So, after a 10-year wait, Ireland has at last qualified for a soccer tournament: Euro 2012. Our mere qualification should give the country a great boost next summer, and I’m looking forward to the draw and the unfolding drama at the tournament itself.
I remember celebrating Ireland’s 2002 World Cup progress for almost a month, watching Packie Bonner save that infamous penalty at Italia ‘90, the great football songs from Euro ‘88 and the other tournaments, and of course cheering on the team throughout USA ‘94.
This particular extract from Lord of the Rams captures my experiences during that historic ‘94 meeting between Ireland and Italy.
Ray Houghton has a lot to answer for. Sure, he is an Irish soccer legend who famously put the ball in the English net, but he’s also partly responsible for one of the biggest drinking sessions in Irish history.
It was June 1994 and, with just one final exam to sit in the Junior Certificate, the Rams and his mates were already in party mood. Rams and Mara had been attending discos at Springs for almost a year, and now Stano, Terry and Boo Boo were also on board, meaning they all potentially had a great summer of partying ahead of them.
The football World Cup had kicked off, and the Irish team faced a daunting challenge in their opening match against Italy at the Giant’s stadium in New York. The game was to take place on a Saturday evening Irish-time, and it was to be broadcast live on a big screen at Springs, with a disco to follow. The lads hopped on a mini-bus in town, and arrived at Springs early enough to secure a table with a decent view of the screen.
First they had to get past the bouncers. Normally this wasn’t a problem, only this time there were two gardai inspecting ID cards at the door. The Rams had a bit of a predicament on his hands because his precious fake ID had been confiscated by a bouncer on a recent visit to the club, and now he didn’t know how he was going to gain entry.
Fortunately, Lady Luck was in town that night and so was Paschal Baugh. Paschal was a fellow Munterconnaught man, in his mid-twenties, and a hell of a sound fella to boot. He had been playing with his popular band, Abinitzio, in the lounge bar of the Springs that evening, and was packing some of the band equipment into his car when the Rams spotted him. He quickly darted over to Paschal and, following a few minutes of small talk, asked if he could borrow some form of ID from him that would help him get past the gardai. Ever the obliging chap, Paschal rummaged through his wallet, but only managed to produce a blood donor card, which had nothing but his name on it.
‘That will do. Cheers Paschal,’ said the Rams, and he rejoined the queue for the nightclub.
When the Rams reached the top of the queue, the local Sergeant greeted him and pulled him aside for the obligatory interrogation.
‘Could I see some form of identification please?’
The Rams searched through his wallet for a few moments before calmly replying.
‘I seem to have left my ID at home, Sergeant. All I have is this blood donor card.’
‘There’s no date of birth on this card,’ growled the Sergeant in an attempt to rain on Rams’s parade.
‘Ah, but you have to be at least 18 to carry one of these cards,’ grinned the Rams, pleased that he had surely put the Sergeant back in his box.
‘Is that right? Tell me Paschal; where are you from?’
‘Easy question,’ thought the Rams. ‘Keep them coming.’
‘Have you any brothers or sisters?’
Now this was a strange one. The Rams didn’t know the Baugh family well. Paschal was the youngest in the family. He had an older brother, Damien, but that was about as much as Rams knew about the Baugh family tree. Nevertheless, surely any answer would suffice in order to appease the Sergeant.
‘Just the one brother, Damien.’
‘And what’s your mother’s name?’
‘Fucked if I know. But sure I’m on a roll here. I might as well fill this lad full of shite.’
‘Now you listen here, Son,’ roared the Sergeant. ‘I know the Baugh family very well. I know Paschal and all of his many brothers and sisters. I even know his mother. Hell, I could probably tell you what the Baughs had for breakfast this morning. I’m warning you now. If you ever darken this door again, you’ll be in a whole heap of trouble.’
Having confiscated the donor card, the Sergeant proved that he wasn’t a complete ogre by allowing Rams into the club, despite his deceitfulness.
‘Jaysis, it’s a small old world,’ said the Rams, stating the obvious as he rejoined his friends at a table close to the dance floor. Shortly thereafter, the DJ began fuelling the soccer frenzy with classic Irish football songs such as Put ’em under pressure and Give it a lash Jack. Rams was the only one amongst his group not drinking beer. Most of the lads had recently begun experimenting with drink, but Rams was holding tight—at least for the time being.
Mara began guzzling back the pints with the thirst of a well-parched camel and, by the time the pre-match coverage started, he was as pissed as a fart. Spirits were high throughout the nightclub as the match got underway. Italy may have been the hot favourites, but you can never count out the Irish. With only 11 minutes gone in the match, Houghton intercepted an attempted clearance from Baresi and then, from 40 yards out, he quickly turned and fired an incredible shot over the head of the out-of-position Pagliuca. Everyone in the Springs, along with every other man, woman and child in the country, began screaming in an unparalleled and unified moment of euphoria. As the time ticked by, Ireland’s other hero of the day, Paul McGrath, played out of his skin to help his country secure a historic win. Once again and, not for the last time that night, Put ’em under pressure and Give it a lash Jack reverberated throughout the club. People were dancing all over the place, sworn enemies became best friends for the night, and there wasn’t a single soul failing to contribute to the electric atmosphere.
A large puddle of vomit consumed an area close to where the lads had been sitting. It wasn’t the watery type of puke one might associate with over-consumption of alcohol. Instead, it looked like someone had been mixing cement and poured it onto the floor. It was obviously the creation of some gobshite or other who had opted for chips and a few burgers before taking more drink on board than they could handle.
Undetected by Mara, the cement mix seemed to be drawing him closer to it as he danced a drunken dance that no man had ever seen before or would like to see again. In no time, Sean George was gyrating atop the puddle and, as people ran for cover in case they’d be splashed amid the horrific jig, he slipped in the mess, covering himself from head to toe in the vomit. Puking over oneself is never good, but dressing in someone else’s regurgitated dinner is just inexcusable. Nonetheless, Mara seemed unaffected and, getting to his feet, he continued the dance that was—because of the fall—now more gross than it was entertaining.
As the madness ensued throughout the club, the Rams decided that he’d bite the bullet and sample some alcohol. With money constraints at the back of his mind, he decided to take a swig or two from Boo Boo’s bottle of Heineken and, once that went down okay, he made for the bar to buy his first beer.
That infamous night in Springs in June 1994 marked the beginning of a long era of drinking sessions that would take the lads to many strange towns, resulting in numerous eventful and often hilarious adventures. Shame on you, Ray Houghton; you set the wheels in motion for all that followed.
Ronan Smith is the author of Munterconnaught’s best selling comedy memoir, Lord of the Rams. Described as “a real treat to read that you will devour” (The Irish Post), “a diverting and entertaining read” (Evening Herald) and “genuinely funny” (Books Ireland), the book can be purchased for €10 (including worldwide P&P) directly from the author via http://www.lordoftherams.com/buythebooksigned.htm. Read more FREE extracts of the book at www.lordoftherams.com.