It was a dream come true for Terry Phelan when he received his maiden Republic of Ireland international call-up from childhood hero Jack Charlton in 1991.
Charlton, who alongside brother Bobby Charlton was part of the victorious 1966 World Cup England team, passed away on Saturday at the age of 85.
South United FC Technical Director Phelan, who also played under Jack at the 1994 World Cup, spoke to Sportstar on the lasting legacy his mentor left behind.
Leeds United legend:
I started my career with Leeds in the early 1980s. Jack - by then a legend at Leeds (with over 600 appearances for the club) - would always come to watch the young lads like myself train. He would also watch the reserve team matches. He would come into our dressing room, put his arm on our shoulder and tell us stories from his playing days. As a youngster, it was extraordinary to spend time with a legendary World Cup winner.
I’ll never forget receiving my debut international call-up from Jack, against Hungary. He simply said to me, 'Wee man, just go out there and enjoy yourself. I’ve been tracking you since your time at Leeds; you’re going to be great'. Jack trusted you to do your job. If you didn’t do your job, he would blow his top. He wanted the Ireland team to feel like a family. He treated the players like his sons. When I first joined the national team, he took good care of me. He would check on me and ask if I'm doing well.
There were wonderful players like Roy Keane, Denis Irwin, Andy Townsend and Jason McAteer in the national team, but Jack left no place for egos in the dressing room. Jack, a World Cup winner, didn’t have an ego himself.
‘Less is more’ - that was Jack’s managerial philosophy. He didn’t believe in the modern philosophy of keeping possession and making opponents run after the ball. Jack’s style was simple and effective - get the ball to the big man, hold it up, lay it off wide and then deliver crosses into the box. And when needed, make a few tough tackles to get the ball. Opponents couldn’t handle it. His record speaks for itself - Ireland reached the quarterfinals and round-of-16 in the 1990 and 1994 World Cups respectively. We beat some of the best teams in the world. That’s a massive achievement for a small country like Ireland.
Jack was one of the lads. When we wanted to get his permission to go out and break curfew, we would sing, “We love you, Jackie, we do”. It always worked ( laughs ).
Jack would sometimes train with us. Strangely, he would train in his regular clothes. We would pass the ball to him at the edge of the box, and he would lay it off for us. If you didn’t pass the ball to him properly, he would get angry and lay it off in the wrong direction. What a fantastic character he was. I met him at a big testimonial dinner for him a couple of years ago in Ireland. It was great to see that big grin on his face.
Mick McCarthy, Paul McGrath, Kevin Moran - these are household names in Irish football who were heavily influenced by Jack. By just lifting one finger, Jack could get his message across to the players. He knew how to get the best out of us. Before any match at Dublin, the city would shut down to watch the football. Jack would say, “The fans adore you. Win this one for them”. Jack would always say - do your jobs, and you will be folk heroes in Ireland. He was right. Today, I can walk anywhere in Ireland and people will show me love. And that’s thanks to the great Jack Charlton.
Ireland loved him. If he wanted, Jack could have been the Prime Minister of Ireland for a million terms.