IN the second part of Alan McLoughlin’s Big Interview with Link Sport, the former Swindon Town and Republic of Ireland midfielder recalls going to the 1990 World Cup and working with Jack Charlton, and gives his advice to those who may exhibit similar symptoms to those which alerted him to his cancer…
WHILE his Swindon Town teammates faced a summer of uncertainty after the Football League’s 1990 verdict, Alan McLoughlin had the perfect distraction.
McLoughlin, along with the rest of the Swindon dressing room, knew that player sales were the likely eventuality, with the Robins facing a massive fine for financial irregularities in the boardroom and the break-up of a squad which had earned the right to play at the highest level imminent.
However, he was World Cup-bound as part of the Republic of Ireland set-up for Italia 90 – much to his surprise given his relative lack of international action previously.
There was little time to dwell on what had happened and what the likely consequences would be. Swindon’s players had been unaware of events behind the scenes and though his teammates would have the off-season to contemplate the past, present and future, McLoughlin had Jack Charlton – the then Irish manager – to deal with.
The perfect distraction
Recalling the Town players’ emotions at the investigation into illegal player payments, the midfielder explained how surprised the squad was.
“We’re nowhere near the boardroom. Players train, they go out, take instruction and play games. There was no indication of that whatsoever. It was a complete surprise to us when it happened,” he says.
“What goes on in the boardroom stays in the boardroom and unless you’re privy to that in some bizarre way you’re not going to know about it.
“It was avoidable more than anything and a mistake in hindsight – people thought they were doing the right thing but it wasn’t because ultimately it led to our demotion after working so hard. That’s the sickening thing – going through a season and not to get your reward at the end of it, promotion.
“It was probably more difficult for the lads at home than me because I had a World Cup to prepare for.
“I took it on the chin but I had Jack Charlton hollering instructions at me and the thought of playing in the World Cup. So it took my mind off it a bit but it didn’t take my mind off what the future would hold for me when I got back to Swindon.”
World Cup glory
McLoughlin’s limited international pedigree in 1990 stretched only to a B team international, while he was unable to feature in World Cup warm-ups because of Swindon’s involvement in the Division Two play-offs.
“It was incredible. I didn’t play in any of the qualifying games and the shock of being called up the night before Wembley was incredible. I actually thought it was a wind-up at first. I played a B international, we played very well, I scored the equalising goal and went on to beat England 4-1 and I didn’t expect it,” he recalls.
“I couldn’t play in a couple of friendly internationals because of how Swindon were doing – particularly at the end of the season and in the play-offs, so I thought my chance had gone.
“To get the call-up and take Gary Waddock’s place, which I didn’t know until I arrived in Malta, was incredible.
“To come on in the first game against England was incredible, too. Jack had obviously seen me playing for Swindon in that role, I came on, England brought Steve McMahon on, he ultimately gave the ball away and we scored.”
His reward for an impressive campaign domestically was that shock place in the 23-man squad that flew to Italy. That his country went on to reach the quarter-finals was an incredibly juicy cherry on an already delicious cake
“It was just surreal for me – meeting the Pope while I was away, getting to the quarter-finals and playing Italy in Rome, Pavarotti in the tunnel blaring out, Nessun Dorma before the game – it was incredible,” he says.
“I took it in my stride at the time and the more I think about it now it was just incredible.”
Working with Big Jack
Having already worked with a World Cup winner in the shape of Ossie Ardiles at Town, McLoughlin was now under the charge of England’s 1966 centre-back Charlton.
Like Lou Macari, who McLoughlin owes plenty to for his input during their time together at the County Ground, Charlton is described by the 47-year-old as a fearsome manager who demanded respect from his players.
“He was Jack Charlton, he was a World Cup winner,” says McLoughlin. “He was quite a fearsome manager but the one thing he did have, which all good managers have, is total respect from the players. He was good-humoured, he explained things in black and white to you.
“If you didn’t do things his way you’d be hauled off or you wouldn’t be in the squad, so you knew exactly where you stood. There was no margin to step outside the realms of what he wanted on a football pitch.
“He allowed us to socialise, he allowed us to act as grown men and he also gave us a little bit of leeway in terms of going out together. He treated us like men and expected us to act that way. He galvanised a group of players with great team spirit – that was evident from 1990 probably up to when he retired, when England didn’t manage to beat us in an international.
“The pressures of being an England player are greater than being an Irish player, if I’m honest, because of the media attention and the weight of expectation, and we were on a great run.
“I can’t speak any more highly about the man. Would he have adapted to today’s football? He probably would have done. He was a coach in his own right, thought highly of by the FA and we had ultimate respect for him.
“I was very fortunate to have three great managers in succession.”
McLoughlin and Ireland exited the competition at the quarter-final stage but that was nowhere near the end of his international career. In fact, he’d go on to become one of the most celebrated Irish players of the 1990s, scoring the goal which sent them to the World Cup finals in 1994 and winning 42 caps in total.
When he returned to Wiltshire for pre-season, however, he was well aware that his days at Swindon might be numbered. As it was, he moved to Southampton in December 1990 for £1million – the first man sold by the Robins for a seven-figure fee.
He still lives in Swindon, however, while his wife Debbie is from the area and his two children, Abby and Megan, both work in the town. Therefore he will forever be intrinsically linked to the West Country outpost – and he’s more than happy for that to be the case.
Asked to describe his overriding emotion when he looks back at his Town career, he says: “One of great joy. They gave me my league debut, they gave me my opportunity back into football where maybe I thought it had passed. I have great affection for Lou Macari, even now when I come to the County Ground it still holds great memories for me.
“Living in the town, I’ve got no reason to leave. I feel comfortable in Swindon.
“I do try to get to Swindon games and wish them well and promotion and success moving forward because it’s somewhere close to my heart. It gave me football, it gave me my wife and it gave me my kids so I’ve got nothing but time and affection for the place.”
‘Don’t sit on your hands. Go to the doctor. It ultimately saved my life’
After leaving Swindon, McLoughlin went on to become a Portsmouth legend, making more than 300 appearances for the south coast club and then going into Pompey’s coaching structure after retiring.
But football took a back seat for a period in 2012 when McLoughlin was diagnosed with cancer.
On a team trip to Wimbledon, he passed blood in his urine and, following advice from the club’s medical staff, went to hospital in Swindon for checks.
Initially diagnosed as a bladder infection, McLoughlin was soon resubmitted for scans after suffering excruciating stomach pains, with a CAT scan revealing a kidney tumour. Successful treatment followed, with McLoughlin currently deemed to be clear of the disease and he has now taken upon himself to alert others to danger signs.
Furthermore, he’s been on a drugs trial programme for the best part of two years, in the effort to help future sufferers.
Offering his words of advice to anyone who shows similar symptoms to his own, he says: “If you have any sort of blood that is not the normal in your urine then don’t sit on your hands, don’t think ‘it’ll pass, I’ll be okay’. You go to the doctor. If the pain is worse, get yourself to the hospital.
“It ultimately saved my life. I didn’t sit on my hands, I didn’t know I had anything wrong with me. The tumour didn’t give off any signs until the passing of blood and then getting the pain in my stomach. You have got to act on it.
“Don’t be a martyr, don’t think it will be gone tomorrow, don’t battle through the pain. Make sure you take yourself to a GP or speak to someone. Sometimes people aren’t brave enough or don’t want to worry other people about things.
“Make sure you tell a close friend, a loved one, someone you can confide in and they might give you the advice or the push to go and do something about it.”