David Hennessy talks to Alan McLoughlin who scored the miraculous goal that took Republic of Ireland to the 1994 world cup about his battle with cancer and new book
Irish football fans will remember Alan McLoughlin for the goal he scored to tie the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland in November 1993, taking Jack Charlton’s team to only their second World Cup.
The match was played in what sectarianism and intimidation had made a very malevolent Windsor Park. The squad needed armed escorts in the days before the game. Alan and any other players who played that night have spoken of how scary a situation it was.
In recent years, Alan has known an even greater fear that came from even closer to home. When he noticed a little blood in his urine, Alan didn’t know if she should worry. However, when what he passed was completely crimson red, the club physio told him to go the hospital straight away. He was diagnosed with cancer of the kidney which he later had removed. Alan is now first team at Portsmouth, the club he spent seven and a half of his years as a player with.
Alan tells The Irish World that his new book, A Different Shade of Green was his way of speaking about the experience, to explain things to his family and perhaps help someone else: “The NHS is so stretched, what they did and how they helped me was fantastic but there’s no real aftercare. The actual job gets done and that’s it, you’re left to your own devices.
“I didn’t want to burden my wife and my kids with how I was feeling. It was a year and a half after the diagnosis and the operation that I started the process of the book and that was the first time I really had the chance to talk about it, about what had happened so in that way it was therapeutic. I ended up getting quite upset with Bryce (Evans) the author when I didn’t expect to because everything came back and I hadn’t spoken about it.”
There is a current advertising campaign that stresses that anyone who notices blood in their urine must get it checked out as it can be a sign of cancer and getting it early is all important: “Don’t sit on your hands in that situation. Make sure that you’re strong enough that you can speak to somebody if you’re not sure. I certainly think it saved my life because I could probably have battled on through that day and the next day and pretended there was no pain. I’m just urging other people if they’re not sure, be safe and take yourself to the doctor or as I did straight to hospital.
“It can strike anybody in any way at any one time and there was no warning sign. Of course, when I was diagnosed with it and I had to go down the next day to see if it had spread, I didn’t know whether that was it really in terms of had I long to live because I was in a situation where a dear friend of mine was at that point gravely ill and I knew the consequences of it so it was a very scary time. I knew and was aware then of the consequences of it but by that point there’s not a lot you can do. I could only hope and pray, which I did, that it hadn’t gone further.”
When they took Alan’s kidney, they could only say that they thought they had got all of the cancer. There is still a question mark that Alan has to live with: “Moving forward, you just don’t know. As quick as it came last time, you just never know.”
A Different Shade of Green takes the reader through Alan’s childhood and schooldays, growing up in an Irish household in Manchester, being childhood friends with Noel Gallagher of Oasis and being a ‘closet red’ as living so close to Maine Road, he could never admit his United allegiances.
Alan began his football career at United before being released to Swindon. Alan scored in Swindon’s play-off victory only to be heartbroken when Swindon’s promotion to the top flight was wiped from the records due to financial irregularities.
It was in 1990 that Alan, who had never played international football was drafted into Jack Charlton’s world cup squad at the last minute. He would play in two of Ireland’s games including against England. Having already been called up for the place of his birth, fixtures against England were always extra important for Alan as players like himself were and are always attacked for being second generation. Alan’s decision to choose Ireland over England who both called him up for their B teams on the same day was influenced by the emotion he saw from his mother when she heard he had been picked to play for the team in green (while being picked for England was still good news for her to hear but did not evoke the same pride).
“It’s something that’s not confusing for me and it shouldn’t confusing for anybody else,” Alan says of playing for Ireland. “I certainly think it was a case of the English press stirring up nonsense.
“One or two were born in Ireland but moved to England. I think Steve Finnan was one and had a London accent or wherever he was living. But that’s okay because he was born in Ireland. It just doesn’t make sense.
“The bottom line is my parents are both Irish, they moved to England for their reasons and I was born in England but brought up in what I would call a traditional Irish family. I was brought up in Manchester but still immensely proud to watch Ireland on the TV or my favourite player to be Liam Brady rather than Bryan Robson.
“Of course when I had the choice to play for England B or Ireland B, I chose Ireland B. I chose it for numerous reasons and they all paid off for me in the end and the overriding factor was that it would make my parents and family proud and it would make me just as proud.
“I think it’s a cheap shot at the end of the day. People forget when John Barnes scored that goal in Maracana, which is a wonderful goal, that he was born in Jamaica. That’s suddenly forgotten about.”
For the full interview, see the November 15 Irish World.