Sometimes I wonder why such a nice girl as Mary Hunt is working with The Irish Times.* There, among her other duties, she is assistant to Peter Byrne who despite his , rich fusion of intelligence and experience has still a rather unsteady grasp of the semicolon. * *
Mary went to West Germany last summer as interpreter to the Irish official party, a tortuous task when you consider the presence of Fran Fields, Jack Charlton and Mick McCarthy.
Mary survived; indeed she was so enthralled with her bondage that she has written a book about it.***
It is compulsive reading for those who were there and even more compulsive, if that is possible, for those who weren't.
Her 12 days with the party are chronicled so minutely that she either has
a marvellous memory or took notes in a manner that gave 'detailed' a new dimension.
The book surprised me for another reason: I had deemed Ms. Hunt a sophisticate - on the contrary, she is an enthusiast.
About her book there is a lovely innocence, as there was indeed about the whole expedition.
It was symbolised on the morning of our departure at Dublin Airport; Philip Greene came to say 'Farewell' - and couldn't restrain the tears.
The Republic were on their way for the first time to the finals of a major tournament - and Philip wasn't going.
It seemed the Everest of irony: he had for what seemed about a hundred years broadcast their fortunes and misfortunes from many parts of the world and beyond - and now the veteran captain would have' to watch his beloved ship from the shore.
Yes, we know that the good peasant plants the vines even though he knows he may not live to drink the wine; it is a nice dictum - but it doesn't work so well in real life.
There was further irony attached to The Republic's expedition.
For years the aficionados had been dreaming of reaching The World or European finals; the team would be built around David O'Leary, Mark Lawrenson, Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton.
Now only Frank was in the van.
Saddest of all was the absence of Pat O'Brien, the gracious Corkman who as president of the F.A.I. had guided the ship so wisely.
A few months previously he left this mortal world.
Life goes on - and that morning on the flight to Stuttgart the atmosphere was bubblesome: even the more hardened journalists dropped their masks of cynicism and resembled small boys on the way to their first circus.
Stuttgart is a splendid advertisement for West Germany; it combines the patina of age with the buzz of a boom city.
In recent years it has seen the influx of thousands of redundant workers from the declining Ruhr.
It must be admitted, however, that it has a rather naive police force.
When Aer Lingus Flight 6964 touched down at the local airport, it was obvious that they were expecting it to disgorge a horde of drunken Paddies.
Never did a more orderly party set foot on German tarmac; the police looked suitably nonplussed.
Seemingly, it wasn't the only surprise: Mary Hunt reports that there was consternation because there were no red-haired men or women in the party - or nobody with freckles.
Nevertheless, we carried on up into the mountains to The Wald Hotel Degerwold; that was on the Wednesday - there players and officials and journal- ists would be billeted until the
game against England on the Sunday. I will remember that hotel for several reasons, not least for the magnificent hare that came every morning to graze on the lawn outside my window on the ground floor.
Then there was the service in the bar: the man at the tap looked on the pouring of every half-litre as a sacred rite.
It was impressive - but it wouldn't have worked too well at Puck Fair or Listowel races or in Martha Gill's pub on the day of a big match in Croke Park.We survived that aspect of German culture; we even survived the press conferences that were the outstanding non-events of those first four days.
On the football front nothing was happening. And yet those crazy conferences went on - and on. The accursed media were looking for stories; even a rumour would suffice - there wasn't a tittle.
And on the first three days our Jack refused to announce the team, there were times when I suspected that he had picked it but couldn't remember the names.
At last Sunday arrived and at 3.36, West German time, came the event that caused all heaven to break loose in The Necker Stadium, not to mention back at home and elsewhere.
And for many years to come a question will be asked: "Where were you when Ray Houghton scored the goal that beat England?"
I can tell you where a certain friend of mine was: in his job as a garda he was supposed to see that the pubs in his area were observing the laws. Now read on.
