“But it wasn’t just the physical pain. There was something else, too; a niggling feeling, an infrequent visitor which I hardly recognised at first: fear.
In the silence and the darkness, my hands clutching the steering wheel as if it was some sort of anchor to normality, I tried to pull myself together. The first tactic which came to mind was to try and remember when the last time was that I had experienced fear like this, and how I had dealt with it then.
And with that, my mind wandered all the way back to November 1993.”
Gary Mackay’s goal for Scotland sent Ireland to Euro ’88. A facile win in Malta secured passage to our first ever World Cup in 1990. Play-offs, where the job was virtually done in the first leg, earned us the right to compete on a global stage in 2002 and 2012.
The World Cup in America was different though. Irish footballing lore is peppered with iconic goals that stay at the forefront of every Republic fan’s memory. Whelan against USSR, McAteer against the Netherlands, Keane versus the Germans, even O’Shea in Gelsenkirchen. And another of those standout strikes came in Belfast in 1993. For the hero of that hour, his toughest fight was yet to come. His newly released autobiography has already been nominated for the Irish Sports Book of the Year.
Twenty-one years ago on November 17, Alan McLoughlin entered the cauldron of Windsor Park and scored the equalising goal against Northern Ireland – a strike which sent Jack Charlton’s team to USA ’94. A measure of McLoughlin the player
Two years ago, he entered a battle, having been diagnosed with cancer of the kidney. He then generously offered himself as a human guinea-pig for a new drug in the hope of helping others beat the disease – although the process is deleterious to his own health. A measure of McLoughlin the man
A major unhappiness in his book is at the critics who looked on him and other English-born players of Irish parents as ‘Plastic Paddies’, including Roy Keane/ Eamon Dunphy. McLoughlin was offered the chance to play for England B on the same day he accepted the call-up to Ireland B. Nothing plastic there. A measure of McLoughlin the Irishman
There’s a scene in The Charlton Years documentary charting Big Jack’s time in charge of Ireland. In a press-conference after the game in Belfast, Charlton explained how he introduced McLoughlin to the white-hot fray and the then 26-year-old had put the ball exactly where his manager wanted, and, with a smile, Jack added, “thereby justifying his existence.”
Irish people love their sporting history-makers. People like Michael Carruth, Sonia O’Sullivan, and Katie Taylor will forever be darlings of the nation. At the top of that list are Charlton and his Boys in Green who took the country on an incredible football journey through the 1990s and Alan McLoughlin rightly takes his place among the pantheon of our heroes.
In A Different Shade of Green, McLoughlin recalls:
- When Jack Charlton was convinced he had money problems and offered to pay his mortgage
- Being a closet ‘Red’ fan around a ‘Blue’-mad Manchester gang, which included future Oasis star, Noel Gallagher
- The amusing and (slightly) unhappy ending to the USA shopping spree for Roy Keane’s Rolex watch
- How he became the last football apprentice to be taken on at Old Trafford
- The night Combat 18 ruined the Republic v England game in Lansdowne Road and followed it up by sending him a threatening letter at Portsmouth for his ‘treachery’ of playing for another country
- Why he was terrified by a group of Belfast youths before scoring that all important World Cup qualifying goal
- A love affair with Pompey that finally came good after they started out as arch enemies
- The ecstasy of scoring a winning goal at Wembley and the agony of having it all thrown away because of financial irregularities at Swindon
- How he controversially burst onto the international scene just before Italia ’90. In Malta, Gary Waddock, the player he replaced, was driven away in the same taxi he arrived in
Former Republic of Ireland international Alan McLoughlin was born in Manchester of Irish parents. He joined Manchester United as a youth but never played for the first team. Following his release from Old Trafford, he finally came of age playing with Swindon, his performances gaining him a late call-up to the Irish squad instead of Gary Waddock in controversial circumstances in 1990.
McLoughlin later played for a number of clubs including Southampton and Wigan but spent the longest part of his career with Portsmouth where he is now first team coach. He lives in Swindon with his wife Deby and two daughters Abby and Megan.
You can vote for A Different Shade of Green by Alan McLoughlin (Ballpoint Press) for Irish Sports Book of the Year here