‘The Prince of Goalkeepers’; John Thomson.

Originally published in September 2020; Redrafted in March, 2021 by Jonathan Foley.

Still regarded by many as the best goalkeeper in Britain during the two decades which separated the world wars, relatively little is known about Celtic and Scotland’s John Thomson.

The date of September 5th marks the anniversary of the tragic passing of this young man during a Rangers vs Celtic game in 1931. One who so many once hailed as ‘The Prince of Goalkeepers.’

By the time Thomson reached the tender age of 21, he was already a fully-fledged starter in goals for both the Celtic and Scotland teams. Sadly, he’d not live to go any further. 

During that aforementioned Old Firm match at Ibrox, he gallantly rushed out of his goal to thwart a move that put Sam English in on goal for the home side. 

As Thomson dived at the attacker’s feet, English’s knee innocently collided with the goalkeeper’s head and the blow was severe enough to put him into an immediate state of unconsciousness. 

His head nestled in the ground, his arm raised aloft and static above him. A most harrowing image, even today, when seeing the flickering archive footage which has survived all this time.

The urgency of the matter was not lost on English who, despite limping from the clash, forewent concern from himself and immediately rushed to Thomson’s aid. 

David Mickeljohn – the Rangers captain – called for calm amongst the many thousands on the terraces who were initially booing and jeering.

Realising the seriousness of the situation themselves, the crowd quit their taunts and immediately fell into a hushed and most respectful silence. 

Thomson was stretchered from the field and was rushed to the Western Infirmary. 

Rangers manager William Struth feared the worst and arranged for the club to send a car to Cardenden – some 55 miles away – to collect the boy’s parents from Fife.

He passed away at 9:25pm and the mass congregation of some 100,000 people who attended his funeral – many of whom arrived on foot from Glasgow – was testament to the stature to which he carried himself. 

And yet, while many recall how he passed, not as many know how he lived. 

Background and Upbringing:

Born in 1909, Thomson spent the bulk of his early life carrying out work in the dank and claustrophobic surroundings of the coalmines. 

Despite his relatively slender physique and small-sized hands, his job of locking trailers together as they moved along the rails, is said to have given him a natural sense of agility, timing and positioning. Ideal goalkeeper attributes. 

His appearances in youth football on the Scottish east coast caught the attention of then Celtic manager, Willie Maley, who approached and signed the boy for a fee of just ten pounds. 

Even with his Evangelical Protestant upbringing, Thomson was delighted to sign for Celtic. Miner strikes were common and professional football offered a more steady and stable income. 

The only true opponent to his decision to swap the pits for football was his mother, who feared that football was too dangerous. In retrospect, her words could be deemed as a haunting prophecy. 

During his career, Rangers were dominant in the league title honours, yet Thomson helped Celtic to two Scottish Cups and three Glasgow Cups. 

At international level, he initially played for a Scotland League XI side. Despite a resounding victory for an England XI at White Hart Lane, Thomson was applauded off the field by both sets of fans.

At Scotland senior level, he earned four caps. He put in a series of wonderful displays and became known for his ability to clutch crosses from the air and for his bravery when rushing out of his goal. 

Behaviour that certainly wasn’t all that common at the time and in his four proper appearances for his country, he conceded just a single goal in those matches.

Perhaps an element of foreshadowing knocked on his door when he picked up a series of injuries in one game.

During a challenge, he lost two teeth, broke his jaw and several ribs. His mother’s pleas rang louder than ever before but he was unperturbed.

He recovered to be back in goal quickly and set his sights on marriage after becoming engaged to his childhood sweetheart, Margaret Findlay. A wedding that nobody would ever see.

Sam English, only 23 himself, openly wept at his funeral and his genuineness was seen by everyone. Thomson’s family openly forgave him and successfully pushed for an exoneration; clearing him of any wrongdoing. 

English, a native of County Antrim originally, left Scotland soon after. Even a prolific goal scoring record at Liverpool couldn’t redeem his spirit and humour anymore. 

He retired young with the feeling that football had become what he called “a joyless sport.” He passed away himself in 1967, aged 58. He remains well thought of by all. 

John Thomson joined the game as a boy, but sadly, left it as one too. He will always be remembered amongst the Celtic support and, hopefully, by the wider football community as a whole.

@johnnyfoley1984

1992: FOOTBALL’S ‘RE-BIRTH?’

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley, March 2021.

“Football wasn’t invented in 1992, ya know?” 

There’s an expression we’ve all heard at some point during a debate between fans down through the years. And while, of course, it’s true, let’s take a look at why that particular year is so significant in terms of football history.

First up, maybe it’s all too easy to say that it was the era when the Premier League was initiated and Sky Sports grabbed a firm hold on the broadcasting rights that changed everything. Certainly that was part of it, but in truth, there was a wider European, global and consumer-based cultural context on the go at the time which also played as key factors.

#1: ‘Taking Down the Iron Curtain.’

As a continent, Europe underwent a massive transformation – largely aided by the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 – and thus, greater freedoms and better relationships between nations and states was within grasp. 

The breakup of the Soviet Union and the decimation of communist regimes had many feeling that a new structure to the European Cup was required. 

With the notable exception of the former Yugoslavia, Europe fell into relative peace and harmony. Something which would’ve been unforeseen just five decades earlier. 

Let’s wind the clocks to 1991; the final year of ‘Old Football.’ Red Star Belgrade were the European champions, domestic league matches all kicked off at the same time on the same day, most teams were limited to just two foreigners and Vanilla Ice was telling us all to ‘stop, collaborate and listen.’ 

By the time the summer of ‘92 came around, Denmark became the victors of the European Championship, despite not having actually qualified, and a meeting between German businessman, Klaus Hemple and British composer, Tony Britten at the tournament, would change everything.

Hemple was in the early stages of revamping Europe’s premier club competition and was well away with his plans to introduce group stages and seeding for all the participating sides. 

This meant that teams were guaranteed a minimum of six games; replacing the old two-legged knockout round that saw Napoli and Real Madrid both having early exits in 1987 and 1989 respectively. Hemple’s new format promised more games, but it also pleased UEFA as they’d have final say on the advertising rights and on a standard kick-off time – midweek, 7:45pm GMT. 

The corporate hoardings around the pitches and in the stands would be standardised, but to make the new competition seem more lucrative, Britten’s composition of the theme music gave the tournament an air of sophistication … even if it was a total rip-off of Handel’s classic anthem of ‘Zadok the Priest.’ The listeners of Classic FM seemed to approve, however, as they saw it as rekindling an old gem with a more modern spin. 

Prime-time viewing delighted the endorsing companies like Amstel Bier, MasterCard and Continental Tyres to name but a few and, after some deliberation and debate, the name of the ‘UEFA Champions’ League’ was born. Early footage broadcasts by ITV do show poor Ian St. John and Bob Wilson occasionally stumbling over the name of this new competition. 

#2: ‘And It’s Live!’ 

Back in England, things had plummeted to an all-time low. Sponsorship deals were often modest at best while crowd trouble and hooliganism was still synonymous with the game. The better players were plying their trades in Italy and Spain and even some of the best British players (Gary Lineker, Mark Hughes, Ian Rush and Paul Gascoigne) were all playing abroad. 

The year of 1992 was also the year in which the old First Division would morph into becoming the newly-formed FA Premier League and when Australian media tycoon, Rupert Murdoch, recognised its potential, football as we know it would change forever. 

The BSkyB Corporation took inspiration from American television in how they covered matches. 

Customers who’d availed of the Sky Sports coverage were there to be entertained and educated in a manner which reselmed how the networks across the Atlantic Ocean did theirs. Matches on a Sunday became the [Ford Escort] ‘Super Sunday’ and ‘Monday Night Football’ entered the lexicon of the everyday fan on the street. 

The radical changes in how the game was broadcast was evident right from the start. The “Whole New Ball Game” would hold five hours of screen time on a Sunday with ex-players in suits and ties using tactics boards and graphics to discuss their thoughts on a given topic. Even the Monday night games at Crystal Palace and Coventry City had pre-match cheerleaders.

