Today we learnt of the sad news that Alan McLoughlin had passed away at the age of 54. All at TrustSTFC would like to pass on our sincere condolences to Alan’s family and friends at this very sad time. Macca was a Swindon legend and Liam Walsh one of our TrustSTFC supporters has penned this beautiful tribute to the great man and asked us to share this with our members. Thanks Liam we are very pleased to do this and thank you.
It’s 25th June 1990, and Alan McLoughlin is my hero.
I smile at my first glimpse of those magnificently striking red corners of the Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris, one of the enduring images of Italia 90. Most of all, I smile when, still nearly an hour before kick off, I look down from my upper tier seat with a vertigo bar, at the rectangle of green beneath me. I look down and as the players are walking the pitch, taking in the breathtaking number of tricolours already in place all around the ground. I smile as I look down and the first player I see is Alan McLoughlin.
Macca has joined Swindon Town from Manchester United, his pedigree clear but his lightweight, flighty, ball playing nature not immediately beneficial to a heroically direct Lou Macari team. At Manchester City, in his home town we sat distant in the away end at Maine Road, thrilled at Mcloughlin’s raw potential. His eyes, body and two City players went one way in the centre circle, his hips swivelled the other, shifting the ball with them, opening up acres of green to his left, another counter attack. How Dad rejoiced, recalling this single vision of footballing dash and elan for years to come. After four years of remarkable success, on one hand Swindon were close to the hallowed land of mixing with the big boys for the first time in the club’s history. On the other, the approach had grown stale, formulaic, and could be hideously dull to watch. Swindon’s success saturated public had grown bored, crowds were poor, increasingly apathetic. Swindon lost a play off to Crystal Palace and we’d drifted desolately out of a Selhurst Park, where we’d had an unimaginably glorious play off evening at against Gillingham just a couple of years earlier. Macari departed, few lamented. A couple of weeks later we were on holiday when i picked up an English newspaper in Galway:
Dad, Dad, our new manager is Ossie Ardiles!
This promised to be different, and possibly fun.
It was all that and rather more. The first game I saw was a pre-season friendly away at Hereford. We won 5-4, and that set the tone. Instead of searching the sky for the ball, wondering where it would eventually land and who was chasing after it, the same players, Lou’s up and at em runners, were now treating the ball with affection, caring for it, gliding around the pitch in exotic patterns, looking like they were enjoying it. At the fulcrum, at the tip of a newfangled midfield diamond was Alan McLoughlin. The skinny, bit part player of a couple of months ago now epitomised and led our transformation, weaving this way and that, dazzling us, confusing us. Yeah, we let four in, but hey we scored five.
And that was the pattern of the most remarkable season. Set against the backdrop of financial scandal and looming punishment, the team, Ossie’s team now, danced their way towards the play offs once more.
McLoughlin was the heartbeat of this astonishing reinvention.
On New Year’s Day, he scored twice at Watford in one of the most wonderful performances in a Swindon shirt and of a Swindon team I can recall. We drove us around the country watching our team, our team now. This joy was ours to behold. At Wolves, Dad had a stand off with one of West Midlands constabulary’s finest, and they stood in Molineux’s vast crumbling South Bank, deep within each other’s personal space, too proud to take a step backwards. At West Ham, we crept up on friends in an East End wide boy bar and Dad startled one with a broad West Country ‘where did you park your tractor’ in his ear. We parked our tractor near and far following Swindon that season, meeting my student house mate Bunny in the Gardeners Retreat at Stoke on a glorious fancy dress last League match. Dad tried to pay at the turnstiles with a £50 note. That didn’t go well. At Blackburn, at the Fox & Hounds they were serving Lancashire hot pot and that did go well.
We grinned as coach after coach of Swindon fans crept past in the play off traffic along the Darwen Road, spilling out of the skylights, noise and readiness filling the air. We were nearly there. Watford, West Brom , wherever – we’d be there. Wembley awaited.
On 28th May, McLoughlin scored the play off final winner at Wembley, as we obliterated Sunderland in surely the most one-sided 1-0 victory in a hundred years. At last Swindon had reached the promised land: milk, honey and all. Except that wasn’t quite the case. Ten days later, Swindon were demoted two divisions (reduced to one later on appeal) for illegal payments to players. It was absolutely heartbreaking. The sage John Peel opened his state of the nation evening BBC Radio 1 show saying:
My heart goes out to my friend George and all the Swindon fans. This is a monstrous decision.
Jimmy Greaves wore a ‘Swindon fans are innocent’ tshirt.
In the meantime, Alan McLoughlin received a late, fortuitous, controversial call up to the Irish World Cup squad. Jack was taking our Macca, our hero, to Italy. He’d made a couple of substitute appearances, helping recover a draw against England, and today, there he was, before us in Genoa, in green rather than red, living his dream and ours, as he surveyed the pre-match scene around him. In sunglasses, short shorts and strolling casually, at home amongst Jack’s heroes, the picture will start with me forever.
Three and half years later we’d driven to the GAA club in Ruislip to watch Ireland’s decisive World Cup qualifier with Northern Ireland in Belfast. The Republic needed a point to secure a place in USA 94, and the build up was relentlessly rancid and bitter, amidst a background of sectarian killings, the most acrimonious football match. Jack, who’d remained steadfastly and consistently oblivious to the context of the troubles in the north, had one card left to play. The hosts were leading 1-0 through a goal by Jimmy Quinn, another of Macari’s old Swindon trailblazers. Jack’s ace was Macca, now a Portsmouth hero, and still appreciative of Quinn’s welcome when he joined the Town. Alan McLoughlin, always the substitute, so often the bridesmaid for Ireland, crashed home an equaliser. Ruislip erupted, que sera sera. Dad and I floated home along the M40.
Back to 1990 in Genoa, one of the world’s finest players, Georghe Hagi, the Maradona of the Carpathians, tip-toed this way and that for Romania, gliding with a grace and verve that Ireland’s workhorses couldn’t match. But the boys in green, roared on by thousand upon thousand, kept them out, dragging a cagey, uneventful game goalless through half-time, full-time, extra-time. All the way to penalties. My ears were sore, my head ached, my throat was dry and Ireland were a penalty shoot out away from a world cup quarter final against Italy, in Rome.
Packie Bonner made the crucial save, David O’Leary calmly despatched the winning penalty. The words, the pictures, the memories are national treasures. The noise, delirium, joy, songs, emotion, thrill of being there was life itself. Our hero though, as at Wembley just a month earlier, was Alan McLoughlin. An unused substitute. It was, the greatest of days.
The next season saw McLoughlin start in sublime form, the club was re-energised by the injustice of the summer, intent on making good. Macca led the Middlesbrough team a merry dance as they hacked and pulled and tried to treat him down. Eventually they succeeded, kicking him off the park. The team fell apart, Boro soon equalised, an old teammate of mine from boys football, Robbie Mustoe cruelly scored the winner. Alan Mac was patched up and soon back, but it was never the same again.
As a tremendous asset he was dressed up and sold, clearly reluctantly and ultimately pointlessly, to a Southampton who had no idea how to utilise the talent they’d bought. The team fell apart. The club fell apart. Ossie’s dream over, Glenn Hoddle replaced him, prevented relegation and brought us hope, eventually, partially, guardedly, renewed.
Alan McLoughlin went on to play over 300 games for a rightfully appreciative Portsmouth, but he was always ours.
Always ours, capped 42 times, too many of them substitute appearances. He played in two World Cups despite playing most of career at championships level, he was always there for Jack, for us.
It’s 4th May 2021, and Alan McLoughlin is my hero.