Sear­ing hon­esty de­fined a man that all us play­ers came to like and re­spect

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Soccer Death Of Jack Charlton - Mark Lawren­son

It was to­wards the end of my ca­reer, I was try­ing to come back from an in­jury. It had been a long haul. I was play­ing for Liver­pool A, ef­fec­tively their third team, on a Satur­day morn­ing. And who turns up only Jack.

He’d driven all the way from New­cas­tle just to watch me and have a chat. He asked how I was do­ing. I said I felt I was get­ting there, but I wasn’t there yet.

“As soon as you are you’ll be in the Ir­ish team,” he said. That’s all I needed to hear.

It’s funny, that was one of the first things that came to mind when I heard Jack had died. More, even, than the great days he had play­ing for Leeds and Eng­land or those mag­i­cal times man­ag­ing Ire­land.

It was days like that in Liver­pool that peo­ple wouldn’t have seen. He knew I had been strug­gling, so he made that ef­fort. He was great. He had a gen­uine warmth and a hu­man touch. No bull­shit, ei­ther. You just knew where you stood with him all the time.

I would have been around nine when I watched him win the World Cup, when I was liv­ing in the out­skirts of Pre­ston, me and my pal Steven De­whurst from four doors down out on the road pre­tend­ing we were play­ing ex­tra-time in the fi­nal. And fight­ing over who got to be Eng­land.

That World Cup-win­ning team ended up hav­ing a big in­flu­ence on my ca­reer – I played for Bobby Charl­ton at Pre­ston, where Nobby Stiles was our re­serve team coach, and, of course, for Jack with Ire­land. Bobby so ob­vi­ously didn’t want to be a man­ager, but with Jack it seemed to come easy. He was a nat­u­ral.

Right man

Like most, I was amazed when he got the Ir­ish job be­cause I as­sumed it would be Bob Pais­ley – and I was think­ing ‘I’m go­ing to get 200 caps if it’s Bob’. But in the end they got the right man for the job, even if they got there in a round­about kind of way.

I would have played against Mid­dles­brough and Sh­effield Wed­nes­day when he was man­ager of those clubs, so I knew what to ex­pect of him. His teams were al­ways very di­rect, a big cen­tre for­ward and all that kind of thing.

We had some very good play­ers when he came in, but we just needed har­ness­ing, we were never as good a team as we should have been. From day one he de­fined a way of play­ing for us, he said there would be no plan B or C – and if you don’t want to play that way, tough.

I wouldn’t have been 100 per cent sure about his style, but soon enough the re­sults start­ing com­ing. It worked. And with that came be­lief and a trust in him. He man­aged to con­vince some very tal­ented play­ers that this was the way Ire­land were go­ing to be suc­cess­ful. The only re­gret for me is that he didn’t get more out of Liam [Brady]. Liam was a great player and it’s just a pity we couldn’t fit him in to that sys­tem. But Liam didn’t like the way that we played, and Jack just felt he slowed the game down too much. So it was prob­a­bly never go­ing to work be­tween them.

Break­ing for­ward

So, when we went out there, ev­ery one of us knew our job pre­cisely. If you strayed from do­ing it, there’d be a glare from the side­line. You daren’t look. I re­mem­ber him com­ing over to me af­ter we’d beaten Scot­land in Glas­gow in 1987, when I got the only goal of the game. I thought, ‘what a nice bloke, he’s com­ing to tell me how well I’d done’. In­stead it was “what the ‘eff­ing hell were you think­ing of?” I got a bol­lock­ing for break­ing for­ward at the end to try and get a sec­ond.

Ahead of the game he had come up to me in train­ing and told me I wouldn’t be play­ing in my usual po­si­tion at cen­tre back, I’d be in mid­field. He wanted me up against Graeme Souness. I thought, ‘oh great, thanks for that’. As it worked out, Graeme didn’t play, he was in­jured. When Jack named the team Ron­nie [Whe­lan] looked at me and said, “am I play­ing left-back?!” Paul [McGrath] was like, “I’m right back?!” We were all “o ....... kay”.

Ab­so­lute re­spect

But we won. So we thought, right, he knows what he’s do­ing. He wasn’t a master tac­ti­cian or any­thing, but he had us play­ing in a way that was prov­ing suc­cess­ful.

We had ab­so­lute re­spect for him. The play­ers hung on his ev­ery word, they re­ally did. To­tal re­spect. And in my time with him, which was all too short be­cause I had to re­tire, I can never re­mem­ber him los­ing the plot. He stayed calm, al­ways in con­trol, no mat­ter the cir­cum­stances.

I think every­one who knew him re­ally, re­ally liked him – even play­ers he would leave out of the team now and then – be­cause he was hon­est with you. And with­out ques­tion, I would say Jack was the most hon­est man­ager I ever played for.

Good man

And I think the ab­sence of bull­shit was one of the rea­sons the Ir­ish peo­ple grew to love him like they did. That and win­ning matches and qual­i­fy­ing for ma­jor tour­na­ments, of course. He put us on the map in terms of in­ter­na­tional foot­ball.

He was ex­tremely ap­proach­able and a ge­nial man. I re­mem­ber in the ho­tel in Or­lando in ’94 he let all the sup­port­ers in. He’d have 25,000 pho­tos taken with them if he had to, no prob­lem. That’s the way he was and it rubbed off on the play­ers. He’d say “you’re play­ing for this lot, they’ve trav­elled thou­sands of miles, you need to re­pay them’.”

And that’s how he was, a de­cent down to earth man. He never, ever talked about win­ning the World Cup, there was none of that – that was his­tory. He was only in­ter­ested in the here and now. So he never rammed that down any­body’s throat. And he could have done.

On day one he said to us, “I’m just Jack, you don’t have to call me boss”. And that’s how all of Ire­land came to know him too, just ‘Jack’. He put a smile on ev­ery­body’s face.

Above all, he was a good man.

I wouldn’t have been 100 per cent sure about his style, but soon enough the re­sults start­ing com­ing. It worked

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