The story has gone down in Irish football folklore by now. It was the eve of a crucial Euro qualifier with Austria at Lansdowne road in June 1995. The Irish team had, just a few days previously, drawn 0-0 away in Lichtenstein and needed a result in order to keep a stranglehold of second place in the group. For some last minute preparation and bonding, manager Jack Charlton brought his squad to a Harry Ramsden's restaurant on the Naas Road, an establishment he coincidentally held shares in.
The lads were encouraged to take part in Harry's Challenge, and win themselves a free desert. In the years since, many of the players described the events of June 10th 1995 in their autobiographies.
Keane wasn't present due to injury but he was filled in on the events of that infamous afternoon subsequently, which he documented in Keane: The autobiography.
"Here’s a good one from Ireland’s qualifying campaign for Euro 96 – towards the end of Big Jack’s time as national team manager. Because of injury I played only three or four games from the qualifiers. But Dennis Irwin and Paul McGrath were witnesses to this story.
Ireland were at home to Austria in a vital qualifying game. The day before the match, the team went to Lansdowne Road for a training session. On the way they stopped at a branch of Harry Ramsden’s on the Naas Road. The photographers were on hand to capture the Irish team tackle their first big challenge of the week: Harry’s Challenge, a giant-sized haddock with chips and beans or peas, with a sweet to follow.
Eat up, lads, urged Jack. Some of the lads tucked into Harry’s Challenge. Then off to Lansdowne Road for the final training session. Yes, Austria won 3-1. Some of the lads reported that their legs ‘went’ twenty minutes from the end. F**ked. But they’d passed Harry’s Challenge."
In his critically acclaimed autobiography, Back from the Brink, McGrath referred to the event as the beginning of the end of Ireland's Glory days.
"On reflection the magic of the Charlton era was on the wane by then. I believe we came home from America a tired team, a little of the old ferocity had left us… Our efforts to qualify for Euro ’96 died technically, with a 0-2 play-off defeat to Holland at Anfield in December 1995. But being honest, the Harry Ramsden Challenge (where we dipped into a chippy for dinner on the eve of a vital qualifier against Austria) had marked the end three months earlier. We were gone as a competitive force. And Jack walked before he was pushed. It was a sad, even vaguely brutal end."
In The Autobiography, Quinn (below, with head in hands in Liechtenstein) saw the funny side of it all.
"We all shuffled into Harry Ramsden’s. Jack is a shareholder. Packie or Paul or somebody cut a ribbon and officially opened the place. So the night before the game, after a week of drink, I settled down to fish and chips. Garry Kelly took the Harry Ramsden’s Challenge and ate a fish about a yard long and a mountain of chips and anything else they challenged him with. He thought there’s be a certificate but he got a free desert instead, which he duly ate. Jack herded us out pronto. Twenty minutes later, it’s dusk at Lansdowne Road and we’re all waddling about the pitch, groaning, full of fish and chips and trying to do a training session the night before this must-win game. We’re burping and farting and creased over with laughter. Our main thought was it’s been a happy era and it’s ending soon…Sometimes you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. It was all over for Jack."
The manager himself has even spoken on the matter, which is a line that since became immortalized on national radio.
"I liked the fish and chips, and the players liked the fish and chips"
Just for the record, Gary Kelly was the winner.
Extended Austrian highlights of the game can be viewed below.
cover image: thescore