Sleep well Jack, you made us all happy

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Soccer Death Of Jack Charlton - Malachy Clerkin

Con­tin­ued from page one

They re­ally were. The re­ac­tions on ei­ther side of the Ir­ish Sea tell the tale. Charl­ton is the sec­ond of Eng­land’s 1966 World Cup win­ners to die this year and his pass­ing led the sports bul­letins over there on Satur­day. You could sense in the cov­er­age a deep fond­ness for him, an ob­vi­ous and gen­uine love for a foot­ball man with an out­sized per­son­al­ity. But it didn’t com­pare to how the news was re­ceived over here.

They loved Jack Charl­ton in Eng­land but in Ire­land, he was adored. Some of it was, of course, down to who he was. The big like­able head on him, the smi­ley per­sona, the yarns and all that. The fish­ing on the Moy, the keg of Guin­ness in the ho­tel room, the in­abil­ity to re­mem­ber the play­ers’ names. All of it drew peo­ple to him nat­u­rally and or­gan­i­cally.

He was the kind of dude we like lik­ing. A bit ram­shackle, a bit rough around the edges, not both­ered with how he looked or sounded. Didn’t take any non­sense, made a point of stand­ing up for the lit­tle guy – re­mem­ber him telling the cops in Amer­ica to leave the Ir­ish lads that ran onto the pitch alone? And on top of all that, he was suc­cess­ful.

Past ver­sion

So yeah, we would prob­a­bly have liked him one way or the other. But if you cupped your ear and lis­tened over the past 48 hours, it wasn’t re­ally Jack Charl­ton we were mourn­ing. It was some past ver­sion of our­selves. The out­pour­ing wasn’t about so much about who he was, it was about what hap­pened. It wasn’t Him. It was Us. And it was Then.

There has maybe never been a bet­ter line in Ir­ish sportswrit­ing than Con Houli­han’s, “I missed Italia ‘90 – I was away at the World Cup.”

Ev­ery­body who was alive for it has a mem­ory of it. Of who they were and what it was to them.

We landed down to the in-laws on Satur­day af­ter­noon and nearly the first thing out of my sis­ter-in-law’s mouth was: “Ah, poor Jack. I had to get my wed­ding dress let out twice be­cause of Italia ’90. The sec­ond time I went in, the dress­maker said, ‘Lis­ten now, there’s no more ma­te­rial, okay?’ The craic we had.”

Noth­ing in Ir­ish life lives in the race mem­ory like it. It was, as Nell Mc­Caf­ferty wrote at the time, a chance to be in­no­cently happy. And maybe we try a bit too hard at times to hang onto it or to recre­ate it. But on the whole, that’s not a bad as­pi­ra­tion. You’d give plenty to be in­no­cently happy just now.


The night be­fore Ire­land played Swe­den in Paris at Euro 2016, we were down by the Pont St Michel hav­ing a beer. A Swedish cou­ple walked by, hand in hand, and stopped to cross the street just out­side the ter­race bar we were at. Upon which, a group of Ir­ish lads be­side us start­ing to ser­e­nade them with a bar of Thank You For The Mu­sic. The two Swedes bent dou­ble laugh­ing, the cross­ing lights changed and they went on their way and the night was good.

Now, you can roll your eyes at this kind of stuff, by all means. It’s true that it can all get a bit too per­for­ma­tive and tire­some af­ter a while. But it’s rea­son­able to beg a cou­ple of al­lowances, if you don’t mind.

One, there are plenty worse things in life to be than a happy gob­shite abroad. And two, the peo­ple do­ing that in 2016 – or any other time be­fore and since – grew up on tales of Ir­ish fans in West Ger­many and Italy and Amer­ica and them the toast of ev­ery town they vis­ited. They are still, con­sciously or oth­er­wise, all part of Jackie’s Army. There’s no shame in want­ing in on a bit of all that.

Small doses

Nos­tal­gia gets a bad rap. The lock­down brought out its worst ex­cesses, es­pe­cially in sport, where waves of it came down upon us whether we liked it or not. That kind of nos­tal­gia is the worst sort of liv­ing in the past be­cause it serves only to em­pha­sise your griev­ances with the present. That does no­body any good.

But in small doses here and there, the past can be a lovely place to visit. And for whole gen­er­a­tions of us, Jack Charl­ton rep­re­sents ex­actly that. When it comes down to it, this is what peo­ple were con­nect­ing to over the week­end as they marked the pass­ing of the big English­man who led it all.

In the end, it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter whether the foot­ball was any good or whether Big Cas was ac­tu­ally Ir­ish or whether it cre­ated the Celtic Tiger or whether it led to River­dance tak­ing over the world or any of the count­less claims – some spu­ri­ous, some less so – there is an­other rea­son to pay trib­ute to Jack. In 1977 he, along with an­other key fig­ure in English foot­ball, Brian Clough, was a spon­sor and founder mem­ber of the Anti Nazi League.

“This was im­mensely im­por­tant. At that point the Na­tional Front was mak­ing se­ri­ous in roads into Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal life . . . overt and ag­gres­sive racism was wide­spread in English foot­ball at ev­ery level from man­age­ment to sec­tions of fans. The stand taken by Jack Charl­ton, and Brian Clough, was there­fore a mas­sive boost to the Anti Nazi League and to the antiracist strug­gle as a whole.” For all the talk of Jack been old school, in light of cur­rent events maybe he was ahead of his time? made on its be­half.

It only mat­ters that the Charl­ton years were a great thing that hap­pened to a coun­try that wasn’t used to great things hap­pen­ing. And now, a gen­er­a­tion later, it mat­ters that peo­ple still have that in their folk mem­ory. It mat­ters that all you need to hear is Charl­ton’s voice firmly stat­ing, “We’ve qual­i­fied for the World Cup, we’re go­ing to com­pete” and straight away you’re out with the air gui­tar and you’re belt­ing out Put ‘Em Un­der Pres­sure. It mat­ters that it brings sim­ple, un­blem­ished joy when you do it.

Sleep well, Jack. We were happy. You did that.

It only mat­ters that the Charl­ton years were a great thing that hap­pened to a coun­try that wasn’t used to great things hap­pen­ing

Jack Charl­ton in joy­ful mood af­ter Ire­land qual­i­fied for Italia 90 by de­feat­ing Malta in Val­letta. Pho­to­graph: In­pho

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