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"I Liked The Fish And Chips And So Did The Players" - Ireland v Austria: A Dismal Record

"I Liked The Fish And Chips And So Did The Players" - Ireland v Austria: A Dismal Record
By Conor Neville
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As far as Balls is concerned, it's impossible to think of Ireland-Austria matches without also thinking of fish and chips.

Regrettably, the Harry Ramsdens fast food shop that was located on the Naas Road is no longer with us. It hit the wall sometime in the early 2000s. A report in the Irish Times dated 20 March 2002 revealed that the site was for sale for an estimated price €3.81 million. Sad to see a number put on such a shrine. Shamefully, the government did not step in to preserve the shop as a site of historical importance. It is a damning indictment of the then government's failure to protect our footballing heritage.

Not even Big Jack's star power could save it from oblivion. Jackie was a shareholder in the venture and lent a hand by bringing himself and his players down for the grand opening. This momentous occasion fell on the eve of an occasion almost as momentous, Ireland's Euro 96 qualifier at home to Austria. After Packie cut the tape, the players were egged on to have a go at the fabled 'Harry's Challenge', an intimidating looking slab of a meal which consisted of a giant sized haddock and chips.

Niall Quinn, whose reliability is not in question, said later that Gary Kelly was the winner on the day, devouring everything the delighted staff threw at him. This makes Kelly the 'Adam Richman of Irish football'. Who knows, the idea for 'Man v Food' may have occurred to Travel Channel executives while they were rifling through Quinny's autobiography.

Gamely, the players packed onto a bus and made for Lansdowne Road where they attempted a training session. This, according to Quinny, descended into an orgy of "burping and farting." The kind of anarchic, piss-about session that anyone who played U12 will recognise, with players were "creased over with laughter" for most of it. Despite the undignified stalemate with Liechtenstein the previous week, Ireland was used to enough success at that point that it was blithely assumed that victory over Austria was probable.

They may have been politely damned as also rans at the beginning of the campaign but Austria were an undoubted bogey team for Ireland. They have not been strikingly better than us for the past four or five decades and indeed for much of that time have actually been worse.


But our head to head record with the Austrians is dismal, a consequence of us usually catching them at inopportune moments. A glance at our striking options for this weekend suggests that this may be another inopportune moment. The day after our players made their Harry's Challenge debut was another such inopportune moment.


We played them a few times during our five year win drought in the late 1960s and early 70s. Eamon Dunphy did once disclose that he played 23 times for Ireland and enjoyed two victories (against Turkey and Czechoslovakia). He played throughout this period. A 6-0 defeat to the Austrians in October 1971 may well have marked the nadir of Irish football in the period (For the record, no blame is attached to Eamo for that as he didn't play that night).


By contrast, during our late 80s and early 90s heyday, we never enjoyed the pleasure of meeting Austria. By the time, we were drawn with them for the Euro 96 qualifying, our decline was already in full swing. Indeed, the Austrians were the team that most graphically illustrated that decline.

Two shocking 3-1 defeats later and Ireland were in panic mode.

It is the first loss, the game in Lansdowne Road, that is the far more memorable. The name of Tony Polster remains lodged in the minds of Irish football supporters of a certain age.


When Ray Houghton put Ireland 1-0 up in the second half, there was relief that we wouldn't be held to a draw. We were, however, looking back fondly on the 0-0 stasis not long afterwards as Austria rocketed in three goals in nine minutes.


Of course, Roy Keane, in his first, more punkish, autobiography lays the blame squarely on Harry's Challenge and the manager who supervised the eating of the haddock and chips.


The result in Lansdowne Road notwithstanding, Big Jack remained loyal to the business in which he held shares. Determined to see no connection between the 3-1 defeat and the meal the players had enjoyed the previous day, Jack went on national radio and declared 'I liked the fish and chips and the players liked the fish and chips'. There endeth the matter as far as Jack was concerned.

But then, as Tony Cascarino told Balls.ie, these kinds of stunts were part of Charlton's modus operandi for years. They were part of that team's rough and ready charm. Had Ireland beaten Austria as expected the following day, then Harry's Challenge would have been nothing more than another funny anecdote.

Like everything, when something goes wrong it escalates. No one would have even mentioned it had we won the game... It's quite common knowledge that before the World Cup quarter final in 1990, that Jack had a couple of kegs of Guinness sent up to the hotel.

To be honest, Jack did a few off the wall things over the years and the only one that ever went wrong was the Harry Ramsden challenge. Every other time it worked for us.

Read more: Balls Remembers: The Most Embarrassing Result In Irish Football History?

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