Charlton rues `whole rotten business'

Ken Jones reflects on events at Lansdowne Road with the Republic's manager and finds him angry and troubled
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The Independent Online
By the early hours yesterday, a glass of stout to hand and a good cigar to soothe him, Jack Charlton could at last reflect rationally on an experience like no other he has known in football.

The rage that rose up instantly in the Republic of Ireland's manager when an ugly section of his countrymen rioted at Lansdowne Road, had subsided in the company of his wife, Pat, his assistant, Maurice Setters, a couple of visiting coaches, Bryan Hamilton from Northern Ireland and Roy Hodgson from Switzerland, and a number of friends.

Charlton knew there would be pictures of him remonstrating angrily with an Irish supporter who had moved towards the rioting mob, threatening to retaliate, and the memory of that moment was clearly embarrassing. "Perhaps I shouldn't have got involved,'' he said, "but we have a few wild ones and when I saw this guy running at the English supporters with something in his hand, I grabbed him and told him to piss off. I was seething. We've been all over, the World Cups in Italy and the United States, the European Championships in Germany, and never a hint of trouble. A six o'clock kick-off promised to make it a great family night, kids coming along with their parents, a new generation of Irish football supporters. Then this happens and I suppose we'll share in the blame. It was our ground, so it is inevitable that we will be held partly responsible.''

When the Football Association of Ireland admitted yesterday that there had been a breakdown of communication between it and the security forces, Charlton and his wife were driving to spend a few days at the house they have in Sligo. Relishing the prospect, he said: "We're not on the telephone so there will be a chance to get this business out of my system.''

It was a long while before Charlton took to his bed, the ugly scenes at Lansdowne Road so vivid in his mind that he found it difficult to engage in normal conversation and give some thought to the notion that a makeshift Irish team might have secured a famous victory. "The whole rotten business has almost driven what we had of the game from my thoughts,'' he admitted. "But I remember saying to Maurice [Setters] that we were on to a game. Paul McGrath had Alan Shearer nailed down, Sheridan was running things in midfield and we could easily have been two, even three goals in front. But to hell with it, how can you think about a match on a night like this?''

Looking back down the years of stewardship that has elevated him to heroic proportions in the Republic did nothing to lighten the big fella's mood. "All I can think of is that there are still elements in England who are determined to use football as a vehicle for disgusting behaviour. I lost my temper tonight, there were tears of frustration in my eyes, I was embarrassed because the people behaving so badly were from my country. I wasn't upset when they chanted `Judas' because to think of me that way is mindless, proof of stupidity. But to see children running in terror, the hate on the faces of that mob, was deeply disturbing. I don't know what can be done about them, but if hooliganism has returned to English football as this and recent events suggest, then God help it.''

Although he has yet to put the idea forward, Charlton believes that an attempt should be made to replay the match. "If a date can be found and both associations are in agreement, I'd like to get it on quickly. It would give England a chance to repair their reputation and, after all, our supporters got only about half an hour of football for their money.''

When it was decided to abandon the game, Charlton was profoundly troubled. He envisaged violent scenes in the streets around Lansdowne Road, serious injuries, even fatalities. "Almost all our supporters behaved marvellously,'' he said, "but you can only take so much provocation so there was the fear of pitched battles. I'm not criticising the decision because who knows what might have happened had the teams returned.''

At breakfast yesterday, Charlton was still in a sober mood. Having discussed the previous night's deplorable events with senior officials, he was eager to get away from it. "Let's go,'' his wife said. "Yeah, let's go,'' Charlton replied. "Let's find some peace and quiet.''