Poi­son in the Belfast air: 1993 re­vis­ited

25 years ago, Alan McLough­lin’s goal se­cured a World Cup spot at USA 94 for the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land on an ex­tremely tense night in Belfast’s Wind­sor Park

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Michael Walker:

Out of the blue I was ap­proached by the Re­pub­lic... Let’s face it – you want to play for some­body that ac­tu­ally wants you – Alan Ker­naghan We weren’t com­pet­i­tive and Billy took it per­son­ally. I’ve never seen him as an­i­mated, he was al­ways very calm be­fore and af­ter games – Jim Magi­il­ton

Jack Charlton was con­fi­dent, up­beat. It was Oc­to­ber 1993 and the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land team he had moulded into a tru­cu­lent force hosted Spain in a World Cup qual­i­fier at Lans­downe Road.

Charlton thought the Ir­ish would win. Vic­tory would se­cure qual­i­fi­ca­tion for USA 94 and a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive ap­pear­ance at a World Cup. He had a skip in his step. As he was to say: “The at­mos­phere in the ground that day was some­thing else.

“More than three years on the ex­cite­ment and the sense of na­tional pride which made Italia ’90 so spe­cial for us still lin­gered. Now it seemed the whole coun­try wanted to be with us on the day we would book our place for the fi­nals in Amer­ica.”

Charlton’s next line was: “So much for ex­pec­ta­tion.”

His con­fi­dence, based on a 0-0 draw with Spain the pre­vi­ous Novem­ber, was mis­guided. In Dublin, the Spanish were 3-0 ahead be­fore the half-hour. In the sec­ond half they put on a young mid­fielder called Pep Guardi­ola.

It was an Ir­ish sub­sti­tute who made a dif­fer­ence, though. In the 72nd minute, John Sheri­dan, on for Kevin Mo­ran, made it 3-1. It turned out to be more than a con­so­la­tion goal.

Not that it felt that way to Charlton. He was dis­turbed by the de­feat, be­cause he knew there was only one qual­i­fier left and be­cause it was in Belfast against North­ern Ire­land. It was the fol­low­ing month – Novem­ber 17th – and, in Charlton’s de­scrip­tion, it was the “dooms­day” sce­nario.

His wari­ness – sport­ing, po­lit­i­cal and, per­haps, per­sonal – was jus­ti­fied.

Two days af­ter the Spain game, Paddy McMahon, a 23-year-old Catholic, was shot dead in north Belfast by the UDA. It was the first of 26 deaths in 18 days in the North’s Trou­bles, in­clud­ing the IRA bomb at Frizzell’s fish shop on the Shankill Road and the UFF “trick or treat” mas­sacre at the Ris­ing Sun pub at Greysteel.

There was a two-week respite with­out killing be­fore the match at Wind­sor Park but, as Ire­land held its breath, the at­mos­phere in Belfast was as grim as the 1970s.

The fix­ture would have been tense any­way, be­cause of the math­e­mat­ics. The Re­pub­lic thought they would need to win to make it through to Amer­ica, though a draw might be good enough de­pend­ing on the Spain-Den­mark re­sult in Seville. Goal dif­fer­ence could be a fac­tor.

North­ern Ire­land’s qual­i­fi­ca­tion chance had gone. But they could stop the Re­pub­lic. On top of that, af­ter 17 years in the job in two spells, Billy Bing­ham, the North­ern Ire­land man­ager, was leav­ing.

‘Bat­tered us’

“I re­mem­ber we were all feel­ing sorry for our­selves,” says Niall Quinn of the loss to Spain in Oc­to­ber. “They ab­so­lutely bat­tered us. But we got one goal, John Sheri­dan late on, and when I was walk­ing off the pitch that night at Wind­sor Park, I re­mem­ber think­ing that it was that goal as much as Alan McLough­lin’s which got us above Den­mark in the group.”

The Spain re­sult was the fresh con­text for Charlton and the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land. For Bing­ham and North­ern Ire­land, the game mo­ti­vat­ing them was their 3-0 de­feat in Dublin in March.