Football became trendier than ever and it seemed as though, in the top-flight anyway, that the days of rioting crowds on rickety caged-terraces of the 1980s, had been banished from sight. 

The arrivals of Eric Cantona and Denis Bergkamp brought some early flair to the league and by the time Chelsea landed a series of Serie A players in the summer of 1996, the facelift was well underway. The backbone of Arsenal’s double-winning team in 1998 was dominated by a flurry of French internationals who went on to win the World Cup in their own country that summer. 

#3: ‘So We’re All Agreed?’ 

Jumping briefly back to 1992 again, there was another important political development which helped shape all this. The signing of the Maastricht’ Treaty in Brussels essentially afforded the freedoms that all European Union member states now enjoy: the ability to live and work in any other country within that jurisdiction that they chose to.

This agreement had paved the way for an influx of foreign players to come in and light up the Premier League as they were free of the restrictions that had often impeded them from doing so. The development of the Bosman Ruling in 1995 then made it possible for players to leave on free transfers once their contracts had ended. A matter of profound implications. 

On the other hand, football had also become pop-culture. The old days of ‘Roy and the Rovers’ comic-strips were replaced with fancy computer games (some where you played as a team and some where you even played along as the manager). Televised dramas like ‘Dream Team’ hit our screens and, for a brief period anyway, the Premier League even had it’s on breakfast cereal … which was minging, by the way! 

Players dated pop-stars and drove sports cars, David Beckham’s haircuts made front page news and, to this day, Liverpool’s decision to wear white suits to the FA Cup Final in 1996 still probably gets more coverage than anything from the actual match that was played that day.   

All in all, it showed that it wasn’t just the Sky ‘takeover’ of the Premier League in 1992 that changed the game – some might say for better and some might of the more traditionalists might tend to disagree – but in an overall sense, it was also down to the changes in Europe’s political structure and how we all became part of a mass consumer culture. 

The year of 1992 was not the year in which football was invented, but it was certainly a year in which it saw it undergo a massive rebirth.

@JohnnyFoley1984

IS FOOTBALL (REALLY) FINISHED?

Originally penned in March 2021.

Football has undergone a plethora of changes in recent times. So much so that the game sometimes feels unrecognizable from what it was 25 years ago.

Some changes have been forced upon the game by the powers that be – some for better, some not so – and some have been brought to bear on ‘The Beautiful Game’ by the players, managers, pundits and even the supporters themselves.

“The Game’s Gone” has become a popular catchphrase amongst all such parties mentioned. While much of that sentiment derives from the frustrations over VAR and harsher penalization of supposed foul play, let’s take a look at some other factors that might be just as responsible.

Back in 1992, when Sky Sports may as well have claimed that they’d invented the wheel with their “whole new ball game” bragging, the main rule change of that period was the introduction of the back pass rule.

#1: ‘Can’t Pick It Up!’

Taking a look back at the first weeks of the inaugural Premier League season is interesting. It will provide enough evidence to show that goalkeepers were certainly finding it hard to break the habits of a lifetime.

A series of bundled goals and comical errors ensued and it led to a public decry that the game was being ruined. Utterly ruined! One notable protester was a certain Andy Gray.

His frustrations rang out most memorably during his co-commentary from the gantry of the Charity Shield at Wembley.

Leeds United ‘keeper John Lukic was given a tame enough pass, when all of a sudden, the fear of being charged down by an opposing forward became all too real!

It seemed the only option for him to take was to just hoof it out of play which he duly did: “Is that [rule] making the game any better? … I don’t think so!” bemoaned the Scotsman.

#2: ‘He’s Getting How Much?’

Moving slightly onwards into the mid-nineties, it could be argued that society at large started to become more aware, and often disgruntled, by the amount of money that was being thrown around on club transfers and player wages. 

Between the summers of 1995 and 1996, moves like those of Denis Bergkamp to Arsenal (£7.5m), Stan Collymore to Liverpool (£8.5m) and Alan Shearer to Newcastle (£15m) alone made both front and back-page news headlines (Shearer’s especially).

When reports of how much they’d be earning a week were eked out by the press, the wider-public would surely have been throwing their eyes to the heavens in exasperation.

“What?? That amount of money every week to kick a pig’s bladder around! Well, I’ve never!” was one I can definitely recall.

#3: ‘The ‘FAmous’ Cup?’

For generations, the FA Cup was something of an institution and a staple in the football calendar.

Regardless of who you supported, watching the cup final at Wembley every May was as routine and as annual as Christmas. The teams leaving the hotels that morning, being filmed on the buses to the ground; it was all part an exciting build up.

Sadly though, it’s lost its charm in modern times.

Most higher-end teams tend to put less emphasis on the importance of cup success in preference of a more financially-rewarding league finish.

Part of which is understandable but it begs the question. As kids, whoever dreamt of finishing fourth in the table instead of scoring the winning goal in a cup final?

Some have claimed that this was brought on the FA by themselves however.

In the 1999-2000 season, it’s said that they encouraged Manchester United to withdraw from it to go and compete in the experimental 8-team FIFA World Club Champions tournament.

Allegedly this was all a part of a plan to help England’s bid to host the 2006 World Cup.

#4: ‘Put Your Clothes Back On!’ 

A little further on into the new millennium and, in the eyes of the law-makers, there was a new enemy in town. The curse of ‘over-celebrating!’ and it had to be promptly stomped out.

Initially by booking players who removed their shirts during a celebration and later by doing likewise for players who left the field of play; even if they were merely scaling the advertising hoardings.

Now, after seeing how frightful hairy Ryan Giggs’s torso was after he scored against Arsenal at Villa Park in 1999, this may not have been the worst rule that ever came in. Still though, it basically eclipsed the possibility of anyone ever reigniting the Fabrizio Ravenelli celebration, forever more.

Although some players will rebel against the system and do it anyway, one couldn’t help but feel slightly aggrieved for Chelsea’s Arjen Robben in 2006.

A late winner in a pulsating fixture at Sunderland saw him dismissed for ‘over celebrating’ with his own fans, even though no item of clothing was removed in the process.

The rule which stated “players must avoid such excessive displays of joy” had been violated and breached.

#5: ‘Goals: The Original Soundtrack.’ 

Personally speaking, I can’t say I’m overly-opposed to music being pumped through the ground’s sound-system. It’s certainly wasn’t the worst idea that ever was.

Mainly because I hold fond memories of joining in with the chants at Celtic Park when the DJ pressed play on ‘The Magnificent Seven’ every time Henrik Larsson scored. The same goes for the rehash of the Stone Roses classic for ‘I Wanna Be Edouard.’

And I’ve no doubt that the likes of Middlesbrough fans feel something similar. Especially when the samba-like saxophone beats of ‘Reach Out’ blare out in the stadium when the Teesiders finally get around to hitting the net.

Mind you, Tottenham may be taking theirs a tad too far. Even this year, during a time when stadiums are empty, someone decided it was a good idea to play a 20-year old dance track (‘Sandstorm’ by Darude) before a VAR check on the goal is even complete.

So one has to wonder what the thinking was behind that one.

#6: ‘Hold Me Close, Don’t Let Me Go.’ 

Seeing the teams line up in the tunnel is always part of the anticipation just before kick-off.

It adds a sense of realism to the affair, but over the last maybe seven / eight years or so, one can’t help but feel that the excessive hugging and friendliness between supposed rival players is a bit of a momentum killer.

It’s a sentiment that’s certainly shared by Roy Keane in his punditry, but as a player, his spat with Patrik Viera in the tunnel at Highbury in 2005, makes him true to his word on this occasion.

Now I have to say here, that I quietly enjoy seeing international colleagues or former teammates share a pat on the back. Goalies too who seem to have their own unspoken bond.

Although an instance like third was comically ridiculed by Jamie Vardy when Kasper Schmiechel and Pierre-Emile Hoijberg had their lovely moment spoiled with a teasing “Oooh Danish friends!” just before a Leicester took to the field alongside Southampton back in 2017.

