A proper Irish wake for Big Jack, themanwhogavethenationnotions
There are probably close enough to a thousand images that would fill your head when you think back to Jack’s Irish reign, and so many of them popped up on our screens on Saturday during the tributes paid to him after we learned of his death.
Among them was the bare-chested young fella in the crowd in Genoa blessing himself as David O’Leary stepped up to take that penalty. His prayers, of course, were answered. As we suspected, not only did we have Jack on our side, we had God too.
But the clip that never fails to floor is that one of John Healy dissolving in to tears after O’Leary did his thing, RTÉ News showing it to us again as part of their salute to the big fella. The very great Irish Times journalist was on duty at the time in Dublin Castle for an EU summit, everyone around him dancing and hugging and cheering and roaring, while he just stayed in his seat and wept.
For some of us it might have been the first time we’d ever seen a grown man cry, and even if we struggled to make sense of it all, you’d an idea it was far bigger than just football.
Fiona Looney was probably right when, on the radio on Saturday morning, she said “it was the first time ever we were allowed to have notions – the one thing we were never allowed have in this country”.
Jack’s only notion when he took the job was to win football matches. He surely hadn’t set out to shift us a bit as a nation. But that he did.
Grown men cried on Saturday too. Football Focus host Dan Walker was struck by the emotion in the tributes paid to Jack by, especially, his Irish players.
“Sleep well Jack, Love ya,” said Paul McGrath. “Can’t speak . . . heart’s just broke. Love you Jack,” said Jason McAteer. And Mick McCarthy talked of his last chat with him back in May. “I told him I loved the bones of him that day – and I always will.”
The tenderness and affection and overwhelming sense of loss would cut through you. If we didn’t know already, we knew now, to these men he was much, much more than just a gaffer.
The day, then, began to feel like the very best of Irish wakes, as much laughter as there were tears, a beautiful celebration of a life lived well.
Over on Sky Sports, Graeme Souness talked of the impact Jack had on his life when he was his manager at Middlesbrough. “I’ve got an enormous debt of gratitude to him,” he said. “He sorted me out as a young man when I was maybe too full of myself.”
The ‘was’ prompted his studio colleagues to implode, Kelly Cates and Micah Richards drowning in giggles.
Graeme’s grin conceded that his levels of self-esteem remain unimpaired, but that if it wasn’t for Jack they may well have sent him off the rails. “He said there are two doors for you, one might lead to a bit of success, the other will have you just drift out of the game and achieve nothing. You look back on your life and you think if I hadn’t met him at that time, things might have gone pear-shaped for me. He’ll be much missed, he was a super, super man to be around.”
Most striking was how all this reminiscing came with a smile. Jack was no angel, that we know, but it was probably the divil in him that made everyone who knew him love him like they did.
Not to mention his thriftiness. On Football Focus, Mark Lawrenson recalled arranging an interview with him for the BBC during USA ’94. It was being done in Jack’s hotel bedroom, and when Lawrenson arrived he saw “six pairs of underpants, proper belly warmers, hanging in the room”. He had hand-washed them himself so that he could avoid paying the hotel’s laundry fees.
“With Jack,” said Lawro, “every penny was a prisoner.”
He had no notions, that fella. But he left us with loads. Sleep well, big man, and thank you for everything. “Love ya.”
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The day began to feel like the very best of Irish wakes, as much laughter as there were tears, a beautiful celebration of a life lived well
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