Ireland against England in Wembley - the soccer fixture to beat all soccer fixtures


The great Ray Houghton during his playing days for Ireland.
The great Ray Houghton during his playing days for Ireland. 

We fly on Wednesday morning, off on a rite of passage that has previously landed us in Croke Park, Lansdowne Road, Dalymount Park and even Ballyshannon.

It’s a family thing, the sort of experience that can only be handed down from father to son, mother to daughter, father to daughter or even mother to son just to keep the politically correct happy.

Predominantly in our house it has been father to son, and it has been football that inspired such trips. First, we went to Dalymount, home of the Bohs and venue of many a childhood Sunday afternoon and a Friday night for the eldest member of the clan.

Then we took in Croke Park on the county days when the blood stirs like no other, when passion flies through the veins and the games of Gaelic football and hurling mean everything to everybody, like no other sport in the world.

Lansdowne Road has been a shared experience for soccer internationals and rugby internationals, FAI Cup finals and big Heineken Cup matches. A stage fit for kings and often inhabited by mere mortals in green and white and red and blue shirts, whatever shape the ball is in.

Ballyshannon has no sporting link, not in the Dervan household anyway.  That’s a blue of a different hue, the blues of Rory Gallagher to be precise and a trip that eldest son Cillian and youngest son Ciaran have undertaken with a dad old enough to have seen the great Gallagher in the flesh.

On Saturday, God willing, Ciaran and I will be back in Donegal, back to see the town where Gallagher was born pay tribute to a guitar player all but claimed by the city of Cork he grew up in.

Before we get there, before we get to listen to Crow Black Chicken and the Answer and Nine Below Zero, complete with the great harmonica player Mark Feltham, pay their own tributes to Rory in music and song, I have another rite of passage to complete.

Very early on Wednesday morning, when the night will still be young in Manhattan, we will leave Co. Meath for Dublin Airport and the odyssey that is a Ryanair flight to Gatwick.

Like another 5,000 or so Irish fans, we will head to Wembley for the soccer fixture to beat all soccer fixtures – Ireland against England at the home of the game in the capital of the nation that invented the sport, but hasn’t been able to get the ball back since somewhere around 1966.

It’s not my first trip to Wembley and hopefully it won’t be the last. It will, however, be Cillian’s first time to see the famous Twin Towers, his first chance to witness the wonder of Wembley Way on match day.

And that’s what makes is so special, that’s why this could be the father and mother -- or son -- of all trips, the trip of a lifetime.

I’ve been down this road personally before. In 1985, when Gary Lineker scored his first England goal in a 2-1 win against an Irish team managed by my good friend Eoin Hand, myself and my mate Anthony got the boat to Holyhead and the train to London in the name of Irish football.

We were young, 21 or so, and the torturous route to the city of footballing dreams was nothing more than a great adventure, full of hope and expectation and perspiration.

That it was as we joined the Green Army for the first time on tour and realized that there’s only one thing better than watching the Irish team at home – and that’s following them abroad.

Since then I have seen Ireland play England once more at Wembley, when Niall Quinn scored in a 1-1 draw we should have won in 1991, and watched in amazement when Ray Houghton put the ball in the English net in 1988, on German soil this time.

That game in Stuttgart will always be the best ever. To beat England on Ireland’s first ever appearance on a major international stage will always be the best of the best.

If I’d never seen another Ireland game after that afternoon at the Neckarstadion, I’d still die a happy man.

Blessed at that stage by a job that allowed me to earn money while watching the Irish team play, I was lucky to be in the team hotel that night as we celebrated the sweetest of all victories.