I started watching football just a bit too late to have experienced Ireland’s win over England at Euro 88.
Instead, the 1990 World Cup was my first proper exposure to the sport, with the 1990-91 season marking the beginning of a voracious interest in anything to do with it. As a result, I just took it that 1-1 draws between the Republic of Ireland and England were things that happened every so often.
Having shared the spoils in the World Cup in June, the Euro 92 qualifier at Lansdowne Road five months later was a similarly cagey affair and it would be the same at Wembley at the end of March 1991. Ultimately, Ireland’s failure to beat Poland home or away meant that England pipped them to the sole qualifying spot in the group.
The kits on show in Dublin were essentially the same as those used in Italy, but a notable change from the Ireland point of view was the first appearance of a blockier number style, featuring a three stripe motif in the top-right corner of each digit.
It was similar, but different, to what Liverpool and Arsenal had that season – essentially the same as England’s but with the striping added.
Kevin Sheedy had scored Ireland’s equaliser in the World Cup game in Cagliari but he was absent here. It meant that, for the second qualifier in a row, Ireland had a number 11 operating in central midfield.
Andy Townsend had been the only starter against England in June to have a squad number above 11 (he wore 13) but the missing man on that occasion, Ronnie Whelan, slotted in here – ostensibly left midfield but tucking in to help against England’s three in middle – and his seniority ensured he had number 6.
At club level with Liverpool, Whelan favoured number 5 but eventually lost it to Mark Wright.
Wright, then with Derby County, was on the opposite team that day in November 1990 but he was also wearing 6 – when a switch of the three centre-backs would have allowed all three to wear their club numbers.
Des Walker always wore 4 for Nottingham Forest but was generally 5 for England.
Tony Adams was drafted in as the third stopper – his first international appearance in almost two years – which explains why he was number 4 (this and the return match at Wembley were the only two occasions where he wore that number). At club level, Adams was number 6 for Arsenal, though he would go on to settle at 5 for England (and did wear it for the Gunners at the beginning of his career).
The lack of a left-winger did allow Steve McMahon to wear the number 11 he always donned for Liverpool, but there was a shade of club/country number-swap about his partners. Gordon Cowans was a controversial inclusion by Graham Taylor instead of Paul Gascoigne and so wore number 8, but for Aston Villa he wore 10 with David Platt wearing 8 for them.
Here, Platt had 7 on his back as he gave England the lead – Villa team-mate Tony Cascarino equalised after coming on as a sub – and it was the number with which he would go on to become most closely associated.
As mentioned above, McMahon was Liverpool’s number 11 despite playing as a defensive midfielder, one of the many things that made Simon Treanor’s series, Liverpool By The Numbers, so interesting. Is there an appetite among readers for England or Ireland By The Numbers? Feedback is welcome through the usual channels.