The first finals of the European Championships took place in 1960, however the call for a Europe wide national football tournament was first made back in 1927 by French football administrator Henri Delaunay. Delaunay was a former footballer, taking to the pitch for the short lived Paris side Étoile des Deux Lacs, after he hung his boots up he went into refereeing. Unfortunately for Delaunay, his refereeing career would come to a painful halt after he swallowed his whistle after being hit on the head by the ball during a game between ES Benevolence and AF Garenne-Doves. Not long after that unfortunate incident he went into administration work in 1905, becoming the club President of Étoile des Deux Lacs. After a spell in that job he moved on to become the secretary general of the Comité Français Interfédéral which was the forerunner of the French Football Federation.
He went on to become a committee member of FIFA, a colleague of Jules Rimet. History tells us Rimet was a very vocal and important voice in the setting up of the world cup tournament, so was Delaunay and the former club President of Étoile des Deux Lacs also played an important part of the setting up of the European Cup, today’s Champions League. You can say what you like about the French, I know quite a lot of people, quite stupidly, like to have a go at them for whatever reason, but one things for sure, when you look at the world of football today, how successful it is worldwide, we owe the French quite a debt, including Henri Delaunay. The European Championship trophy, lifted by so many of the great names of European football, is known as the Henri Delaunay trophy, a trophy his son Pierre designed.
Seventeen countries entered that inaugural European Championship tournament. Those seventeen countries were vying for just four places for the final stages of the competition, not surprisingly held in France. It would be quite a while before the European Championships evolved into the format that we know today where a number of countries converge on one host country. Not everyone was taken with the tournament for one reason or another, it’s interesting to note that England, Italy, Holland and West Germany all decided not to take part.
It would be a further eight years until the tournament saw England take an interest and West Germany wouldn’t be seen at the tournament until 1972. The Soviet Union emerged victorious in that first ever Euro’s, they beat Yugoslavia in final in Paris 2 – 1 after extra time. The score after normal time was 1 – 1, the goals scored by Slava Metreveli of Torpedo Moscow for the Soviet Union and Milan Galić of Partizan Belgrade for the Yugoslavs. During extra time Viktor Ponedelnik of FC Rostov won it for the Soviets with a goal in the 113rd minute.
As you can imagine, due to the political landscape back then, it was quite a heated match, two communist countries yes, but neither country had much respect for each other. As I’m sure you’re aware, it was Jackie Charlton who was in charge of the Irish Republic team back in ’88. Charlton was the first non-Irish manager the Republic had ever had, first being approached for the role in 1985, he eventually put pen to paper for the job as team manager of the Republic of Ireland in ’86 and was in the job for ten years before being succeeded by Mick McCarthy.
The European Championship of 1988 was the first time that the Irish Republic had qualified for the tournament, doing so by finishing top of qualifying Group 7. That particular group was a close run thing. The Republic only managed to top the group after Scotland won in Sofia, which meant the Irish would be topping the group and not the Bulgarians. So, the Republic of Ireland headed for West Germany with some serious talent in the squad. In goal was Irish goalkeeping legend Packie Bonner, born in Cloughglass in County Donegal, he spent twenty years in goal for Glasgow Celtic.
Deputizing for Bonner was Gerry Peyton of AFC Bournemouth. Charlton took five defenders with him to Poland, Chris Morris a team mate of Bonner’s at Celtic, John Anderson of Newcastle United, Chris Hughton of Tottenham Hotspur, Mick McCarthy also of Glasgow Celtic and Manchester United Great Dublin born Kevin Moran. The Republic’s midfield quotient consisted of Ronnie Whelan of Liverpool, another United Great and soon to be a superb servant for Aston Villa Paul McGrath, Ray Houghton of Liverpool, Tony Galvin formerly of Spurs and the then Sheffield Wednesday midfielder, Liam O’ Brien of Manchester United and last but certainly not least the easily world class Kevin Sheedy of Everton.
Charlton’s forwards were former United stalwart Frank Stapleton of Derby County who would be wearing the captain’s arm band, John Aldridge of Liverpool, Tony Cascarino of Millwall, David Kelly of Walsall, John Byrne of French club La Harve, John Sheridan of Leeds United and Niall Quinn of Arsenal. So as you can see, there was some great players in that squad.
The Republic were drawn into Group B, along with the Soviet Union, England and Holland. Their first group game was against England in Stuttgart at the Neckerstadion, home of VFB Stuttgart, a stadium now known as the Mercedes Benz Arena, and what a game it was. Irish eyes were smiling as the Republic embarrassed the English who were the hot favorites for the game. The Republic scored an early goal in the game, in the 6th minute, Ray Houghton striking the ball well right past Peter Shilton. It was a frustrating tournament for the English, yes they too had some quality players in their squad, such as Bryan Robson, Gary Lineker, Peter Reid and Tony Adams. However, unfortunately for Bobby Robson’s team, there were area’s on the pitch where they were found wanting, especially at this high level.
Peter Shilton was way past his best, and players such as Tony Dorigo and Mark Wright were always going to find it difficult against class opposition later on in the tournament. England lost all their group games in West Germany. After the Republic of Ireland game, they lost to Holland 3 – 1 in Dusseldorf and lost to the Soviet Union by the same score in Frankfurt at the Waldstadion, home of Eintracht Frankfurt, today it’s known as the Commerzbank Arena. Anyway, let’s get back to the Republic of Ireland.
After the victory over England, Jack’s boys headed north to Hanover, to the Niedersachsenstadion (now known as Stadium Hanover), home of Hanover 96. There they were to meet the Soviet Union. It ended in a 1 – 1 draw. The Republic’s Ronnie Whelan opened the scoring late in the first half. It looked like the Republic were going to make it two wins out of two in their first European Championship, unfortunately Oleh Protasov of Dynamo Kiev equalized for the Soviets late in the game, and that’s how it finished.
For their final group game, the Irish traveled west to Gelsenkirchen and to the now defunct Parkstadion, former home of FC Schalke 04. There they met the eventual winners of Euro 88, Holland. It was a close game, both teams had their chances but it was Wim Kieft of PSV Eindhoven who scored the only goal of the game for the Dutch.
It meant the Republic of Ireland would be joining England on the plane home, the Republic finished 3rd in the group, the Soviet Union and the Dutch progressing from the group. To be fair, Jack’s team came very close to making it through to the next round, only losing out on goal difference to, as mentioned, the eventual winners Holland.