Farewell Jack

Jack Charlton was the nations favourite Englishman and responsible in large part for the confident nation we became.

The passing of loved ones and those around us has been especially poignant during these days of pandemic lockdown.

The social distancing and crowd restrictions have taken from us the ability to do funerals in the way we do them so well, as comfort for those left behind and as celebration of a life lived.

Jack was not our parent or uncle, our neighbour or our colleague, and yet he kind of felt like most of these all rolled up into one.

Ireland was a very different place when he came to join us in 1986. We were a nation of unemployment and emigration, not by choice but by need. Sport was about the All Irelands but neither our Rugby nor our football teams were much to get excited about.

Fewer than six thousand had gone to Dalymount Park only two years before to watch a 0-0 draw with Mexico and Eoin Hand’s time as Ireland manager was limping to a close.

The decision was taken to shake things up and interviews were set up with a variety of managers in England and Ireland.Four names went forward to the FAI Council to vote on in 1986. Bob Paisley had just stepped down as Liverpool Manager but had said previously he was not interested. Liam Tuohy and Johnny Giles were the two home grown candidates and then there was Jack Charlton.

He had been a World Cup winner with England in 1986 and had a managerial career that took in mixed success at Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle.

He won through in a tight battle with Paisley but his appointment was greeted as much with apathy than any other emotion.

How that was all to change as he led the Republic of ireland to victory over England in our first major finals of 1988, the wonder of Italia 90 and a place in the World Cup Quarter Finals and then to USA 94.

Memorable times for Irish sport and ones that gave us a national confidence that filtered through to the blooming of a modern nation.

Charlton wore his popularity with an easy charm and a twinkle. That famous smile from the dugout in Italy, the iconic stadium walks in Rome and at Anfield on his final day in charge.

We loved what he had given to us and if there is or has ever been a more popular Englishman on this Ireland, then I could not name him.

His time came during a period where peace in Northern Ireland looked impossible and where bombs in our name were going off across England.

Yet here was a man who could not be more English, leading us on the party of a lifetime.

The memories never dimmed and on his many journeys back in subsequent years he was always greeted with love and affection.

This year was the 30th anniversary of Italia 90 and in the absence of live sport its celebration was more widespread and its coverage enjoyed again by a whole new generation.

His journey into Irish legend could never have been forecast and nor could the events of this year. That he should take his leave of us at a time when memory of great moments in the past has never been more important is just another sure footed quirk of fate.

We have celebrated his life throughout the weekend and those of us lucky enough to have lived through those halcyon days and in some way been touched by this gruff northern soul will forever be grateful.

Thank you Jack, it was a lot of fun.

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