They're the second best team in the world, and there's no higher praise than that.
Kevin Keegan
 
         
 
 
Heroes Of Our Time
1. Raymond Abigail Houghton

 

And its joy unconfined for the Irish.

Star was born

The first of the Houghtons to shun the lure of the jockey’s cap, Raymond instead followed the advice of his mother and became the third smallest professional footballer in modern times. He shot to national prominence in 1988, when he finished off a stylish ten man move as Eire - though taking part in the sport for the first time - gained a surprise victory over England.

Ironically, Houghton received little early recognition for the strike, as a people unaccustomed to association football failed to remember the scorer of the famous goal. Indeed the question on everyone’s lips soon became immortalized in song, as the nation inquisitively crooned “Who put the ball in the English net?” Luckily, a caller to the Marian Finuican show solved the puzzle and Houghton’s star was born.

Even when it was later discovered that Eire’s victory was a special conciliatory initiative, staged by the British Government and Gary Lineker as a sort of equalizer for Cromwell, Raymond’s public didn’t want to know. The Vatican already spoke of pressure to include Houghton alongside Jack Charlton in its canonization fasttrack program.

Modest

Despite the fuss, Raymond remained unaffected by celebrity. Though fiercely proud of his Cloughjordan upbringing, in public he affected a broad Scottish accent in a vain bid to deflect the spotlight. In early 1989 he went one step further, officially changing his name from Raymond to “Busy Little” Houghton, in a ceremony overseen by George Hamilton. His modesty was never more evident than in 1994, when he refused to celebrate having accidentally scored against Italy with a miscued shot - instead tumbling sheepishly as he hastily evaded triumphant colleagues.

Success

All told, the eighties were kind to Houghton. As well as his Irish success, he starred for Oxford, where he won a League Cup, two boat races and an Oxford Lunch for his tea every night. It was there that he met fellow Tipp man, John Aldridge and one day, the pair set off for Liverpool to make their fortunes. Here, the little man set all kinds of records. The one blemish, of course, came on a climactic May night in 1989, when the Pool’s audacious attempt on the world record for consecutive favourable refereeing decisions narrowly failed, and Alan Smith’s goal for Arsenal was allowed to stand. It’s probably cold comfort for Houghton that Manchester United has since shattered the old record in any case.

Rose of Tralee

Though lavish spending on Mr. Kipling pies and digestive biscuits somewhat dented Houghton’s personal wealth, his lively wit and personable character ensured a lucrative media career would keep the wolf from the door. Viewers of RTE’s Premiership show grew to adore the unique and often controversial insights Houghton provided, and his wisecracking style has seen him tipped to succeed Marty Whelan as host of the Rose of Tralee.

Houghton the pundit was similarly well received in Britain, where people warmed to his jocose pronunciation of the word “definITEly”, and his only serious rival was outrageous funnyman, Clive Allen. Soon Houghton was everywhere, appearing on TV more often than Ronan Keating in the week of a new single release. His new role gave him the ideal platform for another record bid and this time Houghton was successful. His inclusion of the informative phrase “At this point in time” thirty nine times in a single broadcast is unlikely to ever be equaled, even by RTE’s Sunday Game panelist, Tomas Mulcahy.

Houghton the man

Despite his omnipresence, little is known about Houghton the man. A keen music fan, his choice of hairstyle has led many to assume that Elton John remains a firm Houghton favourite. Few are aware though; that Houghton owes his boyish looks to a controversial anti-aging operation performed in 1984. Fellow superstars Nicholas Lyndhurst and Ian Dempsey are also said to have benefited from the surgery.

Essentially though, Houghton remains a private man and likes nothing better than a aimless scurry in the local park with his dog. Perhaps this is how we should remember him.