#7: ‘Make Mine a Half and Half.’ 

The growing trend of half and half scarves at domestic league matches has got worrying to say the least.

A quick online search suggests that the two biggest names Ed who are most guilty of this heinous act are the Manchester clubs. Others may disagree, but sure hey, if it’s on the internet, then it’s gotta be true, right? (Ahem!)

Half and half scarves of teams competing in a European match seem to be somewhat exempt from this rule, but seeing them in the stalls outside the grounds of teams who are facing even their crosstown rivals just feels like a quick cash grab.

In fairness though, the clubs themselves can’t really be blamed for this one. After all, these items are almost always unofficial merchandise and we all know how it’s not that cheap to attend these games anymore. Maybe it’s just a new fad of consumer culture to purchase a memento of that particular game.

Fair enough, maybe.

#8: ‘Ask Not What Your Country Can Do…’ 

Perhaps because our multi-channeled and high-resolution television sets have us all so spoiled nowadays; ones that enable us to watch top-flight football from clubs all across Europe and the world at the touch of a button. Yet one can’t help feel a touch sad when we see how so many fans now see international breaks as a hindrance.

A youngster lining out for his country hasn’t really remained as a landmark moment down through the years.

In the contemporary era, a player togging out for his country creates more a sense of apprehension or dread amid the fans who basically offer prayers so that he won’t get injured.

And yet, when the big summer tournaments come round (be it for the Euros, the World Cup or the Copa Americainternational football suddenly becomes cool again.

Call me Old Fashioned, but I’d still take watching the best eleven Brazilian players take on the best eleven German players any day of the week over West Brom vs Brighton. 

#9: ‘Computer Says No!’ 

There’s not a chance we could come this far and not discuss the way the game has spiralled since the introduction to VAR in 2019.

I think it’s fair to say how we, as fans, all feel a tad bewildered by how cruel it is in ruling players offside and how, even with all the fancy electric geometry Stockley Park can perform, what exactly constitutes a handball is more confusing thanever.

Some might argue that it’s a case of ‘be careful what you wish for.’

For years, there were cries and moans that technology should become a prominent feature of the game (“look at how rugby does it!” one would say) and now that it’s here, the golden wish has become a nightmare.

The hierarchy claimed it would quell any arguments over decisions, but many fans still hold firm to the belief that debating theories over a decision was just part of the enjoyment.

Olivier Giroud and Harry Kane have both scored superb goals this month but the joy of either moment could never be fully embraced due to prolonged monitor viewings and re-viewings that followed.

#10: ‘Breaking News: Player Eats Sandwich – More to Follow.’ 

Clickbait media is a huge pep-eevee of mine.

The digital version of tabloid gossip and quotes being taken out of context drives me up the wall. What’s worse is that even Sky Sports have got in the act with misleading captions on their YouTube. Hoping to draw in views because a pundit supposedly said something controversial.

In these cases, the word ‘slams’ gets a ridiculous amount of use. With the exception of the occasional actual outburst by a manager during a press conference, very few of these ‘slams’ are ever anything to take note of.

And with this being an era of likes, shares and retweets, it’s little wonder fans often end up talking more about what pundits say or didn’t say during the broadcast of a live match instead of the game itself.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a luxury having the ability to sprawl out on the sofa and channel-hop between matches but I just don’t buy in the “explosive punditry” narrative.

In conclusion, while the game of football has indeed changed an incredible amount over the last quarter of a century, some are uncertain for the future. Will it ever be enjoyed the same way as it once was?

Attending games, even post-Covid, could become even more expensive and we’ll rely more and more on mass media to pass their opinions onto us.

Is “the game gone” though? I mean, really?

If life teaches us one thing, surely it’s that this is a common feeling that has been uttered by generations many times in the past.

History books like ‘Sport and the British’ (Richard Holt) teach us that the very notion of players being paid to play the game at all spelled certain doom during the late 19th Century.

It’s unimaginable to think now but there was even a time when a group of Scots factory workers adapted a revolutionary new tactic called ‘passing the ball.’ A ghastly idea that their English gentlemen counterparts thought to be most appalling (cite: ‘Inverting the Pyramid’ by Jonathan Wilson).

Even in my own years as a fan, I still recall my elders bemoaning the death of the game when players had the audacity to wear coloured boots and gloves while on the field. The Horror!

@JohnnyFoley1984

HOLLYWOOD’S GOD COMPLEX.

Originally published in January 2018

As we all often tend to do over the Christmas period, we get to kick back and relax on the couch with a seemingly endless flurry of popular films to divulge ourselves into. Being something of a movie-buff, my old educational qualification in Media Studies and English had me watching away when it hit me: ‘Does religion play a strong underlying role in popular media?’

I wrote previously about how hidden political statements are often made in fiction. In that article, we looked at how even the likes of Godzilla reflected the international relationships between the governments of the USA and Japan. Anon, me thought, let’s see if religion does the same with a specific focus on ET: The Extra Terrestrial and The Shawshank Redemption.

Starting with ET, it might be considered laughable at first to think that a wee alien creature who befriends a young boy could be anything more than a nice little piece of science-fiction. As some people like me tend to do however, there was time to read between the lines – and maybe overanalyze some might say – so see what you think. Spoiler alerts ahead, by the way. 

The underlying religious themes of ET are found when you look closely into his connections with the stories of Jesus Christ. Most other alien-based movies of this time dealt with ray guns, battles in galaxies far, far away or in the case of ‘Alien’, a most gruesome looking birth scene you could ever wish to see. ET bucks the trend of this stereotype.

His behaviour in some scenes give rise to the theory that he is on earth purely to study plant life and nature. This can be seen as early as the opening scene as he caresses and smells greenery with a sense of happiness and contentment. It’s shown again later in a very simple and basic scene where he brings a plant back to life through his telekinetic powers. 

Some people have suggested that these actions mirror the paintings of Christ that show him being at one with nature where he is immensely immersed in what he sees as God’s most wonderful creation – the Earth. The connection goes further as the filming progresses. When ET rises from the dead – connection made – he is shown wearing a shroud as his heart glows. 

Almost every home in Ireland would have pictures of Our Lord displayed on the walls of hallways or kitchens posing in the very same manner. During the narrative, we also notice that the creature has the ability to heal pain and this is demonstrated when he cures the cut on Elliot’s finger by touching it with his own. 

Another part of this famous film shows ET being treated by medical experts who are trying to resuscitate him as he slips away from life. The time of death is audibly heard as “15:36.” This sprang me to nosey if this was a Bible passage of some relevance. The quote I found was “What you sow cannot come back to life!” Perhaps this is a metaphor both plants and death. 

Director Steven Spielberg vehemently denies any Christian theme to the film but that doesn’t stop us from being allowed to interpret it anyway we choose.  

Spielberg himself is Jewish but that hasn’t stopped other theorists from looking closer at the ‘Bike Scene’ where the fleeing boys try to outrun the authorities by purposely ‘crossing the desert’ as they veer off-road. 

His ascension into the sky at the film’s end is another possible link and we should not forget of course what his two most important messages to Gertie and Elliot were. 

He reminded Gertie (and us) to “Be Good” and similarly to Elliot (and us again) that “I’ll Be Right Here” as he literally touches his heart.

Moving onto The Shawshank Redemption. Based on the novel by Stephen King, this story changed his reputation as being purely a writer of horror-based fiction. On the surface, it’s your basic prison movie with an almost all-male staff and themes of hope and freedom running along with the storyline. 

Delving a little deeper however, that there is no real representation of God in this film, so in his absence, the audience are given what is known as a perverse deity; a devil-like character who is disguised as a holy figure.

This character is portrayed by the warden who repeatedly makes biblical quotations as well as using a stitch-work about judgement (that his wife made at church group, remember?) as a cover to the safe where he keeps records of his illegal financial dealings. Yet this connection cannot be made fully unless reference is given to the essay ‘Existentialism is a Humanism’ by Jean Paul Sartre. 

