I wondered today whether to post this, as Ireland is reeling in shock at the choice made by Britain to leave the EU. It seemed wrong to post something trivial when so many are fearful what may lie ahead. However Britain’s choice only makes me feel more protective and proud of my own country. We are a small nation of five million, with the heart of a lion. Our will, courage and good humour will get us through. All of which were in evidence on Tuesday night as it was also that famous evening twenty six years ago at Italia ’90.
Ireland have just got through to the last sixteen in the Euros, or the European Soccer finals for those not in the know. Over the past two weeks the male population in this country has dropped significantly, as the green army marched to France. I suspect as I write some are planning sick notes, others searching behind couches for any euros they can find to help fund a trip to the quarter finals while those here at home are planning where to watch the next match Sunday afternoon.
I’m not a soccer fan. I didn’t watch the first match, which we drew. I barely watched the second, which we lost. However like the majority of the country I was sucked in to watch the match last Tuesday night. I heard all sorts of predictions before it began, even the most hopeful was delivered with a definite lack of belief. Yet we still all sat down and began to watch… believing. As the minutes ticked on we hoped, towards the end we prayed, and with minutes to go we roared, as the ball hit the back of Italy’s net.
All the shouting and celebrations, the singing and good humour brought me back to Italia 90, the World Cup finals.
It was the evening of our last chance game. Ireland were playing Romania. A win would bring us through to the final sixteen. The country was obsessed, with the tricolour flying in every house and town in Ireland, the pubs full and workplaces empty. The country was talking of nothing else and loudly singing Olé, Olé, Olé at every opportunity.
I was working as a nurse that evening. As that final match drew near, we dragged every bed we could, into the day room. The walking wounded were given seats or sat on the gathered beds. No one still breathing missed the chance to see it.
The atmosphere was electric. During the ninety minutes play there was roaring and shouting, moaning and groaning. Finally the whistle blew… a draw. Oh my goodness, another thirty minutes. We sweated and fretted until the whistle blew once more… a draw.
Minutes before the penalties began in walked some of the nuns who ran the hospital, five of them to be exact. They’d been listening to the radio but couldn’t resist coming to watch. They made their way up close to the TV and in unison knelt down and began to recite the rosary. The penalties began and it was neck and neck. Finally it was four all. One penalty taker each left.
A hush descended, broken only by the hum of the rosary, as we waited for Romania to take their penalty. We watched our goalie, Packie Bonner, lean forward, staring at the ball. Collectively we held our breaths as the nuns prayers filled the room. Mr Romania kicked, the ball sailed towards our net, Packie dived… and saved it. The room went crazy, but the nuns continued, undisturbed.
Now it was Irelands turn. We held our breaths. As the nuns prayed on, a little louder than before, our eyes were glued to the TV. Ireland stepped up to take the penalty. Time stood still. The ball took off towards the goal. The goalie dived the wrong way and the ball sailed into the back of Romania’s net. The day room exploded, the nuns forgot their prayers and joined in like the rest of us. Ireland partied for days.
Even after all these years, I can’t forget it that magical evening. This Sunday Ireland will advance to play France. I have no idea what the result will be, but I do know that this game called soccer, which I’ve no interest in usually, will do more to lift the country than a hot summer or the ending of the recession. Hopefully, just for a while, we can all forget about Brexit too.
Roll on Sunday. Come on you boys in Green! Win or lose it’s going to be a great weekend.
Image via Joe.ie