Jack Charlton’s secret before the WC quarter-final? ‘A barrel of Guinness’
He went on to lead a golden generation of heroes who will forever be cast in solid green, white and gold, yet there was venom in the animosity directed towards Jack Charlton’s when he was appointed as Republic of Ireland manager in 1986.
An Englishman being handed the keys of power in Irish football was contentious enough given the chequered history between the two nations, but that was not the only reason why Big Jack’s arrival was treated with scepticism.
Legendary former Liverpool manager Bob Paisley missed out on the job in a contentious vote among Irish football chiefs, with Charlton’s unwelcome presence not helped by his desire to remove ‘real’ Irishmen such as Liam Brady from his team and replace them with English and Scottish-born players who qualified to play for his team via the grandparent rule.
John Aldridge and Ray Houghton were among his early recruits. Quickly, the doubts evaporated as Charlton’s boys in green qualified for the 1998 European Championships, beating England in a famous game in Stuttgart and coming close to knocking eventual champions Holland out of the competition in the group stages.
A run to the quarter-finals of the 1990 World Cup finals and more success as they qualified for the World Cup in America four years later cemented the status of Charlton’s iconic team and when you hear the story from a man who lived through most of it, the success is even more remarkable.
As a man who witnessed the evolution of the team firsthand, Andy Townsend, who captained the side at USA ’94, played a key role in the moving documentary ‘Finding Jack Charlton’, which he also supported as executive producer.
The film explores Charlton’s story throughout his 10-year reign as Ireland boss and also looks at his battle with dementia before he passed away in July 2020. Townsend prefers to remember the Jack we all knew, eager to insist the dour perception of the team was misplaced.
“We were always called a long-ball team, but there was a lot more to what Jack did than just whacking the ball long,” Townsend says. “I always thought it was very unfair how people viewed Jack as a tactician.
“Jack had a few days with the players, and he had to come up with a way to get the best out of them. It’s not easy to get top players to see things from a different angle and get them to adapt to a different style of football, but he was able to do that and do it quickly.
“The main reason why it worked is we all liked him and as a World Cup winner, he had the ultimate respect from everyone in the squad. We were all prepared to do what he said and if you didn’t follow his rules, he would find someone that would.
“He was great at was convincing us that even when we were playing against the top nations, we could beat them and that is a rare skill as a manager. Not everyone I worked for could do that, but Jack had a fantastic ability to make us believe that if we follow his way, we could be capable of something very special.”
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Amid the endless tales that are associated with the Charlton era, Townsend picks out one memory that shines brightly to sum up the ‘alternative’ rules the squad followed.
“He allowed us to have freedom to do as we wish and that could never happen now. In this era, there is always someone around a corner with a camera phone ready to catch someone off-guard and it would be in the papers the next day. This is a very different time, but Jack’s policy was to trust us to enjoy ourselves and then be ready to play when we needed to be.
“Amid it all, I don’t remember getting beaten too often when I was playing for Ireland and that is why you march up the world rankings pretty quickly and get to number seven. It was a remarkable achievement and that was all down to Jack and the way he managed a team.
“He never wanted to incarcerate us, to have us under lock and key. He was more than happy to have a beer because Jack was very aware that the size of our squad was not vast.
“We had some great players in there, all playing for the top clubs in England, but we didn’t have endless supplies of people to call upon. He needed his key players fit, available and hungry to play for Ireland. Part of the way he made that happen was to make sure we wanted to turn up and be desperate to be there.
“One way you can make sure that happens is ensure they enjoy it. That doesn’t always happen at international level. I spoke to England players when Fabio Capello was their manager and they were locked in their hotels for major tournaments and it was hard work. Their manager didn’t do anything to make them enjoy it, but we had the opposite – we had to ask Jack for a curfew!
“We’d say we shouldn’t go out tonight because we have a game tomorrow, but he always wanted us to be relaxed and enjoy each other’s company and that was part of the reason why we were so successful. His mentality was to let the players enjoy it when the time is right and then put demands on us when required. He found a great balance.”
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And what of Townsend’s best memory from his time working under Charlton?
“My favourite memory with Jack came the night before the 1990 World Cup quarter-final against Italy in Rome,” he says. “At about 10pm, he called a team meeting. We all came downstairs wondering what he was going to talk about because this was very unlike him.
“In the end, it was no team meeting, but he had a Guinness barrel brought in from somewhere and we all had a couple of pints of Guinness before we went to bed. It broke the tension in an instant and it was wonderful management from Jack. His mentality was instead of worrying about what is going to happen tomorrow, let’s relax and enjoy the moment.
“It also killed attempts from Italian taxi drivers to keep us awake all night. They were beeping their horns thinking they would make our lives a misery, but a couple of pints of Guinness sent us all off to sleep and it didn’t matter how loud the horns were! That was Jack.”
‘Finding Jack Charlton’ is available to download on BBC iPlayer.
By Kevin Palmer