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Italia ‘90: Big Jack and the Irish

Italia ‘90: Big Jack and the Irish

Jack Charlton exhibition at The Little Museum of Dublin

“Jack Charlton came to personify a golden era in Irish football… The Italia ’90 campaign was more than just a football tournament for us all, it was a time of unbridled joy and celebration throughout the nation.”

Michéal Martin TD, Taoiseach

In August 2020 an exhibition in the Little Museum celebrated Jack Charlton and the Irish soccer team that made it to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1990. 

When Big Jack died in July 2020, the deluge of tributes that poured forth on either side of the Irish Sea spoke to a life and a personality whose appeal transcended class, borders and traditional enmities.

The reaction was particularly heartfelt in Ireland, where Charlton’s decade-long tenure as manager of the Irish soccer team became stitched into popular memory and invested with a meaning that went far beyond sport. 

Charlton was often described as Ireland’s favourite Englishman. That he presided over an era of unprecedented Irish achievement in international soccer accounted for much of it. But the connection went further and deeper.

Jack Charlton’s personality, by turns flinty and charming, endeared him to many, as did the routine stories of his fishing trips and pub appearances in various parts of the country. 

The earthiness of his character found perfect expression in an international team whose style of play was grounded in qualities of honest effort and unending commitment. That team delivered some extraordinary sporting moments – and this summer, the Little Museum remembers the most famous of them on its 30th anniversary. 

Italia ‘90 was Ireland’s first World Cup – after 50 years of trying – and the country came to a complete standstill for the tournament. Charlton’s side headed off to Italy as rank outsiders, but a draw in each of the three group games saw the Boys in Green advance to the last 16 for a meeting with Romania and again the country came to a halt. 

What happened that summer was the subject of this exhibition.

Curated by Paul Rouse and Mark Duncan, Italia ‘90: Big Jack and the Irish was produced with support from Sportsfile, the Department of Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht, and Dublin City Council.

Italia ‘90: Big Jack and the Irish ran in the Little Museum of Dublin from August 1-October 1, 2020