Totally Dublin met Jason McAteer last month at Lansdowne Road when he was in town promoting a Topps Trading Cards and playing a Liverpool Legends match with a bunch of his old running buddies from his time at Anfield. We picked his brain about the experience of playing for Ireland at a major championship and his memories of his time in the national team both on and off the pitch. Suffice to say the man they called Trigger is still (deservedly) being bought pints for that legendary goal in September 2001.
Were you an Irish fan back in June of 1988?
Obviously cos my grandad’s Irish we’d follow Ireland. I’ve never been an England fan – in anything! It’s kinda funny, when I was playing. But I was asked to play for England and [I] asked for a bit of time to think about it because when it gets out, the fact that you’ve been asked to play for England, it travels very quickly so my club [Bolton Wanderers] let people know that I’d been approached and then Jack was over straight away and asked me to play for Ireland against Russia so I was made up.
You came into the Irish team just before the World Cup. It’s echoed by James McClean.
I didn’t go through the qualifiers. I sort of knicked my place on the plane. I did a game for Sky Sports, the Czech Republic game here [in Lansdowne Road] and that was the big talking point with Sky – my comparison with McClean and how it could happen to him. The difference between me and him is that Trapattoni’s got a very settled team and they’re quite young. With me, it was quite an aging team and it was me, Gary [Kelly] and Phil [Babb] and it needed that injection of youth in the team. We still had to prove ourselves. We player Germany in Hannover. I set Cascarino up, Kells scored and we beat them 2-0. Jack said he made his mind up after that game that the three of us were going to go to America.
I remember watching that game, I was thirteen and thinking…
We’re gonna win the World Cup! Haha! We thought that when we came off! It was funny – Andreas Brehme had scored the winning penalty in 1990. He was a left footed player and he’d scored the penalty with his right foot. He didn’t even play that game he came to me and gave me his shirt. I think it was a bit of a ‘thank you’ for ripping the left back. I went to give him mine and he said “No it’s alright!”
I suppose you must always get asked about…
The Holland goal, yeah. What makes me laugh about that game is that I’ve met so many people who were there, there must have been 100,000 people in the stadium.
In dressing room at the end of the game, it was quite an emotional time for me back then, Mick Byrne [Ireland’s physio/loveable uncle figure] gave me this big cuddle and I remember crying and he said, listen “I’ve had a phonecall from Bono, he wants you to go to Slane tonight and go onstage!” Mick Byrne, he’d tell you these really elaborate stories so you’d always take it with a pinch of salt – it could be true, but with a little bit of bullshit in there. I remember pulling away from him and saying “Are you fucking winding me up?!” And he said “No, they want you to go but you can’t get in so there’s a helicopter waiting for you at the airport!” – because obviously the timing was really close. So I said, “Tell Bono I’m out on the piss with John Aldridge tonight and I can’t make it,” thinking he was winding me up.
Anyway, if you watch the U2 Slane DVD he comes out and sings this song and wraps the flag around him and he says “Imagine one time, it’s Jason McAteer!” and everyone cheers. It’s that moment I’m supposed to walk out on stage, so Mick wasn’t lying!
Are you going over to Poland?
I’m working for Al Jazeera but just for 12 days because they don’t think that Ireland are going to make the semi-finals – I said “Watch this space.”
There’s always someone who surprises – Denmark, Greece, Turkey last time.
Ireland go there with no worries with them. It’s “Do as well as you can” and you feel that when you’re out there. As a footballer, you’re going to a competition where there are perfect pitches, the perfect preparation, the kit’s great, cos it’s a new kit. Everything’s new and it’s like, if you can’t play well in them circumstances you want yer arses kicked.
Do all those little things make a big difference?
They do. You get looked after in a very special way. At the end of the day, you should – you’re playing for your country in a major competition. There’s that much money put into it the organization of it that you’re looked after unbelievably well. You’ve only got to run out and play footy – it’s not that hard!
The competitions I was in, America was fantastic but Japan got difficult ’cause of what happened with Roy [Keane] going home. The media descended on us, which meant our free time became confined to our room, it kind of spoilt it for me whereas in 1994, me, Gary and Phil were up to all kinds. We went to Disney, went out with U2, eating chicken nuggets on the front of a limo in Times Square after the Italy game. Can’t see England doing that.
Are you still in contact with the guys in the team now?
When I do the game here [for Sky Sports] I go to the dressing room and the players lounge and see them all. And I know Trap [Giovanni Trapattoni] really well now. He greeted me like a long lost son last time I saw him, which was really special.
What’s he like?
He’s probably not how you would see him, he’s very different to how he handles the media. He’s very clever, very articulate. He’s got an aura and a presence. Having been in the game, he has a real respect for you. He didn’t really know me when I first met him but now I’ve met him six or seven times he knows who I am, he knows I’ve played for Ireland, he knows I’ve been to major competitions so I’m treated with the utmost respect by him now.
I think he’s embraced what Ireland all about because. At the time I wanted Terry Venables to come in, and my worry was that Trap wouldn’t really grasp the team spirit, the fans, the kind of thing that gets us results. It’s hard to put your finger on what that is but it’s something special.
I get sick and tired of people, especially Dunphy, going on about them…
Dunphy knows shit. In fact, write that. Dunphy knows shit.