By Dermot Clarke
The Neckarstadion Stuttgart, Sunday, June 12, 1988. England versus the Republic of Ireland, the European Championship Finals, the most historic day in Irish football history. Six minutes gone and an attempted clearance by Kenny Sansom is sliced and falls to the head of John Aldridge, who finds his Liverpool teammate Ray Houghton. Houghton heads past a bewildered Peter Shilton to score, Ireland beat the old enemy, 1-0, on a day that will never be forgotten. Or will it?
A proposal for a joint testimonial for the main protagonists in the plot on that particular day, Houghton and Aldridge, were turned down by the FAI last week.
"Ray Houghton and John Aldridge have been magnificent servants to Irish soccer since making their debuts 12 years ago," said the FAI’s chief executive, Bernard O’Byrne. "It is regrettable but we cannot facilitate the request at this time."
The proposal was turned down on two counts. First, the application, which was made last month, was late, and thus the schedule for the coming year was full. Second, neither Houghton nor Aldridge had amassed the requisite 75 caps required to gain consideration for such a tribute, a decision apparently made by the boys in Merrion Square as far back as 1994. This means that at that stage Packie Bonner would have been the only player that met with the requirements, having accumulated 80 caps.
Since that decision though, Mick McCarthy (57 caps) and Chris Hughton (53 caps) have been given testimonials, so it seems that the boys down Merrion Square way are at it again. The point about the schedule being full is a tad ironic also, for, where it not for the likes of Aldridge and Houghton, the FAI dance card would be comparatively bare.
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Testimonials were designed originally for players who had hit upon hardship at the end of their careers. In more recent times, though, they were given as a kind of gift for services rendered. The Republic of Ireland team has had few better servants than Aldridge and Houghton. In a joint testimonial, they could produce a total of 142 caps between them.Way above the requisite loop-hole perhaps? They deserve their day in the sun and the Lansdowne stands would fill to capacity with those of us who still remember June 12, 1988 with a smug smile.