Football shirt references in popular culture don’t come much higher than Father Dougal wearing a Republic of Ireland jersey to bed on Father Ted.
At least not in my house anyway.
Father Dougal Maguire was the wide-eyed simpleton priest banished to Craggy Island for an unspecified misdemeanour otherwise known as the “Blackrock Incident.”
Whilst we may not know much about how Father Dougal became a priest, we do know that he was a huge football fan as evidenced by his reciting of Italian footballers’ names as a last rites blessing for Father Jack.
“Costacurta, Baggio, Roberto.”
The sitcom’s deepest and most ecclesiastic conversations were reserved for bedtime when Father Dougal, played by Ardal O’Hanlon, asked Father Ted questions such as whether the elder priest believed in the after-life?
As the two priests lay in twin-beds, child-like Father Dougal could be seen wearing his Umbro made, mid-1990s Opel sponsored Republic of Ireland shirt under his Masters of the Universe bed-spread.
The Boys in Green wore those shirts in what was to be Jack Charlton’s final qualification campaign, as Ireland finished 2nd in their Euro 96 qualifying group behind Portugal.
As the two sides with the worst runners-up record across Europe’s qualification stage, Holland and Ireland’s fate would be sealed in a one-off winner takes all play-off at Anfield.
Big Jack’s squad on that December night on Merseyside included Paul McGrath, Dennis Irwin, Andy Townsend, John Aldridge and Tony Cascarino. Steve Staunton and Roy Keane were out injured whilst Niall Quinn missed the encounter through suspension.
The Dutch with Van der Sar, Seedorf, Bergkamp, Overmars and Davids won 2-0 thanks to two Patrick Kluivert goals.
Father Ted hit our screens in 1995 at almost exactly the same time I elected to stay on at Sixth Form at my Roman Catholic comprehensive school, 30 miles to the north of County Kilburn.
We thought we knew a few things about nuns and priests until Father Jack told the world to “Feck Off” and drank a bottle of Toilet Duck.
My school days coincided with Ireland’s international heyday under Jack Charlton, and my classmates’ international footballing allegiances were exactly 50% devoted to Ireland, 50% to England, 10% to Scotland, 7% Italy, with Spanish kids making up the numbers. Nobody at my school was any good at maths.
Our school was 100% football and whilst we played Basketball, Rugby and Cricket in PE, nobody had any passion for pursuits away from football other than experimenting with cigarettes and alcohol, playing truant, thinking about sex and trying to walk like Liam Gallagher.
Shirts with “Opel” emblazoned across them were a regular fixture in the Sixth Form block and on non-uniform days of the mid-90s.
With its baggy cut, button-up collar and flash of graphic design, this mid-90s shirt was emblematic of the era. The thick polyester material would have been itchy for Father Dougal to have slept in, leaving the shirt more than a little bit smelly in the morning.
Classic football shirts are often revered for great memories as much as great design. For me, this shirt from the mid-90s ticks both boxes, albeit those memories are of friends and comedy gold rather than for Irish glory on the pitch.
The Father Dougal shirt, but for a couple of extra points in qualification should have graced Euro 96 and been remembered as fondly as the Ireland shirts from Italia 90 and USA 94.