As football fans across Ireland sat down to enjoy the Boys in Green two-part documentary on RTÉ recently, little did they know that it would be the closest thing to new football content that they would enjoy for months.
With the exception of a second season of Sunderland Till I Die, there has been precious little new football of any kind to celebrate since the sporting calendar was curtailed.
As a result, football fans have to appreciate the little things and RTÉ’s excellent documentary about the team Jack Charlton built is a must-see on the RTE player (if it works) if you haven’t already done so, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the exploits of Ireland’s golden generation.
The show chronicles Ireland’s international journey from qualifying for their first international tournament in 1988 to falling apart at the seams during the Euro 1996 qualifiers and features some of the best moments in Irish sporting history.
With plenty of highs and lows, here are six of the best moments from that glorious era captured in the Boys in Green.
David O’Leary’s penalty vs Romania in 1990
Where else to start but Ireland’s greatest sporting moment?
Irish fans never tire of watching David O’Leary’s era-defining penalty or Packie Bonner’s save just before it and it gets even better when the likes of Kevin Sheedy and John Aldridge talk through every moment of it.
The Boys in Green captures the moment perfectly, with George Hamilton talking through his iconic “nation holds its breath” line as O’Leary strokes the penalty home, just as “There She Goes” by the Las strikes up in the background, automatically enhancing any scene.
The scenes of jubilation around the country and especially on the Walkinstown Roundabout would make you nostalgic even if you didn’t live through the era.
Ireland qualify for Euro ‘88
Prior to Euro ’88, Ireland had never qualified for a major international tournament after several close attempts.
It looked like being another near-miss in Jack Charlton’s first qualifying campaign since Bulgaria just needed a point at home to Scotland in order to qualify.
Scotland, of course, did the unthinkable and won in Sofia thanks to a late winner from Gary Mackay.
To see the archive footage from the game is surreal. George Hamilton commentated on his own from the Vasil Levski National Stadium in the heart of Communist Bulgaria and the grainy quality of the footage and the audio emphasise what a different era it was.
The fact that the game was largely ignored by Irish fans and players alike make it even more bizarre.
The subsequent hope and excitement that built in Ireland prior to the Euros is also documented and perfectly leads into Ireland’s first game, which brings us to our next entry on the list.
Ireland beat England in Euro ‘88
Just behind the penalty shootout in Italia 90, Ireland’s win over England in Stuttgart was a seminal moment for Irish football.
Irish fans never miss an opportunity to revel in that famous win over the Old Enemy and the Boys In Green looks at it in great depth.
The documentary includes interviews with a number of players, including England’s Gary Lineker who claimed he tried to obliterate the game from his memory.
Any chance to watch then team physio Mick Byrne famously promise Irish supporters that “we’ll do them for yis today” also automatically makes for better viewing.
Lansdowne Road riots 1995
While the win over England in 1988 was one of the high points of Irish football history, the friendly against them seven years later was rock bottom.
The riots started shortly after Ireland took the lead thanks to David Kelly when English fans in the Upper West Stand of the old national stadium ripped up the dilapidated seating and used them as missiles.
The game was promptly abandoned and the English hooligans were ridiculed by the British and Irish press. The nations would not meet again for another 18 years.
The Boys in Green delves deeper into the sordid affair and it is interesting to hear the players’ perspective on that dark night.
The documentary also includes a bizarre RTÉ promo from before the game that references a number of Irish uprisings against the English.
Alan McLoughlin’s famous strike against Northern Ireland
Ireland needed at least a point from their trip to a hostile Windsor Park in order to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the USA.
They looked set to miss out after Jimmy Quinn volleyed the north ahead in front of a partisan crowd until Alan McLoughlin crashed in a thunderous half volley to send Ireland to America.
The game is notable because Irish fans were advised not to attend at the height of the Troubles and The Boys in Green does a good job of recreating the tension on that November night.
Ireland beat Italy in the Giants Stadium
McLoughlin’s goal sent Ireland to America and gave them a chance for revenge over the Italian side who dumped them out of the World Cup in 1990.
Of course, Ireland prevailed thanks to Ray Houghton’s famous lob, but to hear players talk about the crowd in New York that day would give you goosebumps.
At the same time, to look back and see Ireland play their way around the eventual World Cup finalists would make you long for an era when Ireland had 11 competent footballers.