Adventures in reporting... when the fax machines broke during Italia 90 

Adventures in reporting... when the fax machines broke during Italia 90 
Ireland fans in full voice at Italia 90. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

IT must have been well after midnight when we arrived back at base following the Republic of Ireland’s 1-1 draw with England in the opening game of Italia 90, 30 years ago last Thursday.

I was on player reaction duty for the then Cork Examiner with the game kicking off at 9pm local time, 8pm Irish time.

Deadlines were tight, but not overly so and with the usual co-operation of the Irish players, namely captain Mick McCarthy, goalscorer Kevin Sheedy, keeper Packie Bonner, and centre-forward Tony Cascarino, it all worked out smoothly enough.

Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland
Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Thirty years ago there were two ways of filing copy, calling it over the phone to one of the girls back in the office, Sandra, Joan, Joanne, or Anne.

It was painfully slow and laborious, but that was the custom until a new-fangled contraption came along: the fax machine.

You still travelled with your trusty old battered typewriter and spools of paper with the finished article put through this new gadget to appeared at the other end in Academy Street.

Anyone under 30 is probably thinking to themselves what the hell are typewriters and fax machines?

Go and ask granny and while you’re at it don’t even think about enquiring about reverse charge calls on landlines.

Basically, you got the local telephone operator to request this, providing the person at the receiving end was prepared to accept the charge.

Generally, there was never an issue save for one trip to Latvia, where the recently constructed hotel devised a scheme that you had to make the calls, running up a sizeable bill in the process.

Fans are too nervous to watch in Chambers Bar in Anglesea St during Italia 90.
Fans are too nervous to watch in Chambers Bar in Anglesea St during Italia 90.

The practice would be to ring the office with your telephone number and they’d call back, except on this occasion the number never existed.

Fax machines were all the rage at Press Centres in Italy and were used a lot by visiting journalists.

Anyway back at camp, about an hour’s journey from Cagliari, there was still time for a couple of beers with the rest of the Irish crew before hitting the scratcher.

Picture: Allsport
Picture: Allsport

The following day’s work started with a piece on the game for the Evening Echo with more re-action, routine enough until waking that morning.

The plan was to use fax again, but we were unsure about the hotel’s facilities, though you could always rely on the phone. Or so we thought.

Having bashed out the required length of story, it was time to give the office a buzz, just to keep in touch.

But, the phone was dead. Strange.

I knocked next door to be met by the equally puzzled occupant, who also had no phone line.

Up to the front desk to ascertain what that problem was, probably the effects of the electrical storm the night before.

Power outages were common enough on Sardinia, but along the way we encountered a line of colleagues in a queue for a public phone.

This was now starting to become a worry because deadlines were beginning to come into focus.

And while the then editor, the late Dermot Russell, would understand given his trials and tribulations with phones over his many years on the road, I wasn’t so sure about the sports ed, the Castlemartyr kid.

We got no help at all from the front desk, just shoulder shrugs indicating there was nothing they could do.

Word seeped out they had pulled the plug on all the phones because our bills were already made up for checking out later that morning.

Mind you, it took an amount of pleading and sobbing to convince them to use a phone near the desk to keep John Horgan from having a heart attack.

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