Andy Townsend, Quinn and Steve Staunton scored in the space of 10 first-half min­utes and Bing­ham took ex­cep­tion to a chant from the crowd: ‘There’s only one team in Ire­land’. He also felt Charlton had “rub­bished” his play­ers.

Jim Mag­ilton played in cen­tral mid­field for North­ern Ire­land in both Ir­ish games that year. “I wouldn’t cat­e­gorise it as hos­tile,” he says of Dublin in March, “but the crowd seemed more stoked up than usual. That came across.

“Then there was that chant: ‘Only one team in Ire­land.’

“I re­garded it more as ban­ter and be­cause the home side were so on top. I was more fo­cused on them as a team – the Re­pub­lic had some top-class play­ers and they were so much bet­ter than us on the day. We weren’t com­pet­i­tive and Billy took it per­son­ally. I’ve never seen him as an­i­mated, he was al­ways very calm be­fore and af­ter games.”

Bing­ham was 62 and had been an im­por­tant fig­ure in Ir­ish foot­ball since his de­but for Glentoran in the Ir­ish League in 1948. He played at the 1958 World Cup and guided North­ern Ire­land to Spain in 1982 and Mex­ico in 1986. He knew the game in­side out.

He also knew Charlton. The two men had played against each other in the 1950s and 60s and had man­aged Ever­ton and Mid­dles­brough at the same time in the 70s.

When, in Fe­bru­ary 1993, six weeks be­fore the two Ir­ish teams met in Dublin, North­ern Ire­land played a qual­i­fier in Al­ba­nia. Charlton asked to go with them so he could scout Al­ba­nia as a team and Ti­rana as a place. Bing­ham agreed. Mag­ilton re­calls Charlton’s lug­gage con­sisted of “a box of corn­flakes”.

Af­ter a 2-1 North­ern Ire­land win, one news­pa­per re­port said: “Charlton cel­e­brated with Bing­ham’s braves”.

It also quoted Charlton say­ing con­vivially: “I would hope that in the last game at Wind­sor Park we need a point and they need a point to go on to the fi­nals. That would be some sce­nario.”

The Charlton quote that held most at­ten­tion, though, was: “I’m not ex­actly in a flap about North­ern Ire­land.”


By Novem­ber and that last group match at Wind­sor Park, Charlton’s sce­nario had al­tered and “a flap” was not the ap­pro­pri­ate term for the gen­eral con­cern about the game some thought could not go ahead.

So dis­tress­ing was the vi­o­lence and the des­o­lat­ing pa­rade of fu­ner­als that the FAI sought guar­an­tees over player safety. They voiced their anx­i­ety to Fifa who, with just over a fort­night to go, told the FAI gen­eral sec­re­tary Seán Con­nolly that a change of venue was “im­mi­nent”.

This was not new to the IFA – se­cu­rity is­sues meant North­ern Ire­land had been un­able to stage games at Wind­sor from late 1971 to 1975. They played in places such as Hull and Sh­effield. In 1973, Martin O’Neill scored his first North­ern Ire­land goal in a “home” game against Por­tu­gal in Coven­try.

The IFA did not wish to re­turn to that. It it is an in­di­ca­tion of the se­ri­ous­ness of the con­flict that the idea was con­sid­ered. Fifa back­tracked, how­ever, as­sured by the IFA, then said the match had to go ahead at 8pm – not noon as had been sug­gested – to co­in­cide with Spain-Den­mark.

There was to be no away sup­port, how­ever. And no Amhrán na bhFiann. This was a fix­ture to ful­fil, noth­ing more. Of course, there was more. “Had we beaten Spain, it might have been a bit dif­fer­ent, a bit eas­ier to han­dle in sport­ing terms,” Niall Quinn says. “But we didn’t and so we had to go up to Belfast and do some­thing. It was so volatile. The pe­riod be­fore­hand was as low as it gets, wasn’t it? Fifa were wa­ver­ing about whether the game could go ahead in Belfast, both as­so­ci­a­tions and se­cu­rity forces were hav­ing dis­cus­sions. I think it was un­cer­tain un­til quite close to the game.”

Ad­vised to fly to Belfast from Dublin, rather than travel by road from their base in Mon­aghan, the Re­pub­lic squad ar­rived

the day be­fore. They trained, waited, then set off.

“On the bus to the game, I re­mem­ber see­ing a group of young kids with sticks pre­tend­ing they were ri­fles and they were point­ing them at us,” Quinn says. “They’d shoot, kneel down and an­other row would shoot. I thought: ‘Je­sus, this is crazy stuff.’

“There were no Re­pub­lic fans al­lowed up and given the way things were, that was the right call.”

Mag­ilton, from west Belfast, un­der­stood his home town: “I was very, very aware of the hor­rific events go­ing on, we were all very con­scious of that. And clearly there was a dif­fer­ent feel to this match, that was ev­i­dent in the city be­fore­hand. It was hos­tile and I’ve never known such noise, it was con­stant, lasted the whole match.”

Also on Mag­ilton’s mind, though, was Dublin in March. “Again – I must stress this – I’m there as a 24-year-old pro­fes­sional foot­baller des­per­ate to get estab­lished, des­per­ate to play in big games like this. You’re up against Roy Keane, Andy Townsend and Ray Houghton in mid­field. So I’m think­ing about that more than any­thing else go­ing on around me.”

What was go­ing on around the play­ers was a shock­ing ca­coph­ony of sec­tar­ian abuse, vit­riol which stunned on­look­ers. Some­times it was racist, di­rected at Terry Phe­lan and Paul Mc­Grath.

Fin­tan O’Toole sat silently in the crowd for The Ir­ish Times. He told of the racism and sec­tar­i­an­ism and of the anti-English stick Charlton re­ceived. He ref­er­enced a

Hot Press in­ter­view with the UDA in which the Loy­al­ist paramil­i­taries had crit­i­cised Charlton’s pres­ence.

“In North­ern Ire­land,” the UDA spokesman said, “we have a na­tional team. In the South you have an in­ter­na­tional team with an English­man lead­ing them. In Ul­ster we wouldn’t want a for­eigner to run our na­tional team.”

The di­as­pora ques­tion had en­tered Ir­ish foot­ball via the “granny” rule. Bing­ham had called the Re­pub­lic’s Eng­land-born play­ers “mer­ce­nar­ies” in the build-up. Only four of Charlton’s start­ing XI were born in Ire­land; 10 of Bing­ham’s were lo­cal. It was about au­then­tic­ity, iden­tity.

Bing­ham would not re­tract this, adding to the ten­sion. When kick-off ar­rived, his ges­tures to the crowd whipped up Wind­sor Park into a fever.

Charlton heard it all. But not as loudly as Alan Ker­naghan. Born in York­shire, Ker­naghan moved to Co Down aged six. His par­ents were English but his fa­ther’s par­ents were from North­ern Ire­land. So Ker­naghan had an Ir­ish granny. But the IFA did not recog­nise this rule at se­nior level. There­fore, while he played un­der-age foot­ball for North­ern Ire­land, Ker­naghan could not win a se­nior cap.

He ap­proached the IFA, “but it was just a ‘no’,” as he ex­plained years later. “Out of the blue I was ap­proached by the Re­pub­lic, and pro­fes­sional foot­ball is such a short ca­reer that I took the op­por­tu­nity to play in­ter­na­tional foot­ball. Let’s face it – you want to play for some­body that ac­tu­ally wants you. It was a strange sit­u­a­tion to be in. I tried for so long to get play­ing for North­ern Ire­land but it never came off. Then all of a sud­den I was play­ing for the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land.”

As “turn­coat” tirades rained down on Ker­naghan, there was no time to re­ply that it was a bit more com­pli­cated than it might look. It was a bad night for nu­ance. The same ap­plied to Bing­ham and Charlton’s pre­vi­ous ami­ca­ble re­la­tion­ship and, for ex­am­ple, to Mag­ilton and Steve Staunton mar­ry­ing two sis­ters from Liver­pool, be­com­ing rel­a­tives. In 2015 Ker­naghan be­came man­ager of Glentoran, Bing­ham’s first club.

And then there were the two goalscor­ers, Alan McLough­lin and Jimmy Quinn.

McLough­lin was a Man­cu­nian from Maine Road, who went to school with Noel Gal­lagher from Oa­sis and who joined Manch­ester United as a teenager. His par­ents, Nora and Pat, came from Lim­er­ick and Mayo. Re­leased by United, McLough­lin joined Swin­don Town. One day he opened a let­ter from the English FA say­ing he had been called up to play a B in­ter­na­tional in Cork against the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land. He opened the next let­ter which said that he had been called up by the FAI to play in the same game.

McLough­lin made his choice, went to Italia ’90 and was win­ning his 15th cap in Belfast when he was sent on as a re­place­ment for Houghton. It was 0-0, there were 20 min­utes left.

Then Jimmy Quinn scored from 20 yards past Packie Bon­ner and the ground erupted. At this, Jimmy Ni­choll, Bing­ham’s as­sis­tant, shouted “up yours”, or words to that ef­fect, at Charlton’s dugout. Jimmy Quinn did not know this. He was off cel­e­brat­ing and would say he was de­lighted for Bing­ham in his last match.


How many of the crowd us­ing sec­tar­ian lan­guage to­wards the Re­pub­lic’s play­ers knew Quinn’s back­ground is un­cer­tain. He was a north Belfast Catholic whose fa­ther Wil­liam was an Ul­ster­bus driver. The fam­ily was “not re­li­gious at all” and they lived on the Rath­coole es­tate when it was mixed. Quinn had three broth­ers who joined the Bri­tish army. Around 1971 when strife wors­ened, the fam­ily fled, ended up in Wilt­shire. “Felt like refugees,” Quinn said when we spoke last year. He did not ap­prove of the granny rule.

What McLough­lin felt when Quinn scored was not straight­for­ward. When McLough­lin first went to Swin­don, feel­ing iso­lated and a bit glum fol­low­ing his re­lease by United, an el­der col­league went out of his way to help him set­tle in. He brought him into his home for meals and com­pany. “I’ll never forget what Jimmy did,” McLough­lin said of Jimmy Quinn.

Trail­ing 1-0, there would be no USA 94 for the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land. Then, three min­utes af­ter Quinn’s goal, McLough­lin chested down Gerry Tag­gart’s clear­ance, sent a vol­ley dip­ping into the bot­tom cor­ner and O’Toole wrote: “There is com­plete si­lence, an au­ral vac­uum in which your mer­est whim­per will give you away. There are necks craned, eyes scan­ning the rows of seats to see if a Fe­nian will pop up. Be­cause there is no sound, be­cause you can­not blink or twitch, never mind dance and roar, you have the eerie feel­ing that it has not hap­pened at all.”

But it had hap­pened. At that point, as white-shirted Re­pub­lic play­ers half-grasped each other in the vac­uum, the home sup­port be­gan to sing: “There’s only one team in Ire­land.”

It was not a tribute, it was an act of de­fi­ance. It was bet­ter than some of the bile which had flowed, the “trick or treat” stuff that scarred the night sky.

“When the match starts, it be­comes about foot­ball, you’re a player,” Niall Quinn says. “Even so, there was a mo­ment when the crowd started singing ‘trick or treat’ and no mat­ter how pro­fes­sional you are, you hear it. That was eerie, aw­ful, some­thing I’ll never forget.”

Spain were win­ning when the fi­nal whis­tle blew. Charlton’s play­ers had done enough. There were min­utes of ten­sion when it was re­alised that Den­mark could yet equalise to change ev­ery­thing, but it was a dif­fer­ent sort of ten­sion.

Then came con­fir­ma­tion that Spain had beaten Den­mark. Goal dif­fer­ence mat­tered, McLough­lin’s goal mat­tered, Sheri­dan’s goal mat­tered. USA 94 was on the way.

As the old, wooden sta­dium emp­tied, Charlton looked for Bing­ham to shake hands, wish him well on his re­tire­ment. “At least, that was my in­ten­tion,” Charlton said in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. “In­stead, in a mo­ment I still find dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand, I pointed a fin­ger at him and blurted out: ‘Up yours, too, Billy.’”

The ex­change was caught by pho­tog­ra­phers. It was used on the cover of Cor­mac Moore’s book The Ir­ish Soc­cer Split.

