An Irish football hero since November 1993, Alan McLoughlin chats to Póg Mo Goal’s Dave O’Grady about the release of ‘A Different Shade of Green – The Alan McLoughlin Story’, nominated for Irish Sports Book of the Year. He talks about his personal battle with cancer, that famous night in Windsor Park, Roy Keane’s Rolex watch and much more.
In October 2012, McLoughlin was diagnosed with cancer of the kidney. A Different Shade of Green opens with an astonishing account of one of his first realisations that something was seriously wrong. Was his willingness to speak so openly inspired by other sports people such as John Hartson and Stiliyan Petrov?
“Probably as John and Stiliyan did, morally, you think it’s the right thing to do. There’s a perception that people involved in sport are immune to ailments and illness. It doesn’t work like that. That’s not how life pans out.”
Nineteen years earlier McLoughlin wrote his name into Irish footballing folklore with an exquisite finish in a cauldron of hate that was Windsor Park, Belfast.
“It’s something I’d practised. As soon as I took the shot I knew it was in the net. It was more the euphoria of scoring the first goal for Ireland rather than the euphoria of ‘Oh I’ve just scored and that goal could potentially take us to the World Cup’. There was no thoughts in my head other than ‘Thank God I’ve scored my first international goal’. That was the overriding joy. That was how much it meant to me.”
“I played a very very minor part in that qualifying campaign and I’ve managed to hog the limelight since then. There were players that played in every game and grafted and I picked up the limelight at the end but I balance it out by saying well actually I was in every squad. I turned up for every game. I didn’t have an excuse like I’d pulled a hamstring in summer time. I was there. I wanted to be there.”
“It was a privilege to play for Ireland and to be picked to play with such a great group of players. And that was the biggest draw for me to be mixing with the likes of Paul McGrath, Packie Bonner, Dave O’Leary, Liam Brady, Roy Keane, Andy Townsend, Steve Staunton. These were great players. It was a magical time.”
McLoughlin was born in Manchester of Irish parents and believes the term ‘plastic paddies’ was often aimed at Jack Charlton’s squad out of jealousy.
“At that particular time, it was a cheap shot, and it was a cheap shot because we were doing so well as a footballing nation.”
“If you look at teams now, and then, they were utilising the same tools that Jack was using and now it’s got to the point where it’s just natural. I mean Germany have lots of players who weren’t actually born in Germany and it’s not even slightly spoken about now.”
McLoughlin is also fortright in his views on playing for Ireland.
“As long as people are level-headed and enjoy their football and certainly want players to come and play for Ireland and not have shrugged shoulders when it comes to the end of season, and they’re on holidays somewhere rather than turning up to friendlies or qualifiers, or high-profile tournaments maybe in America or elsewhere. And that’s the mark of whether you’ve got committed players, and I know one thing for sure that the Irish fans are committed fully to supporting their team and they should support them through the good times, the bad times and everything else that goes with it.”
“That’s part and parcel of supporting your team, your country. It’s also part and parcel of playing for your team and country. It’s highs and lows and when those lows are there, they’re disappointing. It’s not very often you get your highs so enjoy them when they come along.”
You can vote for A Different Shade of Green by Alan McLoughlin (with Bryce Evans) for Irish Sports Book of the Year here