row in front. It was madness.”
That would be the only goal of the game but once more it was a Houghton winner in a 1-0 victory that would end up being the stuff of legend.
But on this occasion, it wasn’t the only moment from the game that would be spoken about for years after. The performance of Paul McGrath drew widespread praise and only served to solidify his reputation as a quality defender.
Jim Barr, chairman of Derry RISSC, said: “McGrath was exceptional that day. He read the game so well. He was the best the defender on a pitch with Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini. That tells you just how well he played.”
The days after the win were celebratory with the Derry contingent drawing a lot of attention from the locals. “The Americans weren’t used to people walking around in football jerseys so many people were convinced we were the Ireland squad. I’m not sure why because a couple of the lads were 25 stone,” said Doherty.
“One day a few of the boys treated me to some food at a restaurant and when we arrived the queue was around the block. The restaurant manager came out, saw us in the green jerseys and brought us to the front of the queue. He then announced to the whole restaurant ‘it is my honour to welcome the Republic of Ireland soccer team’.”
From New Jersey, the Derry boys headed to a sweltering Orlando to face Mexico in the harsh Floridian sun.
“A policeman said to me he couldn’t believe that the match was being played at that time in the day. The heat was like nothing I had ever experienced,” said McKinney.
The hot temperatures in the stands matched the hot tempers at pitch side. Substitute John Aldridge became embroiled in a row with a FIFA fourth official before he was allowed onto the pitch. Aldridge soon calmed to score a consolation goal in a 2-1 defeat to Mexico, a goal that would later ensure qualification out of the group.
Doherty added: “We were outnumbered by the Mexican fans and it wasn’t our best performance. John Aldridge’s goal was a highlight but those conditions on that day weren’t ideal for any European team. You couldn’t breathe and I’ve no idea how the players lasted more than 10 minutes.”
The final group game would see almost 60 Derrymen take 16 internal flights up the east coast of America to return to the scene of their famous win over Italy.
“We just needed a draw with Norway and we were through,” said McKinney. “It wasn’t the most exciting game but there were so many permutations so it was a tense match. If we had won we would have remained in New Jersey and we would have had a lot of fans who would have stayed for that extra game.”
It ended 0-0 against Norway meaning Ireland finished second in the group ahead of eventual finalists Italy. That result, however, would mean JCharlton’s men would come up against a familiar foe in the Netherlands. It would be the third time that Ireland would meet the Dutch in their third major tournament.
The Oranje would halt the Irish World Cup adventure with a 2-0 win in Orlando thanks to goals by Denis Bergkamp and Wim Jonk.
Doherty looked back on the game: “We got as far as we were able to get. The Netherlands were very good but I think we could have done better. Once the game was done I just wanted to head home right away.”
Barr added: “There were very few teams who would have touched the Netherlands on their day. They were at the prime of their life. I think the temperatures and the times these games were taking place played a contribution to player fatigue.”
There would be no run the quarter-final this time but once more the Irish team were able to enhance their reputation and add to their football legacy.
McKinney summarised the trip from a fans’ perspective: “The travelling was terrible but I loved the craic with all the boys. We were treated so well by the Americans and this was great because there were a few people with us who had never been out of Ireland.”
Doherty added: “The Americans didn’t know much about soccer but what they did know they identified it as being all Irish. More so than Italy, the world saw the Irish fans as having good craic, having a laugh and up for anything and I think that consolidated our position as the best fans in the world.”
Picture (L to R): Raymond Collins, Michael Doherty, Gerard McMonagle, Chris Collins and Gabriel McMonagle picture ahead of Ireland's game against Mexico at USA '94.