As he passed by a certain establishment, he heard sounds within; he knocked; the proprietor came out and assured him that all was in order; the staff were washing up; as my friend was about to go away, an almighty roar erupted from within; Houghton had scored - my friend turned a deaf ear.
When we came back from the Euro Cup, I often encountered some such words as these: "You must have had an almighty party the night after beating England..."
Yes, indeed, there was a tumultuous party and Mary Hunt tells all about it - but I wasn't part of it. I had three glasses of beer and stole away to my room.
There was work to be done: I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to do justice to such a great occasion; I knew the worry of a man who has hooked a splendid fish and fears that he will not be able to land it.
Not alone was my room on the ground floor; it was the nearest to the bar; trying to assemble thoughts there was akin to attempting tg, put together a jigsaw out of doors in a blizzard.
Sometime after midnight my room was invaded; all I could do was unlock the drinks cabinet and again steal away. I doubt if I was missed.
I walked around until dawn; when light came, there was no one visible except the few police on duty, Liam Brady, myself and the magnificent hare.
Next morning we set out for Hannover; from hotel to hotel by coach and train and coach it was a journey of eight hours.
And yet I enjoyed it; it provided a lesson in economics and in geography.
I realised why The E.E.C. has food mountains and wine lakes: West Germany is so intensively, cultivated that it looks as if it could provide all Europe with food and drink.
South-west Germany is overwhelming in the masses of vines that line the slopes and the vast fields of vegetables and corn down below.
For the first 200 miiles of the journey I saw hardly a sign of human or animal; all was tillage.
Then at long last near Wurzburgh I saw a man saving hay. The wynds there, incidentally, are unlike ours; they resemble Coca-Cola bottles, only wider - wider in relation to their height, I hasten to add.
And then about 50 miles further on I saw a woman bringing tea to a man who was hoeing rows of onions; it was probably coffee - but you understand; I felt at home.
I was hoping to see people working at the turf but that was asking for too much.
For the game against The Soviets in Hanover we were billeted in a hotel near the village of Barsinghausen. The pilgrims will remember it - but not altogether for the right reasons.
Mary Hunt will bear me out about the service there: 'slow' is a charitable term; one day Kevin Myers ordered chicken, after about two hours he was convinced that they were still trying to catch one.
There was, however, the compensation of that magnificent game with The Soviets; it threw up that marvellous goal-nugget when Ronnie Whelan shin-volleyed from Mick McCarthy's huge throw.
For me it led to another sleepless night; next day on the coach journey to The Ruhr I was so confused that I mistook a modest river for The Rhine.
For the next few days we were in a wonderland; if you ever find yourself in West Germany, go and visit the lovely hotel in a hamlet called Marl.
Part of it is an ancient water mill; the loft is now a splendid bar. The mill stream, in itself is worth seeing.
And the buffet-style food was magnificent; for me - and for many - Marl was the promised land.
Our expedition ended down the road in Gelsenkirchen; it was cruel to go out to a 'goal' that came when at least one Dutch player was blatantly offside.
That night in the loft at the ancient mill I sang 'Stardust', after dedicating it to Hoagy Carmichael and Nat King Cole.
Peter Byrne has since been heard to refer to me as Nat King Turf.
Next morning the players and the officials and most of the media left for home; it was a sad parting, like a little death.
Peter Byrne, Charlie Stuart, Noel Dunne, Malcolm Brodie and myself soldiered on.
It was a privilege. We soon got over our sadness and especially enjoyed Munich, 'the village of a million people'.
Yes, those few weeks were marvellous - but one thought kept disturbing me.
Whenever I was near elderly people in a bar or restaurant, I couldn't help wondering how they looked back on the war.
Did the humiliation inflict an incurable wound? The state has made a remarkable recovery - but you cannot help wondering about the people.
Joke. ** Other joke. ***'There We Were - Germany '88' is published by Sparrow Books.
Postscript: Philip Greene managed to
get over and stayed for the match in Stuttgart - and shed a few more tears.