Today’s belated and relatively last second announcement that the main Irish television station, RTE, has finally secured rights to Wednesday’s crucial World Cup qualifier against France brought back memories. Specifically, memories of the 2000 European Championships qualifier Ireland played in the psychotically vociferous Ataturk stadium in Turkey, November 1999.
You know what, today is actually the exact anniversary of that game, it was played 17th November 1999.
The circumstances were oddly similar, at least in terms of TV rights. With a night to go, the Turkish football federation was playing hard-ball, and demanding a ridiculous figure from RTE for the rights to show the game. RTE stood their ground, and never caved, meaning the game was not shown on Irish television. My phone rang at around lunch time. Old friend Enda on the other end of the line. He told me he had managed to secure two exclusive tickets to the Vicar Street Club for that evening’s showing of the match. I was confused. RTE weren’t showing the game! He told me all would be revealed later.
Vicar Street, that evening, was a carnival. Guinness T-shirts commemorating the event were handed out at the door. The lads from Aprés Match, a popular football sketch, did a brilliant, hilarious, warm up piece. The club was absolutely packed, hundreds of die hard supporters giddy at the prospect of seeing a match basically no one else was going to get to see in Ireland, thanks to those stinking greedy Turks. A big screen was pulled down on stage, Enda and I gripped our pints nervously, word spread in whispers that the venue had figured out how to ‘grab’ a Norwegian TV stations feed of the game. Sure enough, the match appeared on the screen, a little sketchy in terms of quality visually, but, vastly superior to the alternative, nothing.
Before you even managed to finish the line of thought that began ‘How am I going to understand Norwegian commentary…?’ a voice came from the back of the club, booming over the hubbub and general excitement. George Hamilton, the voice of football on RTE, had agreed to commentate live at the venue while watching the game. Who’s George Hamilton? Think Don Orsillo, but even better.
The first half was a tense 0-0. After drawing in Ireland the week before, 1-1, the boys in green had to score to go to the European Championships. Half time came, and the club wheeled out the Aprés Match boys again, this time with Liverpool legend Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock in tow. You would pay good cash money to attend an event like that these days! Remember, this was all free, well, except the pints, of course. The half time show was hilarious.
The second half was nerve wracking, tense and, ultimately, disappointing. The game finished 0-0. Oddly enough, the atmosphere in the club was almost, well, up beat. Those present had seen a game they thought they wouldn’t get to, the entertainment had been superb, unlike anything they had experienced before really.
Here’s hoping that’s the story this coming Wednesday night. Superb entertainment, unlike anything we have experienced before, namely a 2-0 Irish win in Paris!
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