Republic of Ireland 1 England 1
IT was a Monday night, 30 years ago on June 11, on the island of Sardinia and the weather Gods turned against Ireland’s historic first appearance in the World Cup finals.
Italia 90 captured the attention of the country like no other, but for the many Irish fans in the crowd of 35,328 at Cagliari’s Sant’Elia Stadium, it was more like survival than savouring the moment.
An electrical storm lit up the stadium as thunder pealed, lightning flashed, the wind whipped up a frenzy and rain poured from the Heavens.
Both sets of fans, who paid £157,124 in gate receipts, did their best to coax and cajole the players, but it was almost in vain as a best-forgotten-game limped along.
Over two years ago, to the day almost, Ray Houghton had written himself into Irish folklore with his famous looping header in the 1-0 win over the English at Euro 88.
The same day renowned England striker Gary Lineker couldn’t hit the proverbial Bavarian barn-door but it only took him eight minutes on this occasion to set the record straight.
It came from a well-struck Chris Waddle cross and Lineker ghosted in behind captain Mick McCarthy to chest the ball down beyond keeper Packie Bonner before scrambling the ball over the line.
Afterwards McCarthy raised his arms to admit responsibility.
“It was my mistake. I thought I was well-positioned to head the ball away, but Gary got in behind me and scored. Give credit to Waddle, however, for a very good cross,” the skipper said.
Yet, McCarthy made an interesting observation about Ireland falling behind so early in the game.
“Their goal actually drained the tension out of our system because we knew we had to battle hard to get something out of the game.”
And it wasn’t lost on anyone time at the time because defeat in your opening game of three in tight pools made it a right uphill fight to qualify.
Ireland huffed and puffed for an equaliser and eventually their persistence paid off, courtesy of Kevin Sheehy’s sweet left-foot equaliser across keeper Peter Shilton.
England manager Bobbie Robson had introduced Liverpool’s Steve McMahon in the 70th minute, but it was his mistake, three minutes later, which offered Ireland a lifeline.
“Steve lost the ball on the edge of his own area and it happened to fall kindly for me,” said Everton’s Sheedy.
“I struck it perfectly and was thrilled to see it go in at the far post.
“It was great to score because I was getting a bit of stick for not playing that well for my country.
“Some of the criticism was justified and I hope my goal will prove that I still have something to offer Ireland,” Sheedy commented.
Thirty years on and memories of the game remain hazy, apart from the weather and the equaliser.
One still stands out. After the match, Shilton and England captain Bryan Robson stopped and spoke to the Irish press members but there were no English reporters around.
The players had boycotted their press because of tabloid headlines.
You know, the sort of ‘Gazza Ate My Hamster’ rubbish. Our English colleagues were on the bus looking out, wondering.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Bonner; Morris, McCarthy (c), Moran, Staunton; Houghton, McGrath, Townsend, Sheedy; Cascarino, Aldridge.
Sub: McLoughlin for Aldridge 64.
ENGLAND: Shilton; Stevens, Walker, Butcher, Pearce; Waddle, Robson (c), Gascoigne, Barnes; Beardsley, Lineker.
Subs: McMahon for Beardsley 69, Bull for Lineker 80.