In this written piece, Sartre argued that in the absence of God, humans must define their essence themselves through the choices they make. In the prison, the inmates aren’t allowed to define their own essence and this is echoed by the lines: “You eat when we say you eat!” and “Forty years I’ve been asking permission to piss.”

In a nutshell, the walls come to define who they are. First they hate them and then have to get used to them, so much so that Brooks becomes institutionalised and chooses not to live anymore. In the same essay, Sartre compared humanity to rocks in that rocks are shaped and defined by something else whereas we see Andy choosing to shape and polish rocks in a way that he wants. 

This of course wasn’t the only time King would use religion in his works. A few years later, The Green Mile held much more obvious forms of Christianity and used the prison setting here as a metaphor for purgatory. Here Tom Hanks’ character often questions the morality and what judgement he will face before God when dealing with John Coffey’s impending execution (note the use of initials.)

Maybe I’m overthinking but sure interpretation is something we’re allowed to do.

MY UNUSUAL LOVE AFFAIR WITH WORLD CUP USA’94.

By Jonathan Foley

Originally penned in January 2021

And a one and a two and a “Glooooray Land. In Glooorrraaay Laaand! It’s in your Heaaart! It’s innnn your Haaands! Gloooray Land! Innn Gllooorrry Land! You’re Here (You’re Here!!!) in Glooooraay Laaaannnd!”

It’s over a quarter of a century now but, Gosh darn it, there’s still just something about World Cup USA 94 that I just love rewatching all these years later.

Maybe it’s because it was played in the United States and all those montages with intercuts of eye-catching skyscrapers, ones roller-blading down sunny boulevards and packed out rodeo shows captured the imagination of my then 9 (and a half) year old self.

Perhaps it was because this was the first time I really started to learn about different cultures and customs of nations from all around the world. Something I see as an early catalyst for inspiring me to go traveling later on in my life.

Even if it was only through the magic of television, I’m not sure I’d ever seen real-life South Koreans, Africans or Latino Americans share the same emotions over football, just like I did. It made the world feel somehow smaller to me. 

One of the perks about reading up on the wee World Cup sticker album I had was that it had a little bio on each participating nation. 

That meant that for the next few years in school, I was a dab hand in Geography tests when the teacher would ask us to identify the flags or name the capital cities of such exotic locations.

As alluded to earlier, montages are something that I’ve always loved watching, particularly during a major tournament.

For me, USA 94 was arguably the first competition where the tv companies – because of the advancements in technology and wider array of camera angles filming the action on the pitch – they became much more visually attractive.

Looking back now, they were fast cut, they were colourful and many of them were mixed with a cool nineties dance music vibe that still holds up really well when you see them on YouTube today.

Even if football isn’t your thing, they’re still worth a look for the feel good nostalgia factor that often goes with popular music of that era.

“Welcome to the start of an All American Show!” was how Barry Davies put in his commentary for the BBC on the evening of Friday, 17th June.

As you could somewhat expect from the Americans being the host nation, the opening ceremony at Soldier Field in Chicago was awash with razmataz and spectacle. 

Red, white and blue balloons to raise the sense of patriotism with Diana Ross fluffing a ‘penalty shot’ that would oddly foreshadow how the actual Final would be decided four weeks later. 

The initial match between Germany and Bolivia was a pretty dour one. A single Jurgen Klinsmann goal was enough to decide it, but I’ve read since that very few US-based viewers saw that goal live.

Millions had switched channels on their TV sets. Not entirely because they were bored of the ‘soccer’ and its low scoring attribute.

Nope! It was because a police helicopter was following a chase down the highway of one OJ Simpson. It was all go in America that night!

Well not really! Local interest in the tournament wasn’t all that high. And truth be told, because the MLS didn’t exist at the time, I foolishly thought the US players were all just College boys who happened to play the game and they just threw a team together. Whoops!

Being an Irishman, it’s only right that I pay homage to some of our exploits in that tournament. It was a short stay but something of a roller coaster experience.

Now it must be remembered that the Irish have always felt some sort of ownership of some parts of the United States. Arguably with New York at the top of that bill.

Then again, so have the Italians. In a way, it was somewhat fitting that the two would be drawn to face another in a game played at the Giants Stadium in East Rutherford. 

In a game where our fans had a near monopoly of the tickets, Ray Houghton’s 12-minute ‘swinger’ with the left boot was enough to seal a famous victory for our boys. 

This was back in the days when the neighborhood kids would assemble for a match on the green between all our houses and his roly-poly became a firm favourite to imitate for the rest of that summer.

As the tournament progressed, there were other talking points that cropped up. Conversations that were taking place for the first time amongst an intrigued and curious youngster like myself watching the World Cup.

Mind you, there was room for some misguided and ill-judged premonitions too. 

-‘Did ya see that Mexican goalie who designs his own jerseys? Mad!!!’

– ‘Them Nigerian lads are cool dudes the way they dance when they score, aren’t they? But how do they all have English first names and African second names?’

– ‘Greece are pure dung! They’ll hardly win a match, let alone a tournament, in the next ten years!’ 

– ‘Oleg Salenko scored five goals in one game. He’ll be a quality signing for whoever gets him!’

– ‘Fair play to him but what age d’ya think yer man, Roger Milla, really is? They say 42, but he looks at least sixty!’

With the greatest of respect to Italia 90 four years earlier, it wasn’t really a tournament for the purists.

Half-empty stadiums, a lot of matches in damp conditions and something of a goal drought meant much of the games that summer became largely forgettable. USA 94 was different. 

Every match seemed to reach close to full attendance and the warm and sunny conditions made you want to run outside and kick a ball about yourself between almost every game. Goals came in a flurry and in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

There were diving headers, solo-runs and neat finishes, volleys, daisy-cutters, direct free kicks all busting the nets from all angles.

Granted, the dropping standard of goalkeeping did become a major talking point amongst Matthew Lorenzo and the ITV pundits one night. 

Back in the days when the late night ad breaks either read ‘Back Soon’ with some elevator music or sometimes they were for 0891-Chat Lines which, I’m guessing, cost a fortune.

They had good cause to discuss this poor goalkeeping to be fair but, as an almost 10 year old boy, goals and more goals were what you wanted to see.

Gheorgi Hagi’s rasper in the group stage for Romania against Colombia was another I regularly tried to replicate out in the back garden after. Rather unfortunately, the off-target shots meant the garage door got its fair share of muddied splotches.

The tournament produced its fairytale stories too of course. 

Nigeria caused a stir with progression to the knockout stage as group winners and could’ve gone further had the Italians not snatched an 89th-minute leveler – who went on to win in extra time –  in the second round. 

Both Bulgaria and Sweden upset the odds to reach the semifinals. 

The former pulled off a shock victory against holders Germany, when Jordan Letchkov’s flying header sailed into the German net. 

Hristo Stoichkov became a household name after the tournament. A feeling not lost on most people who later renamed his hometown after him, in his honour. Not a bad wee tribute to have bestowed.

Whereas the Swedes had a wonderful array of attacking talent with the likes of Martin Dahlin, Kenned Anderson and the youthful talents of young dreadlocked lad by the name of Henrik Larsson.

The legacy of the Dutch team’s travel arrangements would leave a permanent mark on the mind of Denis Bergkamp. After an unusually rough landing, the then Ajax forward swore he’d never fly again. A promise he stuck to. 

It might be insensitive to man’s phobia, but it was used to raise the question of whether or not Arsene Wenger should employ the tactic the A-Team used to similarly deploy with BA Barachas.

Bang his head off the door and throw him on the plane once he’s passed out. Just a thought.

At that time, I’d never heard of Saudi Arabia before, but there’s one name I’ll always remember and that is Saaed Al-Owiran. And yes, I’m pretty sure I can pronounce it right too.

A minute skinny lad who ran the full length of the field to rattle one in past Belgium. 

And no World Cup would be complete without its soap-opera like moments and by God, they came by the bucket load. 

