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'Magic' of Jack led Irish on an unforgettable global odyssey

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Jack Charlton waves to supporters at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome in 1990

Jack Charlton waves to supporters at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome in 1990

SPORTSFILE

Jack Charlton waves to supporters at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome in 1990

Ireland soccer fan Brendan Walsh said it was a "magical" experience for the tens of thousands of Jack's Army fans who travelled the world to support the Boys in Green.

From Harold's Cross in Dublin, he was in his 20s when he travelled to the Euros in 1988.

He was a member of the garda soccer team, and about 20 of them decided to go to Germany.

Base

Jack Charlton was leading the Irish football team to its very first major championship finals in June that year.

"We stayed in a place called Boppard, which was a small little place on the Rhine. There was a load of Irish there. We used that as our base," said Brendan.

The first game was in Stuttgart on June 12 and the team were playing England in a much anticipated game.

"Then of course Ray Houghton scores and it was magic."

Ireland beat England 1-0 in the famous game. However, there were delays after the game, and the bus left without them. They went to the train station only to find there was no train to Boppard.

"There was about eight of us. We told the station master, but he said, 'No trains to Boppard'. We pleaded with him that we had to get back," he said.

They told him that they were Irish fans coming from the match.

"He said, 'OK there is a train going, but it doesn't stop there. I will talk to the driver.' So we got on the train. It was a two-hour journey from Stuttgart. Next it starts to slow down. People were looking around wondering why the train was stopping.

"They stopped in Boppard for us and the train driver got out and gave us a thumbs-up - well done. There was probably people scratching their heads for years wondering why the train stopped there."

This was, of course, before everyone had mobile phones, he added: "There was no way we would have got back."

They then went to Hanover on June 15 where the team took on the USSR and Ronnie Whelan scored a famous goal.

"It was like a dream. We will never see the like of it again," Brendan said.

The final match was on June 18 against the Netherlands in Gelsenkirchen. "We were like a green wedge in an orange stadium," he said.

The Irish were heading home after that game, but Brendan added: "It was our first taste."

When Ireland qualified for the World Cup in Italy in 1990, he was packing his bags again, although without the soccer team this time around.

Ireland qualified from the group and set up a quarter-final showdown against the host nation Italy - but it ended with the team returning home.

Incredible

When the Italia '90 adventure ended, he recalls Jack Charlton walking around the Stadio Olimpico afterwards acknowledging the fans.

"It was just an incredible time," he said.

Afterwards, the problem for many fans was how to get home, but two fights were despatched to Rome.

"Word on the grapevine was to get out to the airport and hop on. It was like getting the bus home," he said.

He added that Jack was brilliant. The whole country got behind the efforts, both at home and abroad, he said.