It’s June 18th 1994, I am at home in a house on the southern estuarial edge of Essex and it is the second day of the FIFA World Cup hosted in the USA. At the tender age of still 8 years old, I have been interested in ‘Soccer’ for little over a month thanks to the small matter of Manchester United, the football club my dad has followed all his life, sealing their first of three domestic league and F.A. Cup doubles.
But the national team of the country of our birth, England, failed to qualify for the tournament, though that did not matter too much because at least neighbours the Republic of Ireland had made it, and tonight they face favourites Italy live on BBC1. But what’s more, my paternal grandparents are from Cork, yes, in Ireland, as South of Northern Ireland on the island as you can get, complete with musical accents. Like many Irish nationals in the first half of the 20th century, my grandparents relocated from the Emerald Isle so my granddad could work at Ford Dagenham. Apparently, their nationality explains why, despite living in south-west Essex, the family football club is Manchester United i.e. like them, United’s former manager Sir Matt Busby was a devout Roman Catholic of Irish descent.
Anyway, by the time my old man finished saying ”Denis Irwin and Roy Keane (United players at the time) are from Cork”, Ray Houghton nets one of the most peculiar-looking goals ever scored by the boys in green. Nevertheless, for 79 minutes, they hang on for an historic 1-0 win much to the overwhelming joy of all the Irish diaspora. This event combined with now being of an age to be able to finally understand what my grandma is singing to me, you’ve got yourself a plastic Irishman.
But there is one other, non-football matter that helped me complete my ‘conversion’.
I don’t recall anything much more exciting happening than this for the rest of the year, and that time was mostly spent remaining seated in front of the box, anticipating the third and final season of BBC T.V. series Bottom (1991) to air on January 6th 1995. The final ever episode aired on February 10th, but which sitcom would now fill this void left behind by ‘noble Englishman’ Rik Mayall and his comedy partner Adrian Edmondson?
”Let me see now, just wait a second there, I know I know, I’ve got it, right now, the way I see it, if we err, wait a second…”*
… Over 2 months later, on April 21st 1995, Channel 4 premiered Father Ted.
Rest in peace Dermot and Frank.
(* Quote from episode ”Plague” 1996)