The Republic of Ireland’s own John Aldridge losing the rag on the sideline with a FIFA official caused a very boisterous Scouse-twanged “Ya f*****g d******d!” to be heard over the airwaves. 

Not forgetting how the heat of Florida affected the Irish team so much that the team management, and Jack Charlton in particular, was cautioned for throwing on too many water bags. Then poor Steve Staunton looked as though he was going to melt faster than the witch from the Wizard of Oz.

Germany – who incidentally arrived at the tournament on the back of an official song they recorded with none other The Village People – cut their ties with midfielder Stefan Effenberg. 

After he was substituted in a group match, he gave ‘sign language’ to the crowd. His appalled manager, Berti Vogts, declared he’d “not play again until the year 2006!” Now how’s that for efficient German organization and planning? 

And to top it all off, the irrepressible Diego Armando Maradonna. Argentina’s finest. 

Celebrates a goal by running at the camera looking like he was at a rave and, maybe unsurprisingly, gets ushered off the pitch in the next game to undergo a (failed) drug test.

I mean ya just couldn’t write it, could ya?

Sadly, it wasn’t all fun. 

The Irish team’s exit came on probably the day of the one cloudy and grey-skied afternoon in the whole tournament. While the Netherlands were much the better side and well worthy of their 2-0 win. It was heartbreaking to see my fellow Donegal man in the Ireland goal, Packie Bonner, make such a costly and avoidable error from Wim Jonk’s strike.

Then, of course, there was a moment that made the trials and tribulations of football seem somewhat irrelevant. 

When the news broke that Andrés Escobar was tragically gunned down on the command of Colombian drug lords for his own goal against the USA, it was shocking news for everyone. Revelations have since unearthed about how much threat and pressure that Colombia team lived under, during the reign of Pablo Escobar; it was another lesson in the harsh reality of life.

On a lighter note, the best thing about the 1994 World Cup was the Brazil team. 

Romario, Bebeto, Dunga, Taffarel, Branco et all. Names that just rolled off the tongue and they played football like guys who were having fun to the beat of Samba music. 

The partnership of Romario and Bebeto was a dream to watch. And they too had fun in the team camp when the latter scored against the Netherlands during the quarterfinal meeting in Dallas.

Bebeto ran off pretending to cradle a baby. He even had some unknowing teammates join in.

It was only after the game that he informed his teammates that his wife had given birth to their baby boy just a few days earlier. They’d later progress to the Final after beating Sweden.

One team who had a much rockier path through the competition were Italy.

There could be a movie with an unhappy ending written about their conquests that year. There had been a media backlash after their opening game defeat to Ireland and when goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca was sent off against Norway, their manager, Arirgo Saachi, took a monumental gamble when he withdrew their starman, Roberto Baggio. 

That gamble just about paid off as Italy still managed to progress. They needed and they got all the luck going when they scraped past Nigeria – with Gianfranco Zola also being sent off in that one – and just about got past Spain in the quarters. A bad-tempered and tempestuous affair where Luis Enrique sported a bloodied nose for his troubles.

That incident came about when the officials failed to spot Mauro Tassotti swinging an elbow into his opponent’s face. As the blood ran down the face and into the now heavily-stained white Spanish jersey, the millions watching knew the Azzurri were riding their luck.

Nevertheless though, thanks to a dramatic 2-1 win where Roberto Baggio again provided a last-gasp goal, they were through.

The ‘Ponytailed Assassin’ was digging his side out of holes when it mattered most and as they made their way to the Final, it seemed as if they were doing so in a kicking-and-screaming fashion. Two goals again for Baggio in the semifinal ended Bulgaria’s noble crusade but it came at a cost, as the talismanic striker’s injury and fatigue were starting to show more and more.   

The Final itself in Pasadena was a bit of an anti-climatic way to conclude what had been a tournament full of fast-paced and high-octane matches. A 0-0 stalemate where the game resembled more of a chess game than a football match and, thus, a penalty shootout ensued with Roberto Baggio skying the decisive spot-kick miles over the bar for Brazil to win. 

Like a figure who was utterly lost to the world in disbelief at that moment, the man who had done so much to get his team to the Final was unable to save them in the end. Brazil were rightful winners in the end, but seeing Baggio standing alone on the penalty-spot while the green and gold celebrations erupted around him; it was a life-lesson for us all, in itself.

Brazil manager, Carlos Alberto Panieri, had ended Brazil’s drought of 24 years without a World Cup success. While his side would never really get the acclaim that their predecessors from 1970 had with Pelé and the likes, this Brazil side would set a new trend in motion and would go on to reach the next two World Cup Finals; winning the competition again in 2002.

All in all, while so many of the matches that summer started (because of the time-difference) after my bedtime, there’s still something so very special and memorable about what was the fifteenth installment of the World Cup finals tournament.

Using football to inadvertently study up on so many different countries and cultures from across the world was an early factor in what I feel inspired my enjoyment of travel ever since. American TV shows and movies of the mid-1990s had always captivated my imagination and now I had football to throw into that mix. 

And sure who doesn’t love a good montage, eh?

See: https://youtu.be/6s5zI2onIgU

EVEN HOW WE WATCH MOVIES IS CHANGING.

Originally published in January 2021

It’s probably fair enough to suggest that over the last five years or so – and particularly during these prolonged periods of ongoing lockdown – our reliance on visual entertainment has sky-rocketed; on par with that of the 1980s and 1990s.

Mind you, back in those days, we still had other things to keep us entertained. Going outside being one.

Amid all the binge-culture we’ve fallen into though, it’s easy to see that not only movies and television shows are changing, but also how we, as an audience, watch them.

In 2017, Anthony Mackie spoke very openly (and often comically) about how the movie experience has changed so dramatically since the eighties. I’ve no plans to simply regurgitate everything the man said that day but the crux of it was “back in those days, going to the movies was an experience … a family thing … but not anymore.”

He alluded to how a summer blockbuster would come out and “everyone wanted to see the new Stallone movie or the new Schwarzenegger movie.” The shiny silver screen provided a wonderful source of escapism for those few hours and memories of the pre-screening trailers or perhaps the aroma of popcorn came flooding back to so many.

I tend to imagine that when movies were in production back in those days, the only public backlash they feared was either a bad review in Variety magazine or a grilling from tv critics like Siskel and Ebert or Barry Norman. The very notion of keyboard warriors tearing a film to pieces for its use of cultural appropriation and political correctness was still a long way off yet.

The era that brought us so many longlasting spectacles such as Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, Ghostbusters – the one true version – and Dirty Dancing (more so for the ladies) were an absolute trip to watch.

It was also the beginning of a time when Hollywood cast much younger actors in lead roles and the use of soundtrack grew in equal importance to the narrative itself.

Now I don’t profess to be any sort of a science-fiction geek. I can take or leave Star Wars and had it not been for the sheer hotness of Vanessa Angel in the tv adaptation of Weird Science, I doubt I’d have ever snuck a sneak-peek when nobody else was around.

Having said that, even I can appreciate just how truly magnificent some of these movies must’ve first looked to an awe-struck audience in cinemas all across the world. And to their immense credit, I believe the CGI-images of Jurassic Park, Toy Story and others like the ones mentioned earlier, still hold up handsomely on screen all these years later. 

Popping back to Mackie for a moment, he also told in that particular press conference that so many movies from back then just wouldn’t get the green light from studios to go ahead today. I know what you’re thinking. ‘It’s all because of that bloody PC-Brigade!’ Truth is, that’s part of it, but not the main reason.

It boils down to the fact that movies are now tailored to the tastes of cinema-goers in Asia more so than they are for Western audiences. The dominant genre in box office sales over the last decade or so has been that of the superhero and this is evidenced by the coinage of terms such as the ‘Marvel Universe’ and ‘DCEU’ amongst their fans online.

Heroes assembling to fight off the giant foe while city landscapes get crumbled to pieces has always been a fan-favourite in the likes of China and Japan. It’s no secret either that Hollywood movies are carefully re-edited before being sent to the far east and that’s nothing new either.

