Kelly: Jack Charlton had us wearing woolly jumpers to cope with World Cup heat

Alan Kelly

Alan Kelly

First published in Sport Lancashire Telegraph: Photograph of the Author by , Sports reporter

GEARED up for the heat of Manaus tonight, England have called upon all the latest advances in sports science. For Jack Charlton in 1994, the preparations were more straightforward. Woolly jumpers.

Former Blackburn Rovers goalkeeper Alan Kelly was part of the Republic of Ireland squad that travelled to that tournament in the United States.

He will never forget just how tough soaring temperatures made the World Cup for the Irish, even before a ball had been kicked.

“We had a training camp for 10 or 12 days before the World Cup in Orlando where it was 90 degrees and Jack had us wearing these woolly jumpers,” he remembers.

“There was a rule in that World Cup where you couldn’t drink water during the game, so Jack wouldn’t let us have a drink during training.

“There was no sports science in those days. You were feeling hot, sweaty and knackered at the end of training.”

Kelly, then with Sheffield United, went into that tournament as understudy to Pat Bonner.

“I made my full debut for Ireland in the last friendly before the World Cup, in Germany,” he said.

“They had Voller, Klinsmann, Matthaus and Sammer, they were the world champions at the time, but we won 2-0. Keeping a clean sheet against Germany wasn’t a bad full debut!”

Ireland opened the World Cup by beating Italy in New York thanks to Ray Houghton’s goal.

Then came a defeat to Mexico perhaps best remembered for a blazing row with the fourth official when Charlton was made to wait to bring on substitute John Aldridge. The entire expletive-filled exchange was captured on live television.

“The bleep button has never been used so much, Aldo wasn’t holding back!” Kelly laughs.

“Jack was fined $15,000 for what he said but fans had a whip round for him and raised $150,000. I don’t know what he did with the rest, knowing Jack I could probably guess!

“It was incredible to be there at the Italy game. We were expecting the crowd to be mainly Italians, but the Giants Stadium in New York was 75 per cent full of Irish fans.

“So many people travelled and when you think about how many Irish Americans there are too, it felt like half of Ireland was there.

“To win 1-0 with Ray Houghton’s goal was fantastic. Did we celebrate after that game? We’re Irish, of course we celebrated!

“We got to the second round but it was a shame because we lost to Holland and the goals were two mistakes.

“It was 115 degrees in the stadium that day, how anyone can play football in that I don’t know, particularly looking to the World Cup in Qatar in 2022.

“I was sat on the bench and I felt uncomfortable just watching that day, so what the players out there felt like I don’t know.”

Kelly went to a second World Cup in 2002, a tournament that will always be remembered for Roy Keane’s controversial walk-out.

Kelly had been in the Ireland team during his time as a Rovers regular two years earlier, before losing his place to John Filan at club level and then Shay Given at international level.

“I’d played in the first three qualifiers of that campaign, the first two was when I was playing at Blackburn,” he said.

“We played in Portugal and Holland and got two important draws. Unfortunately I lost my place at Blackburn then, but it happens.

“At the end of qualifying we were at home to Holland and beat them 1-0 at Lansdowne Road.

“They had Van Gaal as manager and people like Ruud van Nistelrooy and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.

“Jason McAteer scored the goal and by the end they realised if they didn’t score they were going to go out and they were pumping it long, playing six up front.”

Total football went out of the window that day.

After that, even before the Keane drama, Ireland’s campaign became explosive – quite literally.

To reach the World Cup, Ireland faced a play-off match against Iran. Ireland won 2-0 in Dublin before travelling to Tehran for the second leg.

“Before a game we had a ritual where we would normally wander into the city centre as a group, so we went into the centre of Tehran,” he remembers.

“They probably weren’t used to a group of 15 westerners wandering round and soon we were being followed by an angry mob. We just managed to escape.

“Then there were 110,000 inside the stadium, and they were there from seven hours before kick-off being whipped up into a frenzy.

“During the warm-up they threw a stun grenade on to the pitch and it knocked three of us over. It’s hard to take a stun grenade in your stride, but that’s what we had to do.

“Then when we qualified they started setting fire to the stadium. It was interesting!”

After arriving at the warm-up camp for the finals in Japan, then came the bust-up between Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy that led to the Manchester United skipper quitting the squad.

“It was a week of turmoil, and it was a shame because it overshadowed everything else,” Kelly remembers.

“Mick McCarthy did a good job as manager and you felt for him because we’d missed out on tournaments in a couple of play-offs before that, then we got to the World Cup and he had to deal with all of that beforehand.

“What gets overlooked was that we had a tough group but we got through. We played Germany and Robbie Keane equalised in the 93rd minute, which was just brilliant.

“Then we were so close to beating Spain in the second round. We missed a penalty during the game and then lost in the shoot-out.”

Kelly never got on to the field during a World Cup finals game, but he has no regrets.

“Of course I would have loved to have played,” says the 45-year-old.

“But to go to two World Cups and be a part of the spectacle, as one of the 20 best players in your country, was brilliant. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Comments (1)

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3:40pm Sun 15 Jun 14

unclejacklegend says...

Etuhu on his way to UAE possibly.
Etuhu on his way to UAE possibly. unclejacklegend
  • Score: 4

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