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‘Big Jack’s’ Greatest Gift To The Irish

“Great players become great through adversity”.

– Jack Charlton, World Cup Winner 1966 and Manager of Ireland Soccer Team, 1986-1996.

If you’re Irish you’ll know that someone special to Irish people everywhere left the planet over the weekend – Jack Charlton.

For those reading this that have never heard of him, Jack was an English coal-miner’s son who became a professional footballer and won the soccer World Cup with England in 1966.

He went on to become a manager and took over the Irish soccer team in the late ‘80s, having been ignored by his own country. Expectations were low as the Irish team were perennial underachievers despite having some decent players.

But ‘Big Jack’, as he was known, played the team to their strengths and created a style of play that was very difficult to play against. He had a reputation as being a manager who could make the most of the thinnest resources – and with the Irish setup he had a great opportunity to do just that!

His team was not always pretty to watch but they were incredibly effective.

And under his watch, they qualified for major tournaments for the first time in history, taking Ireland firstly to the Euro Championship in 1988, and then to successive World Cups in 1990 and 1994.

I remember in July 1990 being in a bar in Antwerp, Belgium as a student on summer work, watching Ireland beating Romania in the ’90 World Cup to advance to the World Cup Quarter Finals.

It was beyond anything we could have imagined and words can’t describe the feeling but it was a night I will never forget.

Ireland changed over that summer. Everyone was caught up in the journey of the impossible. It changed the way we saw ourselves as a country and Jack’s reign is widely credited with kick-starting Ireland’s great economic boon that followed over the next 15 years – The sense of optimism inspired by his team seemed to create this mindset of ‘anything really is possible’.

And maybe that was the most special gift Jack gave to his adopted country.

The self-belief that despite not having the best we could punch above our weight, by playing to our strengths.

A lesson that is very relevant today no matter where you are globally.

We may not have everything the way we want, but with the right attitude and effort, it’s still possible to win games.



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