In memory of Ireland’s favourite Englishman – Jack Charlton

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Ireland’s favourite Englishman, Jack Charlton, was buried this week and if it wasn’t for Covid, a state funeral would no doubt have been planned for him in Ireland.

The news broke on Saturday, July 11th of his passing followed by an outpouring of emotions. Big Jack wasn’t just a football manager. He took us on an adventure. He helped create a more confident Ireland. Robert Emmett said during his trial for the failed 1803 Rebellion ‘When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then and not till then, let my epitaph be written.’ It was Jack who took us to our place among nations.

We need to go back in time to remember what Anglo-Irish relations were like back in the 1980s. Big Jack took on the Irish job in 1986. He had played on the 1966 winning English team but didn’t receive the same accolades as others did. He dedicated himself to a long career with Leeds United before managing Newcastle United. He applied for the English job and publicly spoke of his anger of being ignored by the FA.

There was skepticism of his appointment at first. The Troubles were at their height, England still considered the ‘Old Enemy’. He took Ireland to her first major tournament in 1988 beating an overly confident England one-nil. It was a watershed moment.

Then came Italia ‘90. Ireland made it to the quarter-finals. What can be said about Italia ‘90 that doesn’t leave Irish eyes smiling. It was a golden age of Irish football. A confident Ireland was emerging. Italia ‘90 kick started it followed by the annual Eurovision from Ireland, Riverdance and the Celtic Tiger. Being Irish was cool!

One of his greatest legacies was the Grandmother Rule. He needed players. He toured British clubs looking for players with Irish connections. He was accused of exploiting this but in his own words, there was not one player who did not feel Irish. Players now turned up with English and Scottish accents. Plastic Paddies they were not. Emigration has always been a feature of Irish life. Many left to find a better life, some left to escape. Second and third-generation Irish in Britain though were not always accepted as one of our own and terms such as ‘West Brits’ were common at the time. Big Jack helped challenge this.

We went to the 1994 World Cup at a time when IRA bombs were going off in Britain. The Irish in Britain celebrated with some trepidation. On the night when Ireland beat Italy, in the village pub of Loughinisland in Co. Down, UVF gunmen walked in killing six wounding another five. It was a different time back then.

An Irish sports commentator famously said ‘A nation holds its breath’ during Italia ‘90. When Jack Charlton died, a nation mourned. Thank you Jack for the memories. May heaven be graced with Guinness and salmon to fish.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam. Rest in peace.

* Audrey Eager, Founder of Liberal Irish, the Irish Liberal Democrat Society. If you’d like to join our mailing list, contact us on [email protected]

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  • I was in a Irish pub in London in the late 1990s when in walked Big Jack Charlton stopping for a drink before taking his wife to see a West End show.
    He was only there for about 15 or 20 mins, but had a few words with everyone in the bar. A great man who lived an inspirational life, never lost the common touch and realy did take Ireland to its place among the footballing nations of the world.

  • Michael Bukola 25th Jul '20 - 7:21am

    A shining example of someone who was easy in his own skin, charismatic, honesty and authentic. Your a gentleman sir.

  • Tony Greaves 25th Jul '20 - 2:17pm

    I used to watch him play for Leeds United in the late 1950s. (For the benefit of doubt I should make clear that I went to watch the games not to support Leeds). I once saw Jack knocked down in a head clash. He sat up, shook his head, got up, carried on (don’t do that much nowadays). Leeds then mounted an attack up the middle and Jack found himself on the ball about 25 yards out with a clear view of goal. He heaved at the ball and completely missed it. Looked up, had another heave and scored a brilliant goal. Afterwards he said he had been suffering from double vision.

  • Yes, I’ve fond memories too, Tony.

    Getting his autograph, a grin and a wink at a Huddersfield Town – Leeds United charity cricket match back in the 50’s when I told him I supported Town…… and a couple of years ago from my daughter who runs a museum in Ashington telling me how charming and friendly he was when he came back to reminisce with some of his boyhood friends and his two local brothers.

    Big Jack, of Leeds, Ireland and the very best of Geordieland. Now there’s a statue worth having.

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