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Dave Langan : Running Through Walls
by David Langan with Trevor Keane & Alan Conway
The title Running Through Walls certainly captures many aspects of former Republic of Ireland football international, David Langan's life. Langan was the type of footballer that Irish fans have always loved. He was swashbuckling fullback that gave no quarter nor asked for any. His performances on the pitch were always wholeheartedly committed, particularly when playing in the green of Ireland. His fierce tackling and marauding runs down the wing made him a crowd-favourite with both club and country.
Those of us who saw him play could never forget Dave Langan. His international career was cruelly ended by Jack Charlton right on the cusp of Ireland's first participation in a major football final competition - Euro 88. With all of the hype and excitement that surrounded the Charlton era most of us were guilty of not being aware, or perhaps not even caring, that there were casualties left in the wake of of those heady days. Dave Langan is perhaps the most tragic example of those casualties.
It is difficult to conceive in the current era when footballers, that have modest talent, are earning millions from football that there is a man who was very talented, passionate, and committed to playing his football, that ended up broke and homeless. Dave Langan may not be the only example of this but his is certainly an extraordinary story. Indeed it was his absolute dedication and love for playing for his country that directly led to the premature end of his playing career. The contrast with the antics, actions, and attitude of some of today's professional footballers - including Irish players - could not be more stark
Running Through Walls is a well-written account of a remarkable story about a true Irish sporting hero. Dave Langan made his English club debut in February 1977 for Derby County in the old First Division (now the Premiership). His last club appearance was as a substitute for Peterborough United in May 1989 (although he ended up being substituted also - the first time in the club's history that a sub had been subbed). Between those dates he won 26 caps for the Republic of Ireland. This was in an era when European and World Cup qualifying groups could have as few as three or four teams. And of course Ireland did not qualify for any major finals so the opportunity to amass more caps simply didn't exist. Also his international caps tally would certainly have been higher except for injuries.
Langan tackles the great Diego Maradona
at Lansdowne Road in 1980
In fact Langan's chronic injury problems can be traced directly to a damaged cartilage that he sustained in 1981 while playing for Ireland. He was injured in an historic 3-2 victory at Lansdowne Road (now Aviva Stadium) over a fantastic French team, including the great Michel Platini, in a 1982 World Cup qualifier. The rehab from this injury also led to him cracking a vertebra. Although Langan managed to continue playing professional football he was constantly in pain, and much like the great Paul McGrath after him, he could not train properly.
And how did his country repay his commitment to the international cause? Having played in four of the qualifying matches for the Euro 88 finals Langan had a reasonable expectation of making the plane to Germany for the finals. But he didn't and this is how Langan describes they way he was treated by the then Irish manager Jack Charlton:
To add injury to insult the FAI refused to grant Langan permission for a testimonial. Previously, 25 caps was enough to be granted a Testimonial but the FAI increased it to 50 as the break-up of the Soviet Union and other nations had led to an increasing number of international matches. Langan won 26 caps for his country but the conditions were changed when Dave had attained 25.
Running Through Walls is much more than a sporting tale as it tells the story of Langan's life after football including his broken marriages, drinking and gambling problems, working in a dry cleaners, as a milkman, for Peterborough Town Council, ending up homeless and sleeping in the basement of the town hall, and much more.
Most of the chapters in the book are supplemented by third party accounts of particular aspects of Langan's football career and life. There are interesting and contextualising contributions from Irish journalist Vincent Hogan, former football colleagues including Irish internationals Niall Quinn and Ray Houghton, club team mates, and from friends and family.
Dave Langan with
Con Meehan & Niall Quinn
It is a tragic tale but it is also an uplifting one. Despite everything that befell Dave Langan - and he admits that he is largely to blame for where he found himself - he has come out the other end with his dignity intact. Through his own determination and with the help of others such as Con Meehan, and the support of the You Boys In Green online discussion forum, Langan received some due recognition from the FAI when a testimonial dinner was held in his honour and he was presented with an Irish Legends award at half time during a match between Ireland and Serbia, Giovanni Trapattonis first game in charge. Although Langan still retains some residual resentment towards the FAI and the way Jack Charlton finished his career with Ireland he has achieved some form of closure. Langan's mother Clare is left with the "final word' in the book:
Dave Langan : Running Through Walls - Summary
Dave Langan with
Steve Staunton & John Aldridge
Dave Langan : Running Through Walls is a poignant and in many ways an intriguing read. It is much more than the life story of a footballer. The book is a warts-and-all account about a true Irish hero who has inspired people both on an off the football pitch. The book conveys the image of a man that deals with life with an honesty that was the hallmark of his performances on the pitch.
Running Through Walls is definitely recommended for Irish football fans of all generations, even those that may never have heard of Dave Langan. Importantly it is also a hugely interesting story of a man's life and whether you are interested in football, or not, get your hands on a copy.
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