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Lawrie's lads were so good, they took my breath away, says author

By Eddie McIlwaine

Northern Ireland football fans will find out next week what really happened in the days leading up to the stunning victory over Spain - and why their performances took an English woman's breath away.

Despite the result being one of the best in the history of "our wee country," manager Lawrie Sanchez threatened to quit shortly after the final whistle.

What happened in the run-up to that historic Euro 2008 qualifier at Windsor Park is one of the key stories in "My Northern Ireland Years," the new book about Sanchez's time at the Irish FA which is launched in Belfast next week.

It has always been a mystery about why Sanchez got so close to walking away from the job when he had just enjoyed his finest hour thanks to David Healy's brilliant hat-trick against the Spaniards.

Was he upset by the press criticism that followed the 3-0 home defeat by Iceland a few days earlier - or was there more to it than that?

Former journalist Heather Jan Brunt says it was her idea to write a book about Sanchez's three and a quarter years in charge of the Northern Ireland international team - which ended in May when he was made an offer he couldn't refuse by Premiership club Fulham.

"It was such a wonderful adventure in which I was involved that I felt it had to be put down in print," said Jan, who has also included many hitherto unseen photos in the new book.

She added: "It was written totally by me with Lawrie's blessing and co-operation. It is all about Lawrie - and certainly not about me.
"We shared in a successful period with the team and I felt it had to be written about. There are a few of my opinions in the story, but not a lot."

Sanchez left the Northern Ireland team with a great chance of qualifying for next summer's Euro 2008 tournament, although results since he left have lengthened the odds considerably.

Mother-of-two Heather speaks fondly of her time in Ulster as communications manager with Lawrie's employers up at Windsor Avenue, Belfast.

"I felt privileged to work with Lawrie, the players, with the IFA officials and the Northern Ireland journalists with whom I got on so well.

"The special times were of course at Windsor Park - when the great atmosphere had me close to tears on many occasions. The players took my breath away.

"I just loved watching the team play and being in touch before and after games with the players and studying their reactions to the results.

"And I loved travelling with the international squad to all those matches. International football is special and I'll never forget those marvellous victories over Spain and England."

She will be in Belfast with Lawrie on Wednesday November 7 to sign copies of My Northern Ireland Years (Appletree Press, £17.99 at Eason's (12.30pm) and Waterstone's (3pm).

"My favourite team? Definitely Northern Ireland. I just love them."

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