Charlton re­gret­ted it im­me­di­ately. He said there and then: “I’m afraid it was that kind of night, we were all swal­lowed up by the ten­sion.”

As the teams re­turned to their dress­ing rooms, Bing­ham gave his farewell press con­fer­ence. Charlton, de­ter­mined to make amends, barged in to apol­o­gise – Bing­ham ac­cept­ing – and was then as­tounded to be asked to present his ri­val with an award to hon­our his Ir­ish ca­reer.

“Some of the peo­ple who had been abus­ing me all evening are stood there cheer­ing,” Charlton said. “I think that said it all about a crazy, noisy night.”

It did not say it all. As Charlton spoke to Bing­ham, the North­ern Ire­land cap­tain Alan McDon­ald was mak­ing his way into the vis­i­tors’ dress­ing room. This could have been omi­nous, McDon­ald was as hard as a brick.

“Alan was 100 miles an hour, loud, com­mit­ted, real, but cute,” Niall Quinn says of the man mark­ing him. “He would come through you, apol­o­gise to the ref, do it again. But he came into our dress­ing room af­ter and con­grat­u­lated us. He made a short speech in which he said foot­ball had won and it will al­ways win. In the cir­cum­stances, the poi­son in the air . . .

“So I re­mem­ber the low – trick or treat. And when I think about the night I can’t sep­a­rate it from Greysteel and the peo­ple in the pub. I can’t. It has stayed with me. I was proud to play in the game, I was. I was glad it went on and wasn’t called off or moved to Eng­land. Then Alan’s goal, that was the best bit of the night, our fans singing: ‘Who the fuck is Alan?’

“That was the low and the high. But the most im­por­tant bit, that was Alan McDon­ald in our chang­ing room.”

Enor­mity of­si­t­u­a­tion

The team flew back to Dublin air­port to a heroes’ welcome, Taoiseach Al­bert Reynolds among them. That was the enor­mity of the sit­u­a­tion. Quinn went back to Eng­land, tore his cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment three days later and missed USA 94.

“They qual­i­fied on merit, over 12 games, not one,” Mag­ilton says. “So you shook hands and said: ‘Well done. Con­grat­u­la­tions on go­ing to a World Cup.’”

Not all were so mag­nan­i­mous. This was a night of suc­cess and sor­row for Ir­ish foot­ball. The sport had been lashed by the acid of sec­tar­i­an­ism and the naked, hate-filled di­vi­sions on dis­play had at least two reper­cus­sions.

In qual­i­fy­ing for USA 94, the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land play­ers had en­sured not just a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive World Cup fi­nals for them­selves, they had main­tained a 12-year Ir­ish pres­ence at the great­est tour­na­ment.

Bing­ham had started that with North­ern Ire­land in 1982 and con­tin­ued it in 1986.

It says much about the soc­cer tal­ent on the is­land that Ir­ish teams scored in four con­sec­u­tive World Cups – Spain, Mex­ico, Italy and Amer­ica. Look­ing back, it was a golden era.

It says much about 20th cen­tury Ir­ish life – the bor­der in our con­scious­ness – that no-one said so.

Much louder, and much worse, was to come. On June 18th, 1994, Ir­ish foot­ball fans gath­ered to watch the first Re­pub­lic game of USA 94, what the stress of qual­i­fi­ca­tion, in­clud­ing Wind­sor Park, had all been about.

It was a Satur­day night, Italy were the op­po­si­tion in New York and in the Heights bar in the vil­lage of Lough­in­is­land, Co Down, there must have been a buzz. Then two UVF gun­men burst in, sprayed bul­lets around and killed six men. Bar­ney Green was one of those who died. He was 87, de­scribed by friends as “re­ally jolly”.


When the two Ire­lands col­lided: From op­po­site page – man­agers ex­change views post-game; Alan McLough­lin’s equaliser; and post-game cel­e­bra­tion; the score­board; bot­tom row, left to right – the Re­pub­lic team line up pre-game; ten­sion on the side­line near the end; post-game cel­e­bra­tions; and taoiseach Al­bert Reynolds wel­comes Jack Charlton back in Dublin with champagne.

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