If anything, this all echoes back to the days when 1962’s King Kong vs Godzilla (which doesn’t hold up well with regard to advanced filming technologies) had entirely different endings over who won the final battle. It just depended on whether you watched the movie at a screening in the likes New York or Tokyo.

Long before Covid though, the days of family movie trips for a Saturday matinee or a midnight viewing already seemed to be dwindling and rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

Ticket prices and combis have risen considerably in price and because we now live in a time where we have our own big screens and sound systems at home, why bother paying out anymore than you need to?

We also live in a consumer culture of series watching. Even Channel 4’s streaming service often promotes their own content as ‘binge-worthy.’

Water cooler and staff room talk will often veer to the question about a given Netflix or Amazon Prime series; where one has to be careful not to let too many spoilers out because others may not have had a chance to binge as much just yet. And when a movie leaves the cinema, chances are it’ll appear on your IPTV Firestick before too long.

Be that as it may, I’m certainly not opposed to an aul series fest myself – Cobra Kai being the latest – but from past experience, I always feel that, even a great series, will nearly always let you down in the end. It was said of Game of Thrones, Lost and The Sopranos in the last fifteen years alone. 

I mean seriously, Tony Soprano, a hardline kick-ass mob boss running the show in New Jersey becoming a buffoon of a man who has dream sequences about talking cartoon-like fish heads? And then him riding horseback through houses? Good God! Do me a favour!

Nonetheless, it’s all somewhat sad to know that the cinema experience is not what it used to be and that it’s unlikely that it ever will be again. In my own hometown of Letterkenny, I admit that Joker (2019) was the last film I saw in there but yet I’m totally oblivious as to which film – or even which year – was my visit before that.

And the cinema where I used to frequent more regularly on Saturday afternoons throughout the nineties on the Port Road is now an used building where the renovations would have you believe there was never even a theatre there at all.

The days of gaping out the school bus window when we drove past it on a Friday morning just to see the staff put up the new billboards and screening times is a memory that lives with me.

Even though it did take me three desperate attempts to blag my way in to see Dumb and Dumber back in 1995. I was 10 and a half in the real world, but while I was in those queues, I’d somehow jumped to 12!

Movies are still great entertainment (well, some of them) but in these heady days, don’t be surprised to see their quality decline and a preference for nostalgia-based viewing to go up.

“And They Get the Equalizer…”

DID JUST ONE HEADED GOAL CHANGE CELTIC FC FOREVER?

By Jonathan Foley

Celtic Football Club enjoy a wealth of support from across Scotland, the world and even our own wee Donegal and they are widely known for the passionate following of this great club.

Just to cater to our younger fans for a second however, many of them who I know and come across in schools or in local sports clubs, have lived the vast majority of their lives so-far with only seeing Celtic success. 

They’re the blessed ones because as the elders will remind them, in the not too distant past, seeing the Hoops lift silverware was often a rare privilege and not a formality.

Being something of an amateur historian of football, particularly with the history of Celtic, I decided to pry into the single moment that maybe – just maybe – was the defining moment that changed the course of the club’s history during my lifespan.

And for me, that was a 91st minute header by Alan Stubbs against Rangers (who else?) on the rainy night of Wednesday 19th November, 1997.

With Rangers leading the game through a Marco Negri goal that he’d rammed home twenty minutes earlier, Celtic were in crisis but thankfully, a late penalty box scramble saw the ball come into the path of Celtic winger, Jackie McNamara.

A deft cross with his right peg hung in the air on a damp and drizzly night just as Alan Stubbs rose high above three Rangers defenders to score a, not so much a bullet of a heade, but more of an aptly placed one.

Then with a capacity of 50,000, Celtic Park erupted!

You may ask though, if this was only to achieve a 1-1 draw against Rangers twenty years ago, how can it be so relevant to the great gulf of success that Celtic have in their wonderful 133-year  old history? 

To understand why this goal was so important, let’s turn the clocks back a decade before this night.

The club’s fairytale end to the 1988 season couldn’t have gone much better as that team lifted the Premier Division and Scottish Cup double in what was their centenary season. It seemed that this team had the capabilities to go on and achieve more but it was not to be. In the years that followed, Celtic would fall away both on the field of play and off it.

Rangers became utterly dominant; the golden representatives of Scottish football. They had big nights in the newly formed Champions League, they were attracting major players from both England and abroad as well gathering millions upon millions of pounds in revenue. 

So what of Celtic?

Across the city during the 1990s, Celtic plummeted to an all-time low. 

Fans were aiming their frustrations at the board and boycotts became common as the club sank into financial turmoil. The club went through a series of panic-signed managers and by the end of the 1994-95 campaign, they’d become regular finishers in the third-to-fifth positions. Unheard of today.

Despite an important cup success in 1995 under the late Tommy Burns, Celtic could still not get close to catching Rangers in the all-important league title chases.

Behind the scenes though, things were starting to look a little better. Fergus McCann invested heavily into converting Celtic to a PLC and plans were made to reconstruct the stadium into what it is now.

On the field, even with gradually improved performances, wonderful attacking game-plans and exciting foreign players coming in, success was still illusive as Rangers homed in Celtic’s previous 9-in-a-row record from the 1966-74 seasons.

Even with the mercurial talents of Paolo DiCanio, Jorge Cadete and Pierre van Hooijdunk now leading the Celtic frontline, they would still fall short in the head-to-head and often heated clashes with their rivals.

Sure enough, in May of 1997, Rangers went on to clinch that ninth title and as their fans danced in the streets, ours mourned the loss of a cherished record.

The summer of 1997 also offered Celtic fans little to look forward to.

All three of those high-profile players mentioned walked out of the club and with loyal captain, Paul McStay, opting to retire, things seemed like worse to come. Rangers were roaring favourites to now go on and overtake Celtic as they sought to reach the unprecedented ten-in-a-row.

Changes were afoot however. An unknown Dutch coach named Wim Jansen was drafted in as well as nine new players throughout the season; two of which included a dreadlocked Swede called Henrik Larsson and a European Cup winner in Paul Lambert. On the field again though, it looked as though nothing had changed – at least at first anyway.

By the time Celtic lined out to lock horns with Rangers in mid-to-late November, they’d already lost four league games that season.

Two of which had come in a period of twelve days building up to the game. So with Rangers leading with just seconds remaining at Parkhead, Stubbs’s late leveller looked only to be a blush-sparing equaliser at the time.  We know now that it was so much more.

Celtic gained immense confidence from this draw and six months later would win the league to stop the ten-in-a-row. Not without its nail-biting moments and frustrations of course, but it was done. One can’t help but ponder the hypotheticals if Rangers had won that night and gone on to win ‘the ten’ (or more!) after that.

In the two decades since then, Celtic have undoubtedly had their disappointments in Scotland and in Europe, but in overall sense, they’ve recorded a copious amounts of cherished memories and success; of which our local support here in the town has witnessed through the generations since. The true dominant force.

Martin O’Neill’s treble season, the epic voyage to the UEFA Cup Final in Seville, winning the ‘Title for Tommy’ against all odds and beating illustrious European opposition like Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester United, AC Milan and Barcelona in recent times are only the tip of the iceberg.

Not to mention the famous the latest treble winning seasons; of which we saw an undefeated domestic run (2026-17), in what was the 50th anniversary of the Lisbon Lions’ most glorious campaign.

Yes, Rangers / Sevco / Newco / The Rangers (whatever!) have had their fiscal worries … but that’s none of my business.

So just to raise the question again: “did just one headed goal change Celtic FC forever?”

Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. Perhaps it was other factors, but it did certainly help the famous Grand Old Team immensely in shaping their future. Paradise Lost? Paradise Found!

IRELAND’S SCOURGED HARVEST.

Published 13 November 2020

Last night, Ireland suffered yet another defeat in 2020 and never once looked like scoring.

Yeah England’s 3-0 win was hardly worth celebrating and it begs the question, are Ireland really in the football abyss just now?

Alright, it was only a friendly, we’d a fair few players unavailable for selection and the new manager is only new to the hot seat.

