COLM O'REGAN: World Cup: What makes an event enter the psyche so that it is endlessly celebrated until all involved are dead?

It starts officially tomorrow although celebrations have been underway for a little while. The 30th anniversary of Ireland’s Euro 88 adventure. Specifically, tomorrow marks 30 years since Ray Houghton’s goal.

Thursday sees the end of the twenties of the George Hamilton’s phrase “and Bonner has gone 165 minutes of these Championships without conceding a goal ... oh danger here” as USSR equalised Ronnie Whelan’s goal. Next Monday, the festival will be brought to a close with a quiet and dignified ceremony marking Wim Kieft’s cruelly bouncing Dutch winner. I watched it again yesterday and noticed Packie Bonner’s protest: Just a howl in the darkness at the games the gods play with the lives of men.

Let’s not forget this is also the 5th anniversary of the 25th anniversary of Euro 88. Preparations are also underway for the 30th anniversary of Italia 90 in 2020 but next year really is the big one: the silver anniversary of USA 94.

The first bit of it: Ray Houghton, John Aldridge calling a man in a peaky cap a ‘f***ing b*****d’ and Steve Staunton threatening to spontaneously combust in the heat. Not the second bit (the Netherlands swatting us aside as if, amazingly, the quality of our bantercraic didn’t matter).

What makes an event enter the psyche so that it is endlessly celebrated until all involved are dead? This isn’t a cynical question. 1988-94 is forever ingrained on my brain.

Was it the times? Was the late 1980s and early ’90s period in Ireland a watershed in our history? If you look at video footage from back then, it felt modern at the time but now seems like Pathé News.

Take, for example, the famous video of people celebrating, at the Walkinstown Roundabout, our qualification for the quarter-finals of Italia 90.

For those unfamiliar with the roundabout, it’s a five-exit three-lane relic of a time before health and safety. The only way to go through it is to just believe in yourself and magic will happen. For a few magical hours in June 1990 it was taken over by dancing double denims and honking Opel Kadetts.

When we see at our late-80s selves now, it’s clear we had an ‘Albania under communism’ look about us. A dodgy-moustached small square car-driving country of people who looked like they didn’t get out much.

It is of course nonsense to suggest one generation has more to remember than another. An example of generational exceptionalism — where people who were a certain age when something happened think this is the most amazing thing ever.

And when those people reach 35 and realise they’ve peaked in life, they automatically turn to the past for solace and give their lives meaning.

How will the 25th, 30th, 40th, 50th anniversaries of the 2002 World Cup be commemorated and who will do it? It was the time of The Saipan Incident so will it be sombre as if it were 1798 and more about pitch- capping than caps on the pitch?

Who will do the commemorating? It won’t be me. I enjoyed the time but it’s not written in my cultural DNA. I was working in an office being dynamic and driving change for our customers’ needs in a synergistic environment.

But I wasn’t cycling to the shop in short trousers for extra TK shouting ‘Oooo-eeee O’Leareeee’ at the top of my voice, trying to coin a new oo-aa-Paul-McGrath.

The 2002 era was still a primitive time. All you could do on your phone was play snake and if you wanted to complain about poor customer service you had to do it directly with the airline, not whine to hundreds of people on social media who don’t give a shite that your flight was late. But 2002 is still within the modern era.

I look forward to 2027 to see what that year’s 35-year-olds remember from 2002. Hopefully it’ll refresh that year for me. And if the commemoration is a damp squib, I’ll only have to wait a year for Euro 88, the 40th!


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