Who in the world
I had just turned eight when World Cup fever caught hold in Ireland but it took longer to take hold with me.
Our family, my cousins and my aunt and uncle were stuck to the box when Ireland took on England in the first group game of Italia ’90.
But when Gary Lineker put England in front, I simply gave up and went outside, kicking ball with my cousin.
Given that this game, 20 years ago this week, was the first big sporting game since the previous September’s All-Ireland football final, the slight possibility of upset sent me scurrying away.
See, I had taken Mayo’s 1989 final defeat to Cork pretty badly. Thanks to my uncle we were lucky enough to be at all the Mayo games that summer and I didn’t see how we could lose. Many were the tears when the final whistle sounded. Welcome to the life of a Mayo fan.
So, Ireland going down early to England, well young I may have been but I didn’t see the point in subjecting myself to more pain. So off I went.
With the result that I was pretending (badly) to be Maradona in the garden when the roar went up inside – ‘YES!’
Kevin Sheedy had brought us back level and I missed it. After the draw was secured I promised myself I wouldn’t miss another second of that World Cup. So I sat through the borefest that was the Egypt game, the similarly dull Dutch game, made up for by the dramatic ending with Niall Quinn’s unglamourous but vital equaliser and we looked forward with relish to the Romanian game in the last 16.
I have to admit that George Hamilton was my eyes and ears when David O’Leary stepped up to take the penalty. No one can ever forget his once in a lifetime line: ‘the nation holds its breath . . . yes! We’re there’.
And for me there was a new hero in Packie Bonner. His penalty save suddenly sexed up playing in goal. I’ve probably neutered that myself several times since but, hey, sure what about?
And then there was Italy and Toto Schillaci. The soccer equivalent of Cork’s Larry Tompkins for this eight-year-old Mayo boy. Croke Park was revisited all over again.
We’re heard much since of the social and economic effect of Italia ’90. And there’s a certain truth in that. But, above all else, didn’t those few weeks in June 20 years ago make you feel great? We all walked with a pep in our steps. The magic of sport.
We’ll have no such luck this summer it seems, in either soccer or Gaelic football. Some reckon we should put all our energy into jeering England and/or France. Me? Well I’ll be the one shouting for England. Call me unpatriotic if you like. The Irish are meant to begrudge the English. I don’t care. As a Manchester United fan I’d sooner see Wayne Rooney lift the cup than Fernando Torres or Carlos Tevez. But I will draw the line at singing the anthem.