Category: Archive

Saudi game brings nation to a standstill

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Stephen McKinley

DUBLIN — By 11 a.m. on Tuesday, it seemed as if some mysterious force had made everyone in Dublin vanish.

Fitzwilliam Place, normally busy with traffic, was empty. Baggot Street was devoid of humanity. A handful of cars came along Grand Parade, but otherwise, Ireland’s capital gave all the appearance of a ghost town.

Football fever was working its magic, and the mystery as to whereeveryone had disappeared to was in part solved by the signs stuck on the door of the Submarine Bar in Crumlin: “House Full” they read.

It was still only 12:30 p.m., but for the Ireland team, it was kick-off time half a world away in Japan. The supporters back home were getting ready to cheer loudly enough so that Mick McCarthy, Robbie Keane, Niall Quinn and the others could hear them

Inside, the Submarine Bar looked like the three levels of a converted theater complete with a gallery and opera boxes. There were upwards of 1,000 rowdy, raucous screaming fans, a boiling pot of green, white and gold.

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On a 20-foot square screen this most crucial game against Saudi Arabia had started, the game that everyone said could be tougher than expected. “No room for complacency” were the words on every football commentator’s lips since days before.

If anyone had seemed complacent at the Submarine Bar, it seemed likely that the fans would have killed and eaten them.

“Come on, you boys in green,” went the chants from the rolling sea of green, white and gold on the ground floor. In the gallery, having secured their prime viewing position by lining up outside the Submarine since 10 a.m., was another horde of chanting, yelling, cheering fans.

“OlT, olT, olT, olT,” they roared. “Keane-o! Keane-o! Keane-o!” There was a vested interest in this part of Dublin aside from simple patriotism — Robbie Keane was from nearby Tallaght.

Toward the back of the bar, where there was another battery of smaller TV screens, stood Jim Loughran, who was coach of Crumlin Football Club, where Robbie Keane had played as an 11-year-old.

Loughran had no doubts about the boy’s potential.

“We had him on the team since he was 11. He said he always wanted to play in the World Cup,” Loughran said. “And I never had a doubt but that he would.”

As if hearing his words, Keane sent Loughran and the crowd a special gift all the way from Japan and smashed the ball into the back of the Saudi net after only 6 minutes: goal number one.

“That’s what they needed,” the commentator yelled, barely audible over the roar of the Submarine crowd. They drowned him out.

“Keane-o!” they screamed. From the gallery, a fountain of beer and cider sprayed from bottles and pints. Tricolors danced crazily. Staff from the bar’s long stainless steel canteen fled their stations and ran to where they could see, scream and cheer as well. Each replay made them roar the more.

Back to play: the crowd calmed, but stayed flushed with this ecstatic first blood of the match. In the front row, two women bobbed up and down, dancing and singing, wearing official shirts, green top hats and green and orange wigs.

From the TV, as the game moved forward, one heard “thwunk,” the sound of the ball being belted back and forth.

Good news

Good news from the big screen: Germany was a man down in its match against Cameroon, meaning there was more chance of an outright victory, easing the pressure on the Irish team.

Would the Irish players be aware of the score in the other game, wondered one man to his friend. Doubtful, was the response. Manager Mick McCarthy would not want them to relax. McCarthy’s presence on the screen was greeted with roars of approval and long bursts of applause.

Halftime: a Sky News reporter with a camera crew managed to drag Alan Hunter out of the crowd and up on to the stage. Hunter, the burly president of the local football supporters’ club, was full of confidence. His headgear alone was a 2-foot tall green and white top hat.

“Forty-five minutes to go, and we’re going all the way this time,” he said. “One goal is good, but we’ll get a second. You’ll see.” He turned to the crowd and conducted a chant of “Ireland, Ireland, Ireland.”

Turning back to the TV camera, he added: “We have this halfway won. Now see us go all the way.”

Out of the crowd came the hungry, heading for the canteen. Fat, foot-long rolls were thickly spread with buttery, then lined with bacon and topped off with two sausages. On the side: chips with curry sauce. Food not for the fainthearted, but these fans sensed victory and their hearts were strong.

Soon it was back to the game. The crowd’s energy was less wild this time, more confident and focused on what must surely be a second goal, and therefore victory. This team, Ireland’s best ever, must surely beat the one-goal curse — having never before scored more than one goal in any World Cup game.

At the edge of the stage a young man lifted up his Ireland shirt and kissed it, his eyes never deviating from the 20-foot screen.

“The way it stands at the moment,” said a local man, tucking into his foot-long bacon, sausage and bread affair, “Germany will top the group, Ireland second, and Cameroon will go home.”

The clincher

A free kick to Steve Staunton; out of nowhere, it seemed, Irish defender Gary Breen slipped past the Saudi defenders and slotted home the vital second goal, the ball ducking under the goalkeeper and into the net. The Submarine Bar crowd leaped into the air as one.

Amid the screams, whistles and cheers that went on for minutes, little oases of calm stood out: a supporter here and there in the crowd stood and stared, transfixed by the beauty of this Irish moment. Ireland had done it. They were on their way to the Round of 16 of the 2002 World Cup Finals.

More roaring for Mick McCarthy, whose often-dour face was now grinning from ear to ear on screen. Back among the Submarine crowd, a teenager adjusted his ready-made, real time T-shirt: he had attachable Velcro numbers so that he could change the lettering so that it now read, “Ireland 2, Saudi Arabia 0.”

Could this moment get any better? It did: 3 minutes before full-time, and Damien Duff drove a third goal through the fingers of the Saudi keeper. Wild as this crowd was, they went even wilder, with cheers shaking the floors, whistles piercing the air, and a forest of upraised arms punching the thick, hot air.

“We’re going to kick Spain out 2-nil on Sunday,” said Jim Loughran, Robbie Keane’s childhood coach.

“You’ll never beat the Irish,” yelled his friend, Brenda Loughran. There were other Loughrans at hand to add their opinion. Said Liam Loughran over the noise of the crowd. “We expected the first match to be very tough. The second match I knew we would draw. Everyone expected us to win this one, but not with 3-nil. This is a great achievement.”

“We’ll be partying until next Sunday,” yelled Pat Merridan.

“We’ll be going for a while,” added Paddy Loughran, Liam Loughran’s boss. He said that after a 3-nil victory, he would not feel too bad about letting Liam off work for a day or two. Jim Loughran’s final words on the famous victory were more measured, the words of one who knew from experience to take nothing in football for granted: “I think it will be a draw against

Spain on Sunday. I watched their last two matches and they were very good.”

Spain and Sunday was the least of the crowd’s concern, who greeted each replayed goal with more roars of approval, chants of “you’ll never beat the Irish,” and cheers.

McCarthy appeared on screen to give his after-match analysis. He seemed happy, but chewed his tongue carefully as he thought about his response.

“I think we were excellent in the second half,” he said. “Everyone has a good time watching it, but you want to try sitting in that dugout with your backside in the bacon slicer,” admitting that he had been nervous.

A few people spilled out of the Submarine Bar into broad day light, where cars passing through the busy junction honked their horns and waved in celebration.

The young man with the changeable T-shirt stepped outside. On his chest it now read “Ireland 3, Saudi Arabia 0.” Ireland had done it, and then some.

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