A month before the 2002 World Cup, Shay Healy voyaged to Japan with footballistic tour operator Ray Treacy, who had made the Irish squad’s travel arrangements.
Ray took Shay around the various locations, and succeeded in setting Shay’s mind at ease about the conditions the Irish lads would encounter during the competition.
The programme opens with Shay on the plane to Japan. Or as Shay would have it, on the “bus”:
“If you’re worried about the kind of shape the boys in green will be in when they get to Japan, relax. They’ll be travelling like this in total comfort at the front of the bus, pampered all the way.”
First stop was the city of Izumo (by which we infer that Ray had nothing to do with the infamous Irish pre-World Cup sojourn in Saipan).
Shay: “Izumo, called the city of eight million gods, has a population of 88,000 people.”
Roughly a hundred gods per person, surely making Izumo the most religious city in the world.
Shay and Ray check out the park outside the Irish hotel.
Shay: “I see we’re going to be under the watchful eye of a lucky dragon.”
Ray: “Yes, it’s something to keep the kids amused.”
Next they inspect the neighboring indoor astroturf arena.
Ray: “I think Mick will use this pitch for leisure… I know he’s bringing along some rink bowls.”
The lads travel to the Izumo sports centre. Ray reveals that it boasts “all the latest gym equipment”.
And that’s not all – it also has “a Japanese bath”.
Ray runs through the complex bathing procedure awaiting the Irish players:
“This is the bath, so the players will come in here… you’ve got to have a complete shower with all your soaps, and you’ve got to wash off every drop of soap.”
Time for the boys have a look at the Izumo hotel rooms.
Shay outlines their luxurious features: “Okay, this is an average twin room… comfy bed, TV, fridge in the corner – empty, I hope – tea-making facilities… and the players will be bringing their own tea bags from Ireland, I believe. Small bathroom, which is the tradition in Japan. And a leisure area.”
Time to leave Izumo.
Our heroes travel to the next venue – Makuhari – and visit the local park. “We’re sitting here in the local Japanese gardens.”
Japanese gardens in Japan. Quite a find.
Shay: “Will I get to see the bed that Roy Keane is going to sleep in?”
Ray: “I don’t think you’ll see the bed he’ll sleep in, but you’ll see the floor he’ll sleep on.”
An insight, perhaps, into certain events that were to transpire weeks later.
The rooms are impressive, as Ray explains: “Two beds… aaah…. it’s got almost everything – television… a lounge area… a view of the bay, which is nice.”
The hotel even has an underground golf course, which enables the lads to eat up five minutes of airtime:
Shay: “Ray, what have we got here?”
Ray: “Here we’ve got the centre, Club Le Club, basically we’ve got a golf course under the hotel.”
Shay: “You can play all the shots?”
Ray: “You can play everything… your drivers… all the way through, your sand bunkers, to the putting green. You can play the most difficult shot in golf – a downhill lie. And you can play an uphill lie as well.”
Time to take a breather after all that golf. In a segment called Tokyo Tips, Shay stands in a gents. A Japanese man urinates in the background. Shay explains in rather too much detail how to go to the toilet in Japan.
Next stop: the FAI’s administrative HQ in Japan.
Ray: “This will be the headquarters of the FAI. They’ll have all the facilities – phone lines, etc.”
Thoroughly impressed, the lads move on to the stadium, and check out the dressing rooms.
Shay: “Well, Ray, this is the big one – the big, big dressing room.”
Ray: “Yep, this is where it will all be happening.”
Everything looks good, but Ray casts an unexpected element of doubt over what they have discovered: “There’s bathrooms and showers and everything in here… at the moment.”
However, the physio’s facilities are second to none.
Ray: “Mick Byrne will be very happy when he sees the massage room – it’s a fine, big room with four benches.”
Just when you think things couldn’t get any better for the Irish team, they do…
Ray: “Probably 20 showers in total… plus the tactic board.”
But then a setback. Ray suggests that the odds may be stacked unfairly in favour of the Germans:
“This is the Irish warm-up area, and the unfortunate thing is that the Germans will also have a warm-up area on the far side.”
Still, it all worked out in the end. We got our draw with the Germans, and we progressed to second-round glory.
Could it have happened without Ray’s sterling groundwork? Possibly, but probably not.
Watch the full thing here:
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