Charlton Gives It a Lash
Liam Harrison and the Goal Celebrities
In honor of Ireland's official qualification for Euro 2012, we look at the Irish nation's proud musical tradition. Irish musicians over the years have sung about love; they've sung about war; and they've sung, more than you might expect, about Jack Charlton.
Ireland has a long soccer history, but like so much else, it has also been tied up in the island's intractable political battles for almost a century. The feud between the Irish Football Association, based in Belfast, and the Football Association of Ireland, based in Dublin, likely did no good to either team's program, with players crossing the northern border and sometimes playing for both teams at once. The teams could not even agree on their names; after decades of feuding, FIFA ruled that the Belfast-based team would compete as Northern Ireland, while the Dublin-based group plays as the Republic of Ireland.
The Republic team, run by the FAI since the 1920s, found its first success in the 1980s at the hands of an English soccer icon. Jack Charlton was a star center back with Leeds, and along with his brother Bobby was part of Alf Ramsey's squad that won the World Cup for England in 1966. After his playing days, he was one of the most successful managers in English club soccer of the 1970s and 1980s. And in 1986, he joined Ireland as manager. Ireland had never qualified for a major tournament before, but in 1988, Charlton's team edged out Belgium and Bulgaria to qualify for the European Championships. While they went out in the first round in '88, the Republic of Ireland continued their good form in late 1988 and 1989, beating and drawing the Northern Ireland side on their way to qualifying for the country's first-ever World Cup appearance.
The Irish team itself was full of talented players, but it was the manager that became the country's hero. Ireland's musicians, who had previously had very little soccer success to sing about, took notice, and songs about Charlton flooded the Irish airwaves in advance of Italia 90.
Probably the best known musicians to take Charlton as a subject were Celtic punkers The Pogues, who together with Irish trad artists The Dubliners recorded "Jack's Heroes" for the 1990 campaign. "Jack's Heroes" is punk-trad fusion, with Pogues frontman Shane McGowan and the Dubliners singing a slightly more moderate version of the traditional overconfident England team anthems:
We'll play like perfect gentlemen,
To win, to lose, to draw,
For we're here to take the world cup
To Paddy's shamrock shore.
And we'll follow Jack's heroes whatever they do.
A less eminent group also recorded a Charlton tune which went on to find great success. Liam Harrison and the Goal Celebrities had their only hit with "Give It A Lash Jack." To "give it a lash," in Irish slang, is to give something a try. The lyrics are a mess, full of brags about how Diego Maradona, Gary Lineker, and the other stars of the 1990 soccer world will fall before the Irish side, with the repeated chorus:
Give it a lash, Jack,
Give it a lash, Jack,
Never never never say no,
Ireland, Ireland, Republic of Ireland,
Rev it up and here we go.
In true soccer song tradition, Harrison even matches England's three-syllable "En-ger-land" by singing about the "Repu-bu-lic of Ireland." The tune and the vocal don't add much interest, nor does the cut-rate production. But the song is fondly remembered in Ireland, probably more so than the Pogues and Dubliners' more polished entry. They were joined in 1990 by a clutch of other Charlton songs, like "The Team That Jack Built" and "Put 'Em Under Pressure," the team's official anthem, named after a favorite Charlton quote.
In 1994, Charlton's Ireland qualified for its second World Cup, and another round of Charlton songs followed, including Charlie O'Neill's "Drive It, Jack," a song by the Shamrock Rovers squad called "Thank You, Jack," and an all-star remake of "Give It A Lash Jack" called "Give It A Lash Again." But after 1994, Ireland's fortunes faded, and Charlton retired from management. Since then, Ireland has qualified for the World Cup in 2002 and come close in 2010, but the outpouring of support Charlton saw from fans and musicians has yet to be repeated.
With a 1-1 result tonight in the return leg against Estonia, the Republic of Ireland, led by their new coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, have qualified for Euro 2012. It remains to be seen whether "Give It A Lash, Trap," will be rolled out for the occasion.