- 21 Jul 20
Zero punches were pulled - least of all regarding the press - as Big Jack met Declan Lynch
Ireland needed "a mathematical miracle to have any chance of qualifying for next year's finals in Germany," read the sub-headline of our October 1987 sit-down with Big Jack. As we all know, that miracle did happen as recalled in the new issue of Hot Press by Niall Stokes. As the Republic's final qualifier against Bulgaria at Lansdowne Road loomed, the gaffer opened up about the great-grandmother rule, the League of Ireland, the GAA, conservationism and other green issues, and his wanting to take typewriters off certain tabloid journalists. "I just think there's no privacy left in the world," he fumed pulling zero punches. "It's totally wrong."
THESE SPORTING LIVES
NEXT WEEK SEES THE END OF YET ANOTHER REPUBLIC OF IRELAND CAMPAIGN WHEN THE TEAM TAKES THE FIELD AT LANSDOWNE ROAD TO FACE BULGARIA IN THEIR FINAL GROUP GAME OF THE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS. IMPRESSIVE EARLY AWAY RESULTS AGAINST BELGIUM AND SCOTLAND WERE DISSIPATED BY DISAPPOINTING HOME PERFORMANCES, CULMINATING IN LAST MONTH'S GAME AGAINST LUXEMBOURG WHEN IRELAND SCRAPED HOME BY A SINGLE GOAL, A RESULT WHICH LEFT THE HOME SIDE NEEDING A MATHEMATICAL MIRACLE TO HAVE ANY CHANCE OF QUALIFYING FOR NEXT YEAR'S FINALS IN GERMANY. IN AN EXTENSIVE INTERVIEW, JACK CHARLTON SPOKE TO HOT PRESS ABOUT HIS LIFE IN AND OUT OF FOOTBALL. INTERVIEW BY DECLAN LYNCH.
It's noon on the day of that awkward little affair with Luxembourg and the Republic's warriors are easing themselves into the day in the International Airport Hotel. There's Stapo, and "Chippy" and Tony Galvin, and here's Big Jack, stopping off at various tables for a spot of banter with the lads.
As he probably hasn't had breakfast yet, I wonder if perhaps he has decided to make a morning meal out of me. Jack's post mortem press conferences with the Soccer Writers Of Ireland are becoming a bit stormy of late, and we all know what happened to poor Michael Lyster beyond in the Grand Duchy. This, however, is more in the way of a pre mortem, and the mood is affable, albeit typically forthright.
Jack doesn't have any objections to dealing with the media, as such. Indeed, he sees it as an intrinsic part of his managerial duties. Why, in the current issue of the English porno mag Knave, nestling between the air-brushed nipples and gaping vaginas are no less than five pages worth of an interview with the Republic's supremo.
Sitting at his desk in rural Northumberland, Jack talks, among other things, about his "enviable lifestyle": "Got a nice house. Family's all up and gone, quite well off, few nice cars, go fishing when I feel like it, house in the country, house and a boat in Filey, house in Spain, and I've got a job I can handle," he tells the man from Knave.
Ah yes, the job. With such an "enviable lifestyle", how does he maintain his enthusiasm for the vicissitudes of football?
"It's a business to me. It's work. It's something I know how to do, and I know how to do well. I still enjoy the motivation of each game. Also getting your ideas over to 11 or 12 individuals for a particular game - if you're successful at it, it can be very rewarding. If you're not, you like to try again.
"You're always on a bit of a hiding. Success is relative. If we win tonight by four or five, it'll be accepted as a good result. We beat Brazil last time. Now as we upgrade the performances, the people who support the Republic will expect things to get better. That's the way of the world. And eventually I will not be able to provide what they want. I won't be able to get any more out of the people here, and I won't have any more ideas that'll get us results. And eventually they'll get rid of me. I think everyone in football understands that. The trick is to leave before you're asked to leave. I've been good at that. I've done it all my footballing life."
Thus, while Jack has a contract with the FAI, he hasn't bothered to sign it, preferring to keep the arrangement on the basis of a "gentleman's agreement". There'll be no need for any backroom conspiracies when the time comes for Jack to go.