Ireland fans – usually so renowned for fervent passion in their support and vocal devotion to the team – took to social media and spat venom at the new gaffer and his approach to the last few games. 

Not all Ireland supporters were as active in the art of waging war behind the safety of a keypad, however. Some took it for what it was – a friendly – or an adjustment period for Stephen Kenny. 

From a personal perspective, despite the somewhat doom and gloom undertones of the previous paragraphs, I’m siding with ‘the glass is half full’ option. 

Albeit in glimpses, Kenny is showing early signs of intent for how he wants his team to play in the future. Surely, there’s no harm in using this time to experiment before the World Cup qualifying starts next year.

Taking over the job two-thirds of the way through a campaign was always going to be a tall order.

He certainly wasn’t helped by a growing list of injuries – which the congested season is throwing up to no end for everyone – and the bewildering Covid issue that ruled Aaron Connolly out of the crunch game against Slovakia last month. 

Bar a late header by Shane Duffy against Bulgaria in a 1-1 draw back in September, Ireland have consistently fired blanks in front of goal in no less than five of their matches since. 

While doing punditry  for ITV on Thursday night, Roy Keane couldn’t resist a pop. Bluntly stating that “you’re not gonna do much when yer center-half is your best attacker.” 

Although he’d never own up to it, Keano might love a bit of the limelight with his comments about players, but he had a real point with this on, to be fair. 

One can’t help but feel that there are more deep-rooted issues afoot though. 

We all know that John Delaney’s shambolic behaviour has essentially bankrupted the Association. 

Our inability to qualify for major tournaments has made the lure of the ‘granny rule’ seem somewhat less appealing to non-Irish born players and, here at home, we’re not producing the talent that we used to.

Cast your mind back to Italia 90. The bulk of that squad was filled with players playing their club football at the likes of Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal, Manchester United and Celtic. 

Arguably the top five clubs in Britain at the time. 

Flash forward to USA 94. 

Manchester United were establishing themselves as the dominant force in the new Premier League era and that served Ireland well; the Cork duo of Denis Irwin and the aforementioned Roy Keane being central figures to those successes.

Aston Villa were the main contenders to Alex Ferguson and  Man United’s dash for the league title the season before the World Cup.

And shortly before the main event got underway during that summer in America, the Villains halted United’s charge for a domestic treble by beating them in the Coca-Cola Cup Final. 

In doing so, they had a notable sprinkling of Irish internationals through the likes of Paul McGrath, Andy Townsend and Ray Houghton all being standouts.

Blend all that with the embedded experience of Packie Bonner, John Aldridge, Steve Staunton, and John Sheridan as well as the new kids on the block of that time (Gary Kelly, Phil Babb and Jason McAteer), it’s little wonder why we were ranked sixth in the world around this time.

Moving on to 2002. 

Although the tag-line that “Keane got that team to the World Cup on his own” may bear some truth, it does carry a degree of hyperbole. 

In the away game to Cyprus, he papered over the cracks of the team with two goals of his own and an exemplary all-round performance. 

“But we’re two-nil up, Roy” exclaimed Gary Breen to an irate captain as the two sides headed for the dressing room at half-time. “That’s not the f**king point!” was the retort. 

A discussion that is so clearly visible in the footage of that game, that training in lip-reading wasn’t the slightest bit necessary.

The Corkman carried that steely resolve through to the sell-out showpiece matches against Portugal and the Netherlands during that campaign. 

His performances in those have gone down in that of legendary folklore on a par with the tales of CuChulainn slaying the Hound.

And yet, while he might have had grievances about the setup when the team arrived at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on the tropical island of Saipan, his ‘one man team’ reputation was perhaps a little undeserving. 

Ireland had a considerable number of Premier League captains within that particular group. 

Mick McCarthy had molded a side, overtime, that played football on the deck and used wingers to much greater effect. Progressing with the times after the era of Jack Charlion and the long ball had vanquished.

The likes of Shay Given, Robbie Keane and Damien Duff were star quality that have never really been replaced. 

The latter two having tasted early success and highs with underage teams managed by Brian Kerr. Some of them going on to become revered  legends at their respective clubs not long after. 

Steve Finnan was a consistently strong performer, Gary Breen and Kevin Kilbane played above their stature in that tournament and the likes of Mark Kinsella, Matt Holland and Gary Kelly had maturity beyond their years.

Back then, our top players relied heavily on plying their trade with the clubs of note in the Premier League, but it doesn’t work that way anymore.

That tournament in 2002 was one that got away from us. 

With Argentina, France and Italy all bowing out early and the likes of Senegal, Turkey, USA and South Korea reaching the latter stages, who’s to say what might have been if we’d beaten Spain on penalties.

I guess we’ll never know, but what we do know is that despite the divide brought about The Saipan Affair, the support for the team was unyielding and remained strong.

It still does, but it’s taking a different turn. 

We used to chant ‘Ooh Aah Paul McGrath’ from the terraces and bellow out how ‘we all dream of a team of Gary Breens’ but social media has thwarted that. 

We moaned to the high heavens that Brian Kerr and Steve Staunton was a daft choice as manager – not helped by the likes of broadcaster Joe Duffy giving an awful slaying to the late Sir Bobby Robson for having the sheer audacity for not having Stan on speed dial (Heaven Forbid!) – and that Giovanni Trapattoni and Martin O’Neill were ‘spoofers.’

In the last month alone, Jeff Hendrick has been publicly slated online for having the occasional off-game for Newcastle and Shane Duffy has sadly become the victim of pelters even from his own fans at Celtic.

God knows how many rants Eamon Dunphy went on.

The return of McCarthy to the helm had us questioning his lack of creativity and now that Kenny looks as though he wants to get them playing ball, he’s in the fans’ firing line. 

Looking at Scotland qualifying the other night, I will admit I couldn’t help but feel a tad envious. 

Andy Robertson of Liverpool as their captain, Kieran Tierney now a regular at Arsenal, Scott McTominay at United and numerous players who’ve picked up a wealth of experience playing pressure games for Celtic and Rangers. 

More than that though, Steve Clark had gone through a turbulent start as their manager and now he’s pride of the nation. 

The pundits on the night were Darren Fletcher and James McFadden and they were filled to the brim of positive energy. 

Their delight was of course understandable and while it’s easy to sing when you’re winning, but they were also looking to the future. Praising the possibility that this could ignite the passions of young Scots to create future success stories. 

Maybe the former Everton man was jumping the gun, but to their immense credit, the Scottish Football Association has tightened up in how it operates and with major tournaments opening their doors to bigger numbers, who’s to stop them?

It’s so wrong to point the finger at Stephen Kenny for all our woes when there’s an entirely new infrastructure needed behind the scenes.

As fans, we might be onlookers, but surely this new trend of publicly slating our own players has to get chucked with immediate effect.

If one of our lads misplaces a pass or fails to find the net (again!), let it sit. It’s only the Nations’ League after all.

We were maybe never as good as we made ourselves out to be during the better days – that’s debatable – but we’re certainly not always as bad as we make things out to be either.

Harvests get scourged but they can also be sown again. 

@JohnnyFoley1984

21st CENTURY AMERICA

Originally published in October 2020.

Upon the recent anniversary of 9/11, minds were cast back to that fateful day in 2001 from those of us old enough to remember it. Where we were, how we heard, what we thought. All likely topics to have cropped up in conversations last month.

By Jonathan Foley

Nineteen years on, however, one cannot help but think how the overriding emotions and perspectives of America have undergone a most profound transformation in the last two decades.

What was once an outpouring of sympathy and messages of solidarity with the United States has transformed in more recent times to that of anguish, heated debate and perhaps even pity towards our transatlantic neighbours. 

I was a sixteen year old secondary school pupil – not far off seventeen – on Tuesday 11 September, 2001 and a fifth year student of Saint Eunan’s College in Letterkenny. 

