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The Guardian's Small Talk: Ray Houghton

Paul Doyle Friday April 27, 2007 for Guardian Unlimited

Hi there Ray, how's it going?
Great thanks, Small Talk. 

Fine thank... oh, you didn't ask. Right, what's all this about you putting your boots back on to play some grudge re-match against Andy Townsend and other old-timers? And all thanks to those nice people at www.mandmdirect.com...
Yes, it's going to be fun. It's the talkSPORT drivetime team against the morning show guys. I'm on the drivetime team but, to be honest, I reckon we'll lose - well, that's what happened last year - it went to penalties and a load of our guys missed on purpose so they could start drinking!

Funnily enough, Small Talk always associates you with booze - because you were responsible for two truly epoch-defining piss-ups thanks to your goals against England at Euro 88 and Italy at USA 94. You legend!
Well, thanks, it's nice to be remembered. Those goals are something I achieved and I'm delighted to have done so but, to be honest, I don't dwell on them. It's all history.

Did you and the players get as drunk as the fans after beating England in Germany?
We did have a drink and a bit of a sing-song but we couldn't go too mad because we were playing USSR a few days later.

Of course, as much as Small Talk enjoyed your goals, it would be irresponsible of us not to mention your shocking, unforgivable miss that prevented Ireland from deservedly beating England at Wembley in 1991. You fool!
Yes, well, thankfully people don't mention that very much. Though in fairness they should. Because though I did score some high-profile goals, if you actually look at the number of goals I scored to the amount of games I played it's probably fair to see I'm one of the worst finishers ever: I missed an unbelievable number of chances - I really should have been Ireland's record goalscorer.

Yet you scored plenty for Liverpool ...
I didn't really. I think my most in a season for Liverpool was 11 and that pales into significance when you compare it to what boys like Ronaldo, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are doing today. I just had poor technique in front of goal and wasn't cool and calm enough.

Yet when you joined Liverpool you happily took Ian Rush's No9 shirt after John Aldridge refused ...
I wasn't bought as a goalscorer so, unlike with John, there was no pressure on me to live up to Rush. Besides I didn't care what number I was wearing as long as I was in the starting eleven. Having said that, I once wore No4 for West Ham and had an absolute nightmare so I swore never to wear that number again.

Who's your favourite football pundit?
[Immediately] Johnny Giles. His knowledge of the game is second to none and he spots things that a lot of people wouldn't. That's what pundits are supposed to do: the public might be looking for the obvious but a good pundit will show you how a footballer thinks and what he should be doing and Johnny sees that better than most.

What about his lippy sidekick, Eamon Dunphy?
Eamon's controversial. But the great thing about him is he always has an opinion and always poses questions. I guess people either love or hate him but he's done some sterling work for RTE.

Did it bother you or any other players when he was raging against Jack Charlton's style of football despite the success you were enjoying?
No. I remember there were some players who would complain that he was going over the top but I've always felt that everyone's entitled to their opinion - if you don't like it, just ignore it.

Did it you actually enjoy playing for Ireland? Coming from Liverpool's pass-and-move groove to Charlton kick-and-run chaos must have been quite a shock ...
That never bothered me. I always felt privileged to be playing international football.

Why did you go into punditry rather than coaching or management? The easy option?
I never actually planned to go into it. I was just asked to do a show so I did it. I got no feedback, had no idea whether I'd done well or awfully. But I kept getting asked back so I guessed I must be doing something right. But I still haven't ruled out going into management. Like most ex-players I've got an ego and my ideas on how the game should be played and I'd like to try applying them.

Have you done your coaching badges?
I've got the B badge but haven't yet done the A or the ProLicence.

Word is you're keen on golf: who's the best former-footballer-turned-golfer?
I play off six. I think Alan Hansen plays off two. John Moncur, a former team-mate of mine at West Ham, is very good: he plays off scratch. And then there's Roy Wegerle, who actually turned pro, as did Julian Dicks ...

Have you ever played with Craig Bellamy? Apparently he's pretty handy with a club ...
[Chortles] Good one. But I'm not sure I'd like to put that to the test.

What's the last CD you bought?
[Proudly] I just picked up the last two albums by The Killers. I'm also a big Roxy Music fan and I bought another of their CDs recently.

And your favourite TV show?
Only Fools and Horses. Or Porridge. Anything that makes me laugh really.

If you could play any TV detective, who would it be?
[Excited] I've actually watched them all to be honest! Everything from Diagnosis: Murder to Columbo and the Rockford Files. I'm a glutton for all that stuff.

What would you stick into Room 101?
The offside rule as it is today. The referees don't understand it, their assistants don't know when to flag and when not to flag - it's the most annoying thing in football. A big load of nonsense. It's ruined the art of defending; gone are the days when you can catch a stupid forward offside because he can't figure out when to go and when not to. They should go back to the way it was: if you're offside you're offside. After all, as has been said many times: if you're not interfering with play, what are you doing on the pitch?

Indeed. But ... cheese or chocolate?

Chocolate. I used to eat every bar going when I was a youngster. Galaxy's probably my favourite.

And your poison of choice?
Guinness, red wine, white wine ...

Do you actually have to buy drinks when you're in Ireland or do grateful fans shower you with freebies?
I get offered my fair share of freebies but I generally like to pay. It's not nice to take advantage.

Who would you rather take advantage of: Britney or Kylie?
Kylie. She's closer to my age...

Who'd win a rumble between a ion and a tiger?
They say the lion is the king of jungle so it's got to be him.

Finally then Ray, will you tell us a joke?
[Forlornly] No. I could only give you the usual rubbish so best not bother.

Fair enough. Thanks for your time. And those goals. Bye!
Bye Small Talk.

talkSPORT's Re-Match football game, which is sponsored by discount sports retailer www.mandmdirect.com, takes place today

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

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