He's done tolerably well so far, and given a more fortuitous hop of the ball here and there, particularly on that lamentable night in Sofia, he could now be hailed as a man of quasi-magical powers. Such are the illusions of football. However, as they stand, the affairs of the Republic remain as incorrigible as ever.
"In this competition, it has been difficult, mainly because we're always going to have people injured. We're always going to have to replace people. We're always going to have to reshuffle the team. I was surprised to read in the papers this morning, that since I took the job, we've played 30 players. I didn't know we had 30 players. (laughs)
"You get as closely involved as you can. Basically, I'm a manager. I have to handle the Press, the PR, I have to see that the players behave within a certain code of conduct, and that they represent the Republic of Ireland in a way that people will admire. Not to have a load of scruffy individuals over there causing a riot.
"I also need the players here to like me. Otherwise they won't want to come. If they want to come, they'll move heaven and earth to leave their clubs to get here. They've got to know that what I've got going here is right, that I consider them and their problems, that if I have to leave someone out, it's not necessarily because he hasn't played well enough for us. I might think we need more of something one day, and less of it another day. When I started the job, I let it be understood that I will pick the team the way I think it should be picked. Within certain restrictions, they accept that."
Jack eschews the trappings of First Class travel and Five Star hotels as nonsensical. In his own travels on the Republic's behalf, he says he won't stay in a hotel at all if he can stay with friends or relatives instead.
"You don't want to work for a club who are struggling every time you ask for some money to buy a player. You need financial backing at whatever level you play. A club with money in the bank is a happy club. A club with an overdraft, that is struggling to pay its way, is an unhappy club. Now I've always made sure that the clubs that I've worked for have been very financially successful. I've never spent their money unnecessarily. I've treated their money like it was my own. And I can do the same with the Republic of Ireland. It's the way I was brought up. I'm not a spendthrift."
Nevertheless it's important to treat the players well.
"We'll stay in a nice hotel here," he comments, "but we need to be able to afford to do it. The players have got to feel important, that they're representing their country. That the standards they live under are as good if not better than the clubs that they come from."
Do you think that any player is worth £4 million?
"Of course they are. If you've got a club like Manchester United, drawing 48,000 people to a
game, and they get a good run in the Cup, or the league, it all adds up. If a player can transform a club from drawing 10,000 to winning things and drawing 30,000, that difference can very quickly eradicate the debt."
How do you rate the current Republic squad?
"I wouldn't worry. We've probably got the best squad of players that we've had for a long time. We've got a few that are getting to the mature stage, but they're still very good players,
and they will be for another couple of years. If I could pick the best eleven players for the Republic consistently for each game in the next World Cup Qualifying Group, I don't think there's any doubt that we would qualify. I don't think there's any doubt that if I had been able to pick the best eleven players in this competition, that we would have qualified. But it's not possible under the English Football League system, where we're waiting on the Saturday to see how many players will be pulling out of the team on the Wednesday. It's an enormous burden."
What about the possibility of using a League of Ireland player?
"No. We keep a pretty close eye on the League of Ireland, but if there were any players with that kind of potential, they would have gone to England or Scotland. You don't have a big enough following.
"What people don't understand is that football is about fourth down the line in the Republic. You've got your own Gaelic, you've got your own Hurling, you've got Rugby. Horse-racing probably comes above football in actual interest. If you've got a national sport which is fifth in line, you've got to understand that the clubs aren't supported to a degree that will allow them to become professional, and keep the players."
What are Jack's opinions on hurling?
"I don't know enough about the game to make an assessment of it. All I know is that I'm always suspicious of games where you are the only country to play it. So you're World Champions at it. (laughs)
"Soccer is a game that's played in every country, and to become one of the top dozen in it is an achievement. It's like the Americans are the best at American Rugby League, or gridiron or whatever they call it - but they're the only ones who play it."
Jack Charlton devotes most of his leisure time to huntin', shootin' and fishin'. "I enjoy the contrast. I enjoy the involvement when I'm here with the Irish lads, and I'm enjoying talking to you, I'm enjoying the telephone ringing all the time, but it lasts for probably four days. And then I don't have it again for another month. In the meantime I can go and look at players, at a nice leisurely pace, and find out where the next generation of Irish players are coming from. It's a gentle occupation, apart from the matches, and the preparation."
