\"Legendary

Legendary former Irish football manager Jack Charlton. Photo by: Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland

Filing sports news from the back of the bus for nearly 30 years

\"Legendary

Legendary former Irish football manager Jack Charlton. Photo by: Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland

This column is coming to you from the back of a bus. And no, it’s not the first time these words of relative wisdom have been contrived from a non-desk environment, so to speak.

In the past – distant, mostly, it has to be said – copy has been filed from buses on the way to airports and almost always from the depths of Eastern Europe and behind what used to be known as the Iron Curtain.

Copy has even been filed to this and other newspapers from a moving aeroplane as it taxied away from the terminal with Ireland’s soccer heroes safely on board.

Thanks to Wi-Fi – they now have it on planes apparently which is hardly a surprise seeing as they spend most of their time closer to the satellites than we do – filing mid-flight is no longer a novelty.

But I doubt many of those who email you from a jet high above the Atlantic Ocean can claim that they once filed copy to a newspaper from a toilet seat in Malta after falling victim to the same tummy bug as the great Jack Charlton.

That indeed was the case back in the summer of 1990 when Ireland’s Boys in Green warmed up for the nation’s first World Cup finals by playing a friendly in Turkey ahead of a training camp in Malta.

Such was the bonhomie between management, players and press in those days that it seemed the most natural thing in the world for the then team sponsors, Opel, to invite the media along for a meal and a few pints with Big Jack on the eve of the Turkish game in Izmir.

As was always the case on such occasions, Jack was great company and regaled us with stories from his own glorious World Cup past with England and some insight into the mind games to come when we transferred to Italy for the tournament a couple of weeks later. It was all off the record, and none of it has ever been repeated by the handful of media present.

What I can tell you of that night is that Jack took great delight, as a keen angler, in sorting the fish for dinner and insisted that we try the muscle behind the eye of the catch of the day.

He promised it would be the best part of the fish and he wasn’t wrong.  What he didn’t know was that something was askew with the rest of said fish and those of us who ate it, himself included, spent days on the toilet when we flew on to Malta after the match.

All of which explains why a lovely copytaker – there were no modems and laptops in those days – called Noreen back in Dublin had to listen to me read out copy from a Maltese toilet on a daily basis for almost a week!

It wouldn’t happen nowadays of course. You’d just bring the laptop or the iPad with you and type away from a stationary or moving seat, which is why this column is coming to you from the back of a bus heading for the Giant's Causeway and a big announcement by Stephen Roche on Tuesday morning.

Stephen is going to meet us all in his role as ambassador for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and the Giro D’Italia race coming soon to these shores.

It’s not the first time I’ve traveled north on a bus, on the very same road that links Dublin with Belfast, and that’s where this column is really getting to.

Almost 30 years ago now, a couple of soccer heads in the greater Navan area decided to run a bus tour from the Royal County to Scotland for the Euro ’88 qualifier in Glasgow on a Wednesday night in February ’87 and the Six Nations game in Edinburgh the following Saturday.

It was an enjoyable and an eventful trip, one that came to mind on Sunday when fate threw Ireland and Scotland together again for the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

Incredibly, the Celtic cousins haven’t met in a competitive game since those Euro ’88 qualifiers. More incredibly, Ireland hasn’t won a serious competitive game away from home since Mark Lawrenson’s goal on that famous night at Hampden Park, a goal seen in the flesh by a bus load of football fanatics from Dunshaughlin, Skryne, Navan and Kells.

That failure to win serious games away from home – one that has run through the Charlton, McCarthy, Kerr, Staunton and Trapattoni eras – has cost Ireland dearly in the 27 years since our coach trip to Glasgow via Larne and the ferry to Stranraer.

And it is something Martin O’Neill is going to have to put right when away results will count for everything in a group that also includes Germany, Poland, Georgia and Gibraltar as well as the Scots.

Ireland will be back in Glasgow this October, and I might try and organize another excursion from the Royal County, though probably not by coach.

The last time out we were barely north of Slane when the bus man stopped the bus, had a root under the bonnet and then asked if anyone onboard had an elastic band he could borrow. One of our battalion of the Green Army did indeed have an elastic band and off we went, all the way to Glasgow.

I never did ask why we needed an elastic band and even now, years later, I’d be afraid of the answer.

The man who supplied the elastic band did get a shock – other than the Irish win – in Scotland by the way. The night before the game, he asked a long haired girl to dance in a Glaswegian nightclub – then discovered that “she” was in fact a very annoyed he.

I won’t name and shame him, but I must see if he fancies a return trip in October. And this time we’re flying!

(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)

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