Irish Soccer's Most Memorable Moments, No 19: Harry Ramsden's Challenge 1995
Number 19 marked the real end of the Charlton era, over a massive plate of fish and chips.
The story has become legendary.
People can point to the 0-0 draw to Liechtenstein in the match prior to this infamous story, the 3-1 defeat to Austria the day after or even the 2-Nil playoff loss to Holland in Anfield, but the symbolic end of the Charlton era came here.
The night before a vital match with Austria for qualification for Euro 1996, Jack Charlton took his aging squad out for a plate of chips at Harry Ramsden’s, a chipper Jack held shares in, and to compete in a promotional offer at the establishment on the Naas Road called Harry’s Challenge. Finish a massive plate of fish and chips and get a free desert.
The story has become part of the myth surrounding the Irish team, that made us the international equivalent of Wimbledon’s play hard, party harder "Crazy Gang" 1990s team.
It was all over the papers the next morning and contributed to Ireland not amassing enough points to qualify for the championships in one of the automatic runners-up spots and having to play a Holland side whose backbone was made up of the 1995 European Cup-winning Ajax side.
Told through the player’s eye it goes like this…
Paul McGrath, Back from the Brink Autobiography:
On reflection the magic of the Charlton era was on the wane by then. I believe we came home from America a tired team, a little of the old ferocity had left us… Our efforts to qualify for Euro ’96 died technically, with a 0-2 play-off defeat to Holland at Anfield in December 1995. But being honest, the Harry Ramsden Challenge (where we dipped into a chippy for dinner on the eve of a vital qualifier against Austria) had marked the end three months earlier. We were gone as a competitive force. And Jack walked before he was pushed. It was a sad, even vaguely brutal end.
Niall Quinn, The Autobiography:
We all shuffled into Harry Ramsden’s. Jack is a shareholder. Packie or Paul or somebody cut a ribbon and officially opened the place. So the night before the game, after a week of drink, I settled down to fish and chips. Garry Kelly took the Harry Ramsden’s Challenge and ate a fish about a yard long and a mountain of chips and anything else they challenged him with. He thought there’s be a certificate but he got a free desert instead, which he duly ate. Jack herded us out pronto. Twenty minutes later, it’s dusk at Lansdowne Road and we’re all waddling about the pitch, groaning, full of fish and chips and trying to do a training session the night before this must-win game. We’re burping and farting and creased over with laughter. Our main thought was it’s been a happy era and it’s ending soon…Sometimes you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. It was all over for Jack.
Roy Keane who wasn’t available for that trip, was less piteous in Keane: The Autobiography:
“The story went down a treat in the dressing rooms around England. Significantly Ireland failed to qualify for Euro ’96 because of that defeat. Holland beat them easily in a play-off at Anfield. That was Harry’s Challenge.
As for Big Jack himself? This is what he had to say:
I liked the fish and chips, and the players liked the fish and chips.
Today marks 19 days to go until the start of Euro 2012, so stick with us every day as we present another memorable Irish soccer moment.