Many years ago, too many now as it happens, Steve Staunton stopped for a cup of tea and a chat in the lobby of a government-owned hotel on the Mediterranean island of Malta.
This was no ordinary hotel – most ordinary hotels don’t have staff who are learning their trade courtesy of a state training agency – and it was no normal visit by an Irish football team.
On most of their trips abroad, the Irish squad and their various managers and coaches stay for two or three nights at most. On the odd occasions, like this summer’s tour to America, they will be away together for a period of 10 days or so, but even that won’t be in the same hotel.
Malta was different though. The occasion was Ireland’s first ever training camp for the nation’s first ever World Cup finals.
The fact that the hotel wasn’t really ready to host such an august group in such unknown circumstances for the FAI and the team that Jack built served only to add to the confusion.
It also added to the sense of adventure for all concerned, if truth be told.
In those far off and glorious days, the media were allowed to stay in the same hotel as the Irish team without any outbreak of paranoia from either side.
These days you need a special permit just to breathe the same air as an Ireland footballer and you can’t ever dare to speak to one of them without permission.
Back in my youth it was different, and Staunton thought nothing of sitting down for a chat that evening in the hotel perched high above the seaside resort that is still known as St. Julian’s Bay, even if everything else to do with that trip is alien to current circumstances.
One of the reasons he was happy to stop and chat, aside from the fact that he is a seriously good guy for all he has been lampooned in the Irish media of late, is that Steve just wanted to pass an hour or two in a hotel where boredom was deemed an attraction.
The timing of our chat is relevant here as it occurred at the end of May in 1990, at a time when he was one of the most promising young players in a Liverpool team that had dominated English football under manager Kenny Dalglish.
It was also a year after the most horrific event that the club and the English game have ever had to deal with, the horror that was the Hillsborough disaster when 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death at the Leppings Lane end of the ground in Sheffield during the FA Cup semifinal with Forest.
Staunton was the left-back on the Liverpool team that day. And that night in Malta he spoke, for the only time I have ever heard him speak on the subject, of the harrowing scenes he witnessed from the pitch, just yards from the terrace where so many Liverpool fans died.
My abiding memory of our conversation is his description of the cries for help from those fans, cries he was helpless to answer.
On Monday, his words came back to me as I watched two teams of Liverpool legends play each other in an Anfield game designed to honor the memories of the 96 fans who never came home from Hillsborough.
On Tuesday, the families of those 96 fans returned to the latest inquests into their deaths, returned to their patient vigil for justice for their loved ones, justice for their last one.
Present at Anfield on Monday were the Liverpool team currently sitting on top of the English Premier League, the players now just three games away from a first title since, you guessed it, 1990.
So if there is a God then Liverpool will win the Premiership next month and the families of the 96 will see justice delivered at that inquest.
Then, and only then, will the cries Steve Staunton heard on that fateful day 25 years ago be answered forever. All concerned deserve nothing less.
(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)
Log in with your social accounts:
Or, log in with your IrishCentral account:
Don't have an account yet? Register now !
Join IrishCentral with your social accounts:
Already have an account ? Log in
Or, sign up for an IrishCentral account below:
Make sure we gathered the correct information from you
You already have an account on IrishCentral! Please confirm you're the owner.
Our new policy requires our users to save a first and last name. Please update your account: