Jason Barry: Why Ray Houghton's USA 94 goal meant everything to a young Irish actor in London

Love/Hate actor Jason Barry recalls poignant memories from USA 94

Jason Barry, Titanic

Actor Jason Barry arrives at the World Premiere of Titanic 3D at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Tuesday, March, 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

One of my fondest memories of Ireland during a major championships occurred at the 1994 World Cup when Ray Houghton blasted the ball into the Italians' net in Giants Stadium.

It was the kind of goal you dreamt of scoring when playing “World Cup” with your mates in the local green. In terms of sporting endeavor it was a thing of beauty but in terms of the timing in my life it had a much deeper impact.

I was lucky enough to have experienced Euro 88 and Italia 90 while still living with my folks in Ireland. Incredible times, great memories. When USA 94 came around I was 19 and I had just moved to London to further my acting career. I didn't know a soul and ended up living in a miserable little bedsit in Harlesden. Aside from being a very lonely place for me during those early months London was also a strange city at that time for the Irish.

My generation was tolerated but not necessarily liked. Looking back now I was pretty naive to how the English felt towards the Irish and how difficult it must have been on previous generations of fellow immigrants. Green Zone areas like Harlesden, Camden, Archway and of course Kilburn (County Kilburn as it was known) was where most of the Irish settled. Safety in numbers during the 60’s and 70’s I suppose.

To have an Irish accent didn't go down too well on the tube when an IRA bomb alert (yet another) stopped the train. Wearing an Ireland jersey outside of the Green Zones wasn’t recommended.

With the World Cup approaching I started to feel a bit homesick. I knew living in London was the right thing to do for my career but the thoughts of missing out on all the excitement back in Dublin was hard to swallow. 1994 was long before cheap flights across the Irish Sea came into play. It cost an arm and a leg to fly back then and the bus to Holyhead and then the boat to Dublin (28 pound return, not a bad price though!) was a fifteen hour journey from hell.

I had done it a few months previous and there was nothing pleasant about the crammed manky bus and the rough Irish Sea. So USA 94 in London on my own it was.

Ray Houghton celebrates scoring ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

As the World Cup drew closer, aside from the “Sunday Call” with my folks I was able to keep tabs on all the fever back home in the Irish papers from the local newsagents. No internet then of course. England had failed to qualify so the British press weren’t showing much interest in the Cup but as the tournament edged closer the idea of backing the Irish grew.

The Italian game loomed large on the horizon and I could feel the English getting more and more behind us. Like a lot actors I had a part-time job in Ticketmaster’s phone centre in Leicester Square. I was working on the day of the Italian game so I had my Irish jersey in my bag. Months earlier I had worn it watching an Ireland friendly in a pub in the West End and I got a "Brave wearing that in here" comment from a local. After work I went into the same pub to watch the Italian game. The place was packed as it was a 9pm kick off. I saw a few other Irish faces, when you live away from home you can spot one a mile away.

I cautiously put my jersey on and looked around, no one seemed to care. All eyes were on the TV. I heard the odd "Come on the Irish" from the locals as the game progressed and when Houghton scored in such spectacular fashion the pub erupted(ish). I got a few pats on the back. Maybe they just wanted to see Italy lose - who knows, but it felt good. The game ended and I walked out onto Leicester Square with my jersey proudly in full view. Three Italians walked by and congratulated me.

On the way home I heard a few "Well done Paddys" on the tube. I wasn’t brave enough to tell them that my name wasn’t Paddy but took the compliments anyway.

In terms of Anglo-Irish relations Houghton’s goal that night in Giants Stadium meant nothing of course but for a young Irishman living in London it meant everything. Sport has a great way of breaking down barriers and after the game, it was the first time I felt like I could make London my home and I did for many wonderful years so thank you Ray and the rest of the boys in green!