The 1988 European Championship-winning captain received the international personality accolade, though hardly on account of his searing insights on Sky Sports.
It was a good night for soccer in the Southeast: Wexford’s Kevin Doyle won the Senior International Player accolade; Bohs’ ‘keeper Brian Murphy took the League of Ireland gong; Piltown’s Karen Duggan the U19 Women’s prize; while the Special Merit award went to former FIFA referee Eddie Foley. The native of Kinsalebeg in west Waterford retired this year having enjoyed a career as one of Ireland’s most successful and respected referees. The Cork-based soldier was the only official ever from the Republic of Ireland to have been appointed to the finals of both the World Cup and European Championship.
Anyhow, Gullit, as he recalled on the night, first came to my attention when he scored a brace against Eoin Hand’s Republic in a 3-2 Euro qualifier defeat by the Netherlands at Dalymount in October 1983 (pictured above as he looked back then)). I wasn’t aware of him beforehand, and had no idea he was one of the first black men to play for the notoriously racially-divided Dutch team, having merely listened to the match on monotone Radio 1.
Ireland improbably led 2-0 at half-time through goals by Gary Waddock and Liam Brady, but Gullit’s double blast, sandwiching another strike from a little-known fella called Marco Van Basten, won it for the Orangemen.
Gullit’s and Ireland’s paths crossed again at Euro 88 when Wim Kieft fluked a headed winner that spun past Packie Bonner to send Jack Charlton’s ‘boys in green’ packing and Holland on their way to what remains, remarkably, their only major trophy.
The toothsome one scored the opening goal of the countries’ Italia 90 group clash 10 minutes in, before Niall Quinn equalised on 71′ and the sides played tip-tap-a-roo ’til the full-time whistle.
Maybe the FAI felt they owed Mr “Sexy Football” one for getting his team-mates to take their foot off the pedal that strange night in Palermo.
*Footnote: I’ve made some howlers in my time, but the FAI’s post-awards press release had Gullit down as being “captain of the Netherlands national team that won the European Championship in 1989”.
Cutbacks could well be affecting newspaper subbing desks as well as PR. The Sunday Times told the next morning how Waterford were unlucky to merely draw with their “neighbours” Wicklow in Aughrim.