It’s Jack Charlton’s 85th birthday today.
And we have history because of my being sent to cover so many of Ireland’s fixtures during his reign as manager.
(When I say cover fixtures, I covered the fans, the matches were irrelevant!)
Anyway, it was February 1993 and I was sent to Albania on a scouting mission.
Northern Ireland were playing Albania in a qualifier for the 1994 World Cup in the United States. We were due to play them in the not too distant future and so I was on a reccy getting stuff for a feature telling Irish fans what to expect when they got to Tirana.
The hotel we stayed in was, apparently, one of the best in Tirana.
There was electricity most of the time.
There was water for showering and flushing toilets for a few hours every day. (When the word came out that the water was on, there was a rush of people to their rooms to wash or go to the jacks)
And almost all the rooms, but not all, had glass in the windows.
The Northern Irish crew had been warned about the food and brought their own and their own chefs.
We did the right thing. We gave it a lash.
And a few hacks, they were mostly soccer writers, suggested we go for a little walk around the city the following morning. I don’t think we would have felt comfortable going on our own.
“I’ll go with ye lads,” Jack Charlton said. “Paddy, call me when you’re going, and don’t mind what I say, just call me and I’ll go with you.”
So we drank.
And went to bed.
And got up mid morning next day.
Someone asked where Jack was.
Bed, came the answer.
I was reminded that I had been giving the job of waking him.
So I went up to his room.
The door wasn’t locked.
“Jack,” I said.
“F**k off, “ he replied.
“You said to…”
“I said to f**k off.”
“But the lads…”
“F**k off please.”
“Yes but you told me not to mind what…”
“Just F**K OFF will you?”
And he pulled the covers over his head.
So we strolled around. There wasn’t much to see. The only shop that didn’t look closed was a bank.
We strolled back into the hotel.
There was Jack.
“Where were you guys?”
“We went for a walk and…”
“I told you to wake me.”
“Yeh, but you told me to f**k off four times.”
“I told you not to mind what I said.”
Smiles behind his back.
Terror on my face.