As a Nature enthusiast, he is aware of the ongoing substitution of pig slurry for water in the rivers and lakes of Ireland.
"It concerns me. All things in Nature concern me. Acid rain, for example, and the way the environment is threatened. I really should be a member of the Greenpeace movement. I think farmers can be particularly thoughtless in their use of the land.
"They might own it in pounds and pence, but it's not their right to pollute the rivers like they do. This summer has been particularly bad. Once you get a surplus of things like silage, and it starts to deteriorate, that causes the problems with the rivers. And they're responsible for it. They should look after it better.
“In spite of the fact that I’ve had criticism because I do hunt and I do fish, I am more a conservationist than anybody who argues about it. We look after the countryside because we take something away from it. We are more conservationist than people would believe.
“It annoys me when you get oil slicks in the sea. When you get pollution from the nuclear power plants. It annoys me that these things are allowed to happen. It annoys me when I read that somebody’s opened a slurry gate into a river. It’s scandalous. People who do it deliberately or thoughtlessly should have the land taken away from them.”
In addition, Jack thinks that a lot of journalists, particularly of the English tabloid variety, should have their typewriters taken away from them.
“I just think there’s no privacy left in the world anymore. When somebody gets shopped by a prostitute . . . there’s no sanctity left anymore, is there? Anybody with a name, or reputation at all, is going to be under scrutiny every day and every minute of their lives. It’s totally wrong.
What people do with their sex lives is their own business. Every journalist, male or female, who gets put on a job to dig shit up about some well-known person, should be able to say, as it says in the bible, ‘let him who cast the first stone.’
“Who’s not guilty? There are so many things that the Press get up to when they’re abroad with football teams - some of the things I’ve seen would make your hair stand on end. But they don’t write about themselves. We don’t have a way of getting at them, which is unfair. This kind of thing is spreading, and spreading too rapidly for my liking, this idea that the Press can do completely and utterly as they like, that they are the moral judges on anybody of any standing in the community. I think that’s totally wrong.”
As regards the European Championships, Jack maintained that if Ireland scored only two goals against Luxembourg, they were still in with a chance of qualifying:
“There’s still a lot of football to be played. Rumania (sic) have got to come here to play. Scotland have got to play Rumania (sic). Belgium have got to go to Scotland. They’ve got to go play Rumania (Sic). There’s a lot of results that can go our way. What we can’t handle is if Rumania (oh, well) win all their games, we can’t touch them. But they’ve got to beat us.
“The game in Rumania was a game we should have won. We lost it because we thought we were going to win it. But then again, I thought there was no way we were going to get a result there. I would want a referee from Holland, Belgium, Germany or Sweden, where they play a physical game. The Mediterranean game is a totally different game to outs. I wouldn’t want a referee from Eastern Europe, or Africa, or Indonesia, or Portugal, because we play a physical, getting-about-the-job game. We’re committing fouls that they give, that in England wou;dn’t even be considered.”
On our World Cup prospects, Jack is quietly optimistic.
“We will always get into a difficult group. We’ll almost certainly have to compete against two of the best teams in Europe, and we’ll have to knock one of them out to do it. We’ve got to upgrade our game to handle that, and I think at the moment we’re not afraid of anyone. Over the years, Ireland have always had a certain number of good names, but not enough. You’ve never really had the balance of the team right. I think the balance changed when I took over, simply because I managed to get John Aldridge and Ray Houghton, who gave us a balance on the right-hand side that we lacked.”
How do you react to criticism of the “great-grandmother” syndrome?
“I have to take players where and when I can get them. You’re a country where it’s been expected over the last two centuries that people will emigrate. When they emigrate, you’re still going to want them back. They’re still Irish, and they consider their families to be Irish. If they can play football in America, and they produce a Pele, I’ll go over and get him if his great-grandmother was Irish.
“As long as the players are proud, and happy, and want to play, and be part of Ireland, then fine. That’s good. Let’s do it.”