Dublin gives Charlton a champion's freedom

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THUNDEROUS roars of approval from thousands of grateful Dubliners are guaranteed when Jack Charlton tonight steps into the spotlight to receive the Freedom of the City.

The event is not just a send-off for his squad, who, unlike England, have qualified for next month's World Cup finals in the US. It will also give official blessing to an unlikely eight-year love-affair between a gruff Geordie and a nation until his arrival starved of international sporting achievement. Charlton's success has earned more than respectable showings in the 1988 European Championship in Germany (defeating England there created national euphoria) and 1990 World Cup finals.

Putting backbone into a team previously known more for stylish defeats has also garnered a wealth of advertising deals and personal appearances, for himself and his players.

His unmistakeable Northumberland tones accompany radio ads for everything from milk to bank credit cards. He receives from IRpounds 3,500 upwards for appearances anywhere from oyster festivals to 'soccer debates', where the most fanatical can question him directly.

All this comes on top of a six-figure salary for managing the national football team, underwritten since 1986 by the team sponsors, Opel, part of General Motors. Recent estimates put Charlton's total annual earnings above IRpounds 400,000.

Tonight's pre-US festivities are perhaps well-advised, celebrating just being in the finals. Charlton's task in America is formidable - Italy, Norway (England's nightmare team) and Mexico are opponents in the opening round. Only confirmed optimists are betting on Ireland going further. All but one bookmaker put Irish chances of winning at 50-1.