We shared a wonderful interlude with Jack Charlton at the end of the USA 94 group stage.
This team had lost to Mexico in Orlando, but back in New Jersey they had drawn with Norway and that put them in the bottom 16. Second behind Mexico in the table, they would meet the winners of the section which included Belgium, Morocco, the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia. The last matches in this group took place the day after Ireland qualified.
Belgium was the most likely opponent. With two wins out of two, they were in the lead and played a game against Saudi Arabia to close the first phase.
The Saudis had beaten Morocco but lost to the Dutch, who themselves, having been beaten by Belgium, had little chance of taking first place. So it had been arranged for Jack to go and watch the Belgians. Belgium v Saudi Arabia was also the next game on our schedule.
Tadhg De Brun [of RTÉ] and I went down on the morning of the game. Jack was on the same flight. RTÉ, under Tim O’Connor, looked after his field staff. The same cannot be said of the FAI. Tadhg and I were at the front of the plane. Jack was in the back.
Tadhg, still the man to attend to the stars of the show, made representations to the cabin crew of American Airlines.
“You might not know about it,” he said, gently sidestepping the fact that while association football is perhaps the most popular sport on the planet, its World Cup came far behind it. who was most important in the consciousness of the host nation, “the tall man who just came down the aisle is a lead man in the big football gig.
“Oh really?” Well, they couldn’t have been more careful. He was summoned to the First Class cabin and treated with the absolute respect he deserved.
It was clearly not what the crew expected, but they made the most of it. He was introduced to the captain and his presence on board was announced. He loved every minute.
When we landed there was a driver holding a “Coach Charlton” sign. Jack did the decent thing. “OK you guys come on up. You don’t think I’m gonna let you take a cab. “
Belgium v Saudi Arabia got off to a sensational start. You often find teams at the World Cup whose players are not used to the conventions of the upper echelons of elite play. They just do their own thing.
Like Cameroon, who beat Argentina in the opening match of Italia 90, Saudi Arabia played like young puppies let loose on a leash. With only five minutes left on the clock when a Belgian attack erupted and Saeed Al-Owairan took possession of what, in the old money, would have been the left half position.
And he’s gone, slaloming past every opponent who contested until he has covered two-thirds of the pitch and reached Belgium’s penalty area. He fired and Saudi Arabia took the lead.
Tadhg has been accused of bringing Jack to our commentary post for a half-time comment. He was looked after in the VIP seats and it took a bit of persuasion to keep him away from the interval refreshments.
When he entered our dressing room, he turned his back on me throughout the interview, his way of making the point that he didn’t want to be there.
Saudi Arabia held on to win the game 1-0 and confuse everything. The result meant the Netherlands, who had beaten Morocco as the Saudis scoffed at the odds against them, led the group.
They would be Ireland’s opponents in the last 16. Jack’s reconnaissance mission had been a complete waste of time.
What happened after the game I will tell you in Tadhg’s words: “He came back to us and told us that he was meeting an old friend of his for a meal and that we would like to join them. ” We did, as guests. There was a lot more to Jack Charlton than it looks.
Of course, another dubious Dutch goal sealed Ireland’s fate. Already led 1-0 after Dennis Bergkamp’s goal under the scorching midday sun in Orlando, a tame shot from Wim Jonk passed through the hands of Packie Bonner.
There would be no way to come back from that second goal. Ireland died out, but the RTÉ roadshow continued.
Placing the tournament in the United States required early kicks off to satisfy European audiences. This meant that the matches were played in unbearable heat.
It was no surprise that Ireland finally withered. The tournament itself suffered. The flagship matches – the semi-finals and the final – were thunderous disappointments, with tired teams playing at a snail’s pace in blazing conditions. It was so hot in Pasadena that my stopwatch melted.
The final was the first to end without a goal and the first to be played on penalties. (You take the final to America to sell it to the locals, all of whose games demand score after score, and deliver what should be the main dish, which ends up going two hours without scoring a goal, let alone a winner. There was surely a lesson in that.)