I’d spent the previous summer working every hour available; in a sports shop during the daytime  and collecting glasses in bars at night. It was my first true experience of making a pound I could call my own,

After the summer had been and gone, schooldays were back in the routine and I’d promised myself – as well a previously nagging principal – that I would be turning a new leaf from here on in. 

Less than two weeks into the return to school, things were going well. Teachers – who I’d occasionally raised a few concerns with before – were giving me a fresh start and I was quietly determined to reward their faith. 

On the day of 9/11 itself, rumblings came through the classrooms. “Here! Did yous hear? Apparently something wile’s after happening in America! It’s like something out of a film!” I recall one fellow student uttering. 

As part of my newfound studious regime, I avoided the temptation to become so easily distracted in classes anymore. ‘America can wait! I’ve Shakespeare’s Macbeth to be studying,’ I told myself. 

It was only really when I got home that evening and saw the live footage of the flames engulfing the World Trade Centre that it began to sink in what I was truly witnessing. 

For all intents and purposes, this was the first time I knew of a single terrorist act that was being watched and talked about the whole world over. 

Growing up, I’d heard of things like the Berlin Wall coming down, the Gulf War crisis and the escalation of the Bosnian conflict and the Siege of Sarajevo. 

By 9/11 though, things were different. I was old enough to fathom the issue for all its gravity. Somehow knowing the world would never quite be the same again.

Things felt different, mainly because New York City was a place I was much more familiar with; albeit from a distance. 

My aunt Eibhlin was living there (still does) and I’d always associated it with fond memories of her bringing us over cool toys that couldn’t be got here at home, anytime she’d come visit. 

As more of an innocent pup in my much younger days, I can still recall how she’d tuck me in grannies. 

Making promises that, when I was old enough, she’d take me back to America with her one day to ride the subway, go out on the boat to circle the Statue of Liberty and eat a big pizza at Times Square … Ninja Turtle fans will understand. 

So as the towers of the World Trade crumbled amid the billowing dark clouds of smoke and the debris, the knowledge of the massive loss of civilian life right there on our TV set, seemed like the end of an age of innocence for me anyway. 

The aforementioned outpouring of grief amongst the western world was immense. 

Special masses were put on, some social events were either postponed or cancelled altogether (where have we heard that recently?) and we even got the following Friday off school as a mark of respect. 

For months after, it seemed as though every new American pop video on MTV had the stars-and-stripes on show somewhere and almost every new documentary series was somehow lined to the attacks. 

It was no surprise that our “there’ll be films made about this yet, wait till ya see” predictions came true. 

Osama BinLaden and Al-Quadea were laced across every newspaper and magazine you could find for weeks on end after. ‘America’s pain was our pain’ seemed to be the common mantra. 

Almost twenty years on, America is looked upon very differently. Condemnation of their Presidential leaders such as Bush and Trump has become so common, it’s almost ingrained in popular culture to spout ridicule of them.

American Foreign Policy in how they dealt with situations in the Middle East have given rise to unprecedented disapproval. 

When cynicism of these ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ began to reign and people began to think that BinLaden’s assasinstion in 2011 came at a rather ‘convenient time’ – the run up to an election – dispersions were cast. 

And even within their own country, they’ve since undergone torreds of criticism for how they deal with social disparity and racial profiling. The George Flyod killing lighting a proverbial fuse. 

With election time nearing ever closer again this year, be sure to watch for how floods of venom will be spat out, particularly through social media, in the run up to November.

Now I’m certainly not saying this contrast of attitudes towards America is right or wrong. That’s not for me to say. 

Everyone is more than entitled to their own opinion, but as an observer of history and society, it’s hard to deny just how different the perspective of the USA has changed utterly in just under 20 years. 

‘CANCEL CULTURE’ vs JOKER.

SEND IN THE CLOWN.

Originally published in November 2019

If you see only one movie this year, make it Joker. First up, this is not a summer blockbuster action-adventure superhero (or in this case, supervillain) movie. There’s no kickass expolosions, frantic car-chase scenes or some quality piece of eye candy whose been brought in to boost the sex appeal. In a nutshell, it’s not for kids, yet still immensely poignant for its portrayal of society.

By Jonathan Foley

I’ll try my best to avoid spoilers for anyone who hasn’t got around to seeing it yet, so instead I’ll focus in on how this film caused an unforeseen media hysteria, both before and after its cinema release, and how it has touched a nerve with so many who have sat down to have a watch of the movie for themselves.

The main thing I enjoyed about Joker was not merely because its gripping storyline and superb acting; although, while I’m here, I’ll happily both writers and cast alike on their great work. Much more than that, this movie should be hailed for one that finally stood up to WOKE culture and over-the-top political correctness amongst easily offended trashers of modern entertainment. 

Considering the fact that Joker is directed by Todd Philips – a man best known for his major roles in creating such cult-comedies like Old School and The Hangover trilogy – it’s fair to suggest that there were a fair share of eyebrows raised when it was announced that he would now oversee the production of this much darker and grittier type of film. 

Looking back, maybe it shouldn’t have been so much of a surprise. Speaking to the media not long before the Joker’s completion, Phillips made it clear that the reason he stopped doing comedies was because he felt that genre was dying due to the abundance of PC-brigaders constantly looking for things to complain about. What you can and can’t joke about, basically.

With that in mind, he took an ever darker spin on Gotham City’s most notorious villain – one who is iconically renowned for laughing hysterically in the face of destruction and suffering – and, through some interesting narrative – humanised him. Combined with Jaoquin Phoenix’s performance as the titular character, they brought him down to our level. 

They showed us that mental illness is an affliction that can take hold of anyone. 

Especially if they are living in a time of a serious economic downturn where employment and security are hard to come by and also when government programs designed to help such people are inadequate, poorly funded or have relied too heavily on simply dishing out medication as a quick-fix solution to their patients. 

It’s not so much that we sympathise with Arthur Fleck in this film, but we as the audience can at least empathise and understand his situation that little bit better. It makes us realise that anyone can slip through the cracks of society and become an agent of chaos, violence and aggression at any given point when life doesn’t go the way that they would have hoped. 

And who did this annoy the most, you ask? That’s right, the mainstream American media. There’s an abundance of reasons why but one that stands out is that the empathetic portrayal of the Joker goes against the grain of the news reporting agenda.  

In the United States, watching a news broadcast is a lot different when compared to here at home. In this part of the world, the RTÉ or BBC newsreader will tell you what’s been happening in an unbiased and objective manner; shortly before ending the programme on a happier note with a look at the sports and weather from their colleagues alongside them in the studio. 

America is very different. News has a political agenda as the majority of companies are heavily funded by the likes of the Republican or Democratic parties. In turn, this allows the parties to manufacture what should be broadcast to the viewers in the hope that it will scare monger those watching into putting their trust in the parties to protect them. 

If you don’t believe me, check out the likes of CNN or ABC News on your Sky channels. Reporters don’t hold back in their debates and it epitomises the ‘freedom of the press’ section of the Second Amendment of their cherished Constitution. And here’s how Joker fits into it all.

In recent times, reports of mass-shootings and anti-government based uprisings and protests have engulfed American news stories. This has led to the question over the right to bear arms to the fore once again. Anytime, a mass-shooting does occur, the person who carried out the attack is always portrayed as being one was just simply born evil and that’s that. 

Protests and rallies suggest discontent and unrest amongst people who aim their frustrations at the established order and higher-classes of society. It doesn’t matter if Democrats and Republicans disagree on US policy, they both retain a desire to maintain power, even if it’s a shared power.

So when a film comes along that shows an iconic character vividly portraying the factors that drive a descent into anarchy and rage while he seemingly stands up for the everyday person whose grown tired of government policy, the Establishment was undoubtedly going to get a tad nervous. 

News reports spread that this film would ‘definitely’ insight violence at screenings, that armed guards would be on hand to forcibly deal with any such disturbances (and they were). The self-righteous PC-brigade who likely claimed that any movie that ‘glorifies’ psychotic behaviour or shows a character upsetting the establishment to be ‘offensive’ were, in a way, given a defiant response that artistic creativity will carry on despite what politically-driven media will say.