It’s 25 June, 1990. An entire nation – football haters included – hold their collective breath. Pints tremble in clammy hands and Irish pubs and sitting rooms, for once, are quiet. We’re not going to make it to a World Cup quarter final. Are we?
Donegal’s Atlantic edge is dotted with a dizzying number of seaside towns. Dungloe with its steep, San Francisco-style main-street and famously moreish whipped ice-creams. Or Killybegs, famous for its ever-present gathering of dinky fishing boats. Don’t forget Kincasslagh, home to famous crooner Daniel O’Donnell and doorway to possibly the most beautiful Atlantic beaches in Europe.
Then there’s Burtonport.
If you’re in a hurry, you’ll be seeing Burtonport from your rear-view mirror. Think two lines of houses, a cute pier and that rocky ruggedness that makes Donegal such a charmer. You’ll also miss beautifully spoken Irish (you’re in the Gaeltacht here) and probably the freshest seafood that will ever pass your lips at The Lobster Pot.
You’ll also miss the hometown of an Irish footballing legend – Packie Bonner.
Packie Bonner wasn’t used to the kind of heat that was bubbling in Genoa’s Stadio Luigi Ferraris on 25 June 1990. When the game ended in stalemate, and penalties beckoned, he was out of the kitchen and into the fire.
Eight penalties taken, and neither goalkeeper has saved once. The Romanian, Timofte, steps up, shoots to Bonner’s low right. Instead of net, the ball hits a huge pair of Burtonport hands. It’s 4-4.
If Ireland’s David O’Leary scores, we’re in the World Cup Quarter finals.
Cue pints on the floor, granny in your arms, Dad in tears and the dog leaping at the TV.
You’ll never beat the Irish
Since and before that day in Genoa, Irish football fans have earned a uniquely adored reputation, wherever they go. Via their set list of ‘The Fields of Athenry’, and ‘You’ll Never Beat The Irish’ they have endeared themselves to about every football stadium over the globe.
It was during their last journey, to follow the team through Euro 2012 in Poland, that they overdid themselves. In an interview with the Examiner newspaper, Damian Zalewski from the Poznan City Promotion Office described the effect the Irish fans had on the city and the tournament:
“Our reaction to the Irish can be seen all over the city on every Polish person’s face,” he said “The Irish brought such a positive atmosphere to us. It was 10 crazy days. We were expecting and hoping for large crowds. But we weren’t expecting just how great the Irish were.”
Should lady luck be on Ireland’s side, the fans might find themselves travelling to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup.
If they do, there’s a certain Gathering that might prepare them.
The Irish World Cup
Welcome to the Irish World Cup and welcome to one of Ireland’s busiest places of learning, University College Dublin. This rolling campus sitting on the edge of Dublin City centre will, this June, become a joyous focal point for the Beautiful Game.
A World Cup Village, visits to the Guinness Storehouse and the Aviva Stadium (home of the Republic of Ireland football team) and plenty of live nightly entertainment have marked this Gathering out as a footballer’s dream.
But what about the actual football?
We’re getting to that.
As the leading amateur football tournament of 2013, and the largest since the Paralympics, there’s no doubting that this is serious. Teams from all over the globe will take pit their skills on UCD’s natural grass playing pitches from the 7-9 June. That means a lot of football – each team will play at least six games.
Who knows, you might even witness your very own Packie Bonner moment?