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'He brought the whole of society together. GAA or rugby... it didn't matter'

Ex-players lead tributes to Jack, who 'did so much good'

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Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton celebrates his side's victory following the FIFA World Cup 1994 Group E match between Republic of Ireland and Italy at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, USA

Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton celebrates his side's victory following the FIFA World Cup 1994 Group E match between Republic of Ireland and Italy at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, USA

SPORTSFILE

Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton celebrates his side's victory following the FIFA World Cup 1994 Group E match between Republic of Ireland and Italy at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, USA

Jack Charlton has been remembered by the players who served under him as an iconic figure who brought the whole country together.

He passed away at his home in England on Friday night, aged 85, leading to an outpouring of tributes for the man who steered the country to its first major tournament - the 1988 European Championships in Germany - and the 1990 and 1994 World Cups.

Goalkeeper Packie Bonner and midfielder Ray Houghton were among the members of the squad who became national heroes during this era - buoyed by the support of the fans, dubbed "Jack's Army".

Iconic

They both recalled fond memories of their time under his stewardship. Bonner, who is in Donegal at the moment, described Jack as an "iconic and larger-than-life character".

"I was very honoured to be part of it all. I remember Jack saying to me that 'any international job you should only stay four years in it' and he stayed 10," he said.

"I think the man himself, his personality, that's what I liked about Jack. I remember how he dealt with people.

"He didn't undermine you. He never really had a go at anybody. He would remind you of certain things, yes absolutely. I think we responded to that. That is what I loved about Jack."

It was also an era in the 1980s and early 1990s when there was great access to the team.

"Jack kept it very, very open and he was right, and the players loved it too," added Bonner.

"I remember in Stuttgart, people from Donegal coming up to the hotel, and you'd say 'come in lads' and you'd sit there and have a cup of coffee.

"That was the way it was. The media was always in the hotel with us. Maybe in the different tournaments they might have been in a different hotel, but in general they travelled with us.

"After a game we would meet them in the bar and talk to them.

"Jack created all of that environment, and I think it was so important then for everybody concerned, but he was the catalyst for it."

Bonner said the guys who came in, even for one or two games, loved being part of the squad because they knew Jack had created something special.

He recalled that in September 2018, Jack was reunited with his former players at the K-Club in Kildare, marking the 30th anniversary of Ireland's debut at a major football tournament in the 1988 Euros.

"It was great to see him. He loved it, being among all the boys. We got a fantastic photograph taken. We all had these peaked hats on that he wore," he said.

There have been calls for a statue to commemorate Jack's achievements, and Bonner agrees.

"There should be statutes of our great sports people from all walks of life, somewhere you could commemorate those people. Sport is hugely important to our society," he said.

"Jack was part of that. He created something that people remember fondly and that affected our lives.

"The other thing is he brought the whole of society together. It didn't matter if you were male, female, where you were, if you were a GAA person, a rugby person, soccer, it didn't matter.

Bunting

"I heard one woman chatting about her dad being a staunch GAA man, who said soccer would never come into the house. By the time we qualified for the World Cup, he was putting up the bunting."

Meanwhile, former Irish star Ray Houghton recalled how he was initially approached to join the team by Jack.

Charlton had gone to see John Aldridge play at Oxford and a couple of reporters at the game told him that Ray, who was born in Glasgow, was able to play for Ireland through his dad, who was from Buncrana in Co Donegal.

Speaking about his former manager, Houghton said: "There has been a lot of outpouring of love and respect for Jack over in Ireland and indeed here in England.

"It shows you the admiration and respect people had for what he achieved.

"I think in Ireland he just did so much good. He brought a lot of people together.

"He didn't suffer fools, but there was an honesty about him and I think what came across to people was his humility, his working class background and the fact that he could very much relate to people."

Houghton said he had so many fond memories of Jack, adding: "Very few people in my life have called me Raymond, but he was one of the few.

"He was very much someone who would let you know his opinion, but he would listen to people.

"He was also a really funny man," he added.

The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) yesterday opened a virtual book of condolences in which Irish fans can express their sympathies to Jack Charlton's family.

FAI president Gerry McAnaney said: "The national outpouring of grief since Jack's death was announced on Saturday morning has been phenomenal.

"It is reflective of the esteem in which Jack was held here in Ireland."

The link will remain live for two weeks, until Monday, July 27. View at fai.ie/jack-charlton-rip.