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Republic of Ireland players pay tribute to 'unifying' Jack Charlton

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Respect: Packie Bonner

Respect: Packie Bonner

Respect: Packie Bonner

Former Irish football manager Jack Charlton has been remembered as an iconic figure who brought people together through sport.

He passed away at his home in England on Friday night aged 85, leading to an outpouring of tributes for the man who steered the Republic to its first major tournament, the 1988 European Championships, and the 1990 and 1994 World Cups.

Goalkeeper Packie Bonner and forward Ray Houghton were among the members of the squad who became national heroes during this era, buoyed by the support of the fans dubbed 'Jack's Army'.

Mr Bonner described Mr Charlton as an "iconic and larger than life character".

"I was very honoured to be part of it all. I remember Jack saying to me that 'any international job you should only stay four years in it' and he stayed 10," he said. "I think the man himself, his personality, that's what I liked about Jack. I remember how he dealt with people."

He recalled an away match against Lithuania in a qualifier in the early 90s when he made a mistake that led to a goal.

Bonner didn't move off his line quickly enough, "which was a big thing for Jack, sweeping behind the defence".

"We ended up winning the game, so we got away with it. But he didn't say anything to me.

"It was the next day at training, when we went back onto the pitch and he called everybody together and he turned to me, and he said in his own way, 'Listen, you're a great goalkeeper, we all love you, everybody here and the fans. But never do that again.'

"He dressed it up beautifully," Mr Bonner recalled, laughing.

There have been calls for a statue to commemorate Mr Charlton, and Mr Bonner said he would agree.

"There should be statutes of our great sports people from all walks of life, somewhere you could commemorate those people. Sports is hugely important to our society. Jack was part of that.

"He created something that people remember with fond memories that affected our lives.

"The other thing is he brought the whole of society together.

"It didn't matter if you were male, female, where you where, if you were a GAA person, a rugby person, soccer, it didn't matter.

"I heard one woman chatting about her dad being a staunch GAA man, who said soccer would never come into the house. By the time we qualified for the World Cup, he was putting up the bunting."

Meanwhile, Ray Houghton recalled how Charlton was widely respected.

"There has been a lot of outpouring of love and respect for Jack over in Ireland and indeed here in England. It shows you the admiration and respect people had for what he achieved.

"I think in Ireland, he just did so much good. He brought a lot of people together.

"He didn't suffer fools. But there was an honesty about him and I think that's what came across to people was his humility, his working class background and the fact that he could very much relate to people."

He has so many memoires of Jack. "Very few people in my life have called me 'Raymond'. But he was one of the few."

"You find with special people, when they enter a room, there could be 300 people chatting in a room, but as soon as they walk in, everybody stops the conversation and looks around. He had that gravitas.

"He was very much someone who would let you know his opinion, but he would listen to people."

Belfast Telegraph