When Irish Players Ruled English Football - And A Defence Of This Generation

When Irish Players Ruled English Football - And A Defence Of This Generation

The 26th of May is a famous day in football. In 1999, Man United whipped the Champions League title from under Bayern Munich's nose and a decade to the day before that, Michael Thomas scored the most dramatic goal in English League history as Arsenal scalped Liverpool in their back yard.

Everything about that game screams the late 80s, from the terrestrial TV coverage, the commentary of Brian Moore and David Pleat, the swirling masses in the Anfield terraces, and the sight of the Arsenal players presenting a bouquet of flowers in the aftermath of Hillsborough.

And the match arrived slap bang in the middle of the Irish football boom. In 1989, Ireland were basking in the glow of a massively creditable performance in the previous year's European championships and were in the process of qualifying for Italia 90.

Looking back from this remove, when the summit for most Irish players is a lengthy stint in Everton's first team, is remarkable to think this game, involving the best two sides in English football, contained no fewer than five Irish internationals.

Irish internationals accounted for the biggest sub-section within the Liverpool team that night - Steve Staunton, Ronnie Whelan, Ray Houghton and John Aldridge.

Meanwhile, for the seven millionth time, David O'Leary sat at the heart of the Arsenal defence.

How things have changed. Why can Ireland not produce so much players anymore?


Such complaints, of course, omit one significant factor. Not only were there far more Irish players among the elite English clubs back then, there were also far more English players. And Scots.

In fact, the only player from outside Britain and Ireland was a Zimbabwean - Bruce Grobbelaar. To tell the truth, there were probably more Zimbabweans among the elite back then as well.

Indeed, David O'Leary was the only non-English player in the entire Arsenal squad that night. The English League champions had only one foreigner in their squad in 1989 - and they tended not to think of him as a foreigner.

In addition to the four Irish players, Liverpool boasted three English internationals, Barnes, Steve McMahon and Gary Ablett, two Scots, Steve Nicol and Alan Hansen, and one Welshman up front, Ian Rush, who was just back from Juventus.

So spare a thought for today's players as they tough it out in the Championship year on year, having to put up with idle talk comparing them unfavourably with the Charlton era boys.

They're competing in a very different world.

Read more: Balls Remembers The Night Scotland Went 'Beyond The Call Of Duty' To Help Out Ireland

Read more: Remember The Time A Dublin Club Attempted To Get Into The Scottish League?

Conor Neville
Article written by
Perennial finalist in stand-up comedy competitions and former Contract Lawyer/ Coal Salesman with Corless, Corless and Sweeney

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