EVEN a mind-numbing seven-hour journey on a ‘dry’ train between Stuttgart and Hannover couldn’t detract from Germany’s impressive staging of the finals of the European Football Championships in 1988.
It was the day after Ray Houghton’s famous header in the 1-0 victory over England so everyone was in upbeat mood anyway.
The train itself looked as if it had been brought out of retirement for the occasion, one of those ‘football specials’ ferrying fans to and fro.
It was like an old CIE relic, sliding doors leading to compartments of two facing seats with room for half-a-dozen, three-on-three, and plenty of shuffling for all-important leg space.
An Irish tour operator rented it out for the day, but what Paddy hadn’t realised was that Gunther decided it would be free of alcohol for the trip.
It was tedious in the extreme, as you could imagine, and yet the German authorities were probably right because they had had a bellyful of the English nut jobs and their violent destruction, so putting temptation out of reach erred on the side of caution.
Euro 88 was the first time Ireland qualified for the finals of a major football championship which meant it was new to all of us green-horns on our maiden voyage.
Germany has built a reputation for doing things properly and this was a classic example of good, thorough organisation with nothing left to chance.
Elders with greater counsel proffered the idea that the country should be given the responsibility of hosting all major sporting events and it was clear why they held such views.
Hannover also provided great drama and excitement with Ronnie Whelan’s volley (even if did come off his shin), but a late Russian equaliser dampened the mood a touch.
All this leads to last weekend’s return of ‘live’ football with the resumption of the Bundesliga and it came as no surprise that the Germans would be the first of the major European leagues to get up and running.
It appears to have run smoothly despite all games behind closed doors and pages and pages of restrictions governing everyone from the ball boys to the bench to the media seats.
The eyes of the sporting world, except the US more than likely, were on the German return and the early reaction seems very positive.
So much so that the English Premiership stars began the arduous process of regaining fitness before a projected start in the middle of next month, though an end-of-June-return is more likely.
Scotland bowed to the inevitable and ended their season, club financial controllers itching to get their share of the £7m pot to keep them afloat for the next campaign.
La Liga in Spain was quick to congratulate the Germans and the clubs and the governing body agreed a timetable for Messi and co to return next month.
Games will kick off late at night because of the heat and there will be matches every night, including Mondays.
Here, there will be plenty of encouragement to be derived from the German model while highlighting the huge difference between professional and amateur sport at the same time.
The Government appointed Return to Sport Expert Group will provide guidance to sporting bodies to prepare for the phased return.
It’s made up of a dozen individuals from Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Sport Ireland and the Sport Sector.
The latter category has Feargal McGill, Croke Park’s Head of Games Administration, while Doctors Alan Byrne and Rod McLoughlin represent the FAI and the IRFU respectively.
It looks a well balanced body of expertise which should guide us out of the current gloom…eventually.