Saturday morning September 2, Heathrow Airport London. Eighteen years on, the green army is mobilising for another march on Stuttgart, the scene of one of our greatest victories. Looking around on the flight, I see a number of familiar RISSC (London) faces from previous trips. Looks like we are travelling in force.
On arrival in Stuttgart, I try my cupla focal German and somehow manage to make it to the hotel. Paul Franklin’s usual well researched arrangements – we’re in the same hotel as the German team! Sort out the tickets and head into central Stuttgart. There appear to be a lot of Irish in town, it looks like the biggest trip since Paris. I meet up with some old friends from home, it seems like there is an entire team of Clodiagh Rangers (North Tipperary’s finest) current and ex-players in town – the Cullaghs, Pat Kilbane, yours truly and many others. That’ll put the wind up the Germans. Lots of singing and drinking going on, however the mood is that of a massive party with the locals looking on bemused.
It is eighteen years since we last visited Stuttgart, with limited expectations. History records, Rayo put the ball in the England net. We now however travel as a more confident nation. Famous victories galore since then and of course the Celtic Tiger. No more Bedford’s from Tralee or Air Mattresses. More like 5 star hotels this time.
We headed to the ground in plenty of time. The tram is rocking on the way out. Some Dubs are singing a word perfect version of ‘Joxer goes to Stuttgart’. In years to come that’ll be the moment I remember from this day.
The stadium is impressive. Perfect viewing lines all round. The area behind the goals is covered in flags from every part of Ireland and beyond. The teams come out and the game begins. There’s a lot singing and standing up for the boys in green. Our boys are game enough all right, however one feels the Germans superior class will finally tell. It comes to pass. We are unlucky with the goal, however only for Shay’s brilliance it would have been conceded much earlier. One feels it’s a brave start of a new era for Irish football, time will tell what type of era that will be.
Later that night I notice a surfeit of Mayo jerseys in town. I wonder is the All-Ireland on in Stuttgart this year. Who’s milking the cows in Belmullet tonight?
The next day at the hotel some of the boys share a lift with Klose. And who else but that man Paul Franklin gets Michael Ballack’s signature on his Chelsea jersey. We make it out to the airport where the ubiquitous Tommy Feely is holding court. That familiar Boston Celtic jacket and the cool hand signals. It wouldn’t be an Ireland game without seeing Tommy. Bump into the cousin from Dublin in the airport, he was staying in the same hotel as the Irish team – I smell a corporate junket. I haven’t seen him in 5 years, however all we talk about is football. Same as it ever was!
Later in Heathrow we set out in search of Pat Conway’s bag which didn’t go to Stuttgart. There are about 10,000 bags piled up and we decide discretion is the better part of valour. Back on the tube I find myself humming a familiar song, something about ‘Joxer sticking the head in Jack’ and ‘revenge for Skibbereen’. Now those were the days…