Brazil won the trophy – or rather Italy lost it. Roberto Baggio missed the point and it gave Brazil the Cup.
But there is a precious memory of that final World Cup weekend in California.
The day before the main event, at the LA Dodgers baseball stadium, one of the biggest bands to ever come together only took to the stage for the third time. The three tenors – Carreras, Domingo and Pavarotti – had performed for the first time under this banner before the 1990 World Cup final. There was a selection of Neapolitan arias and songs that each sang alone, as well as a medley for the three that brought down the house.
This open-air concert, amid the ruins of the ancient Baths of Caracalla, was intended as a fundraiser for Carreras’ charity, which he had created when he had recovered from leukemia a few years before.
There had been no indication of what phenomenon the Three Tenors would become. When it came to discussing the performing rights for the CD and video that would follow, the singers settled for a flat fee rather than a percentage of sales.
They may have regretted the move, as the concert, which reached a worldwide TV audience of 800 million, spawned what has become the best-selling classic recording in history.
Pavarotti’s promoter, a Hungarian US-based impresario called Tibor Rudas, saw a huge opportunity. He had previously taken the tenor out of opera, putting on shows in unlikely places, from a marquee in New Jersey’s casino capital, Atlantic City, to Central Park in New York, racking up lucrative paydays for his client along the way. .
For a cover of the Three Tenors, the first World Cup in the United States would provide the perfect setting.
Bringing the opera to people outside of the opera world, as Rudas said, would not only fill the Dodgers baseball stadium in Los Angeles the day before the final, it would deliver figures of stellar audiences around the world.
The tenors, football fans themselves, were initially reluctant to recreate what they saw as a one-off event, but were won over by the fact that this concert, unlike the one in Rome, would be part of the Cup. from the official world. program.
And that’s where we came in. Literally, from behind the stage and on the pitch. The organizers had reserved seats for the TV broadcasters.
RTÉ obtained three, intended for the great and good of the organizations holding rights. But while the CEOs and CEOs of all the major stations were there in abundance, the Irish broadcaster was represented by Tadhg De Brún, Maurice Reidy and myself.
Tadhg, a musician with considerable accomplishments, was delighted to have the opportunity, although, like Jack Charlton at the Belgium game, Maurice was convincing. Classical music wouldn’t be so important in Castleisland, Kerry, where it comes from.
We entered the diamond in front of the public. In the front row was a vast array of famous faces.
I spotted Bob Hope and rushed over to him. How often would you have the chance to meet, or more precisely gatecrash, a world superstar? He was 87 at the time, but he was sparkling, obviously very happy to join. His wife, Dolores, was seated next to him.
Tadhg, who had been left a bit behind in my star rush to shake hands with Bob Hope, came to my shoulder and I introduced him as my colleague from the West of Ireland. “Well,” Ms. Hope said, “we have something in common. She and Bob weren’t far from a family reunion in Galway.
I never believed that a spontaneous interaction with a personality like Bob Hope could have gone so well. We parted all smiles, all four grateful for the conversation. Maurice had kept a respectful distance.
As I walked down the front row to the aisle that would lead us to our seats, I spotted another famous face.
I tried Bob Hope’s approach again, but I didn’t approach. Two tall men in black suits converged, blocking my target’s view. One of them spoke. “Mr. Sinatra doesn’t want to talk to you. “Ol ‘Blue Eyes, I think it was your loss.
The spectacle was spectacular. On a stage that featured classic columns, waterfalls, faux boulders, and lush green foliage – a Southern California rainforest, according to its creator – the Three Tenors performed their routine with Zubin Mehta conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Opera Choir.
The American World Cup had one last surprise in store. Taking my seat on British Airways 747 to return to Heathrow, I glanced across the aisle. Who was at the window on the other side? None other than Luciano Pavarotti.
This edited excerpt is from ‘The Nation Holds Its Breath’ by George Hamilton, published by Merrion Press