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Build statue to remember Jack Charlton, say Ireland fans in Belfast

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Tribute: Paul Loughran

Tribute: Paul Loughran

Tribute: Paul Loughran

Belfast's legion of Republic of Ireland fans are leading calls for a statue to be erected of Jack Charlton at Lansdowne Road to remember the man "who made them all fall in love with football again."

The West Belfast Ireland Supporters' Club was formed in 1989 in the wake of Big Jack's impact on the team in the 1988 European Championships.

Several glorious years, including World Cup campaigns in Italia 90 and USA 94 followed, and it's those memories that will live longest in the minds of club members, said club secretary Paul Loughran.

"He's the man who made us all fall in love with football again," said Paul.

"Our club was basically formed on the back of the Ireland team's performance in the 1988 European Championships.

"We all remember Ray Houghton's headed goal in the 1-0 win over England. That was one of the most memorable moments.

"The support grew from there. A year later the club was formed and we had some wonderful years, the best years, when Jack was in charge. Not even the disappointment at being so unlucky in not going further in the tournament diminished the sense of pride we had in the team again.

"Looking back now you can say, quite simply, he was a giant of Irish football.

"What he did for the team, for the sport and for the country made us all fall in love with the team and with him. That was his stature and that's the best tribute we can pay him.

"We had the pleasure of meeting him several times and he was never anything less than a gentleman who always had time for us as supporters. He had charisma. No matter what he did, what he said, you just couldn't help but like the man. He had the whole country under his spell.

"He gave us so many happy memories, so many wonderful parties."

That win over England in 1988 was just the start of the love affair with football for Ireland supporters.

"Italia 90 followed and to see Ireland play and compete so well in a World Cup filled the whole country with pride," said Paul.

"It continued in the USA in 1994 and the win over Italy in New York is another stand out memory for us.

"But there was so much more to the man. The way he treated the fans, the way he changed the entire mood of the country. All of that can't be underestimated.

"We had know he wasn't in the best of health lately but when I heard he had died I was gutted.

"It's a very sad time for Irish football. He left a big hole when he ended his time as Ireland manager and has left an even bigger hole now.

"We've spent the past couple of days looking on YouTube at some of those remarkable days when the whole country was united behind big Jack and his team."

The west Belfast club have now joined with others across Ireand in calling for a lasting reminder of the Ashington-born man.

"His impact went much further than on the football pitch," said Paul. "He was a natural born leader and we think he deserves a lasting tribute.

"That's why we're involved in starting a petition, appealing for football fans across the whole of Ireland to sign up and call for a statue in his honour, to remember the incredible impact he had on both football and Irish society to be erected at Lansdowne Road. I know fans will be fully behind this for all the wonderful memories he gave us.

"We will be working with the Confederation of Republic of Ireland Supporters' Clubs to pursue this," said Paul. "There's certainly going to be a lot of support for a lasting tribute at the home if football in Ireland."

The club's petition for a statue to Jack Charlton is available on their Facebook page.

Belfast Telegraph