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Ringsend Rover returns to see the Hoops

Tonight Shamrock Rovers are welcoming many German football fans who have stayed on in Dublin after last night’s international game in Lansdowne Road. Also at last night’s Brazil 2014 qualifier, and present here tonight in Tallaght Stadium, is former Ireland international Dave Langan.

Langan published his autobiography last month and was signing copies of his book here at the stadium this evening as well as doing a Q&A session in the Glenmalure Suite ahead of kick off. He is currently on a two-week book signing tour but the one signing he was most looking forward to was this evening’s one. That is because Langan is a life long fan of Shamrock Rovers, a club he almost signed for late in his playing career.

Langan grew up in Ringsend where Rovers were founded. The club has a long rivalry with Shelbourne, who were also founded in the area. It meant the Ringsend rivalry was in the Langan household as, while Dave supported the Hoops, his father was actually a Shels fan!

“Rovers were my club from day one,” said Langan when he spoke to Hoops Scene recently about his support for Rovers, his playing career and his difficulties away from football – all of which he has chronicled in detail in his autobiography written with Trevor Keane and Alan Conway.

“My Da was Shels but me and my mate used to go up to Milltown every week when there was home matches and we followed them all over Ireland. We used to have a bit of messing between me Da and me -between Shels and Rovers!

“I used to walk up to Milltown from Ringsend, leaving about an hour and a half ahead of the match to get up there in plenty of time to see Johnny Fullam, Frank O’Neill and Mick Leech. My hero was Mick Leech. Some of the goals he got would take your breath away. I loved watching him play.”

Langan soon went from watching football to playing football at a high level moving to Derby County as a teenager. “Brian Clough signed me as an apprentice from Cherry Orchard,” said Langan. The main lesson Langan learned from the charismatic manager was, whatever you do, do not to lose the ball! “The worst thing you could do, was give the ball away, as you knew you’d be in for it!”

It was during his time at Derby that Langan made his debut for the Irish national team in a 4-2 win over Turkey. Having grown up so close to Lansdowne Road, it is no surprise to hear how proud he was to play for Ireland.

“Every game was great in Lansdowne in front of that crowd and the great atmosphere. I loved it when you walked out and then the national anthem was played. Your lungs would burst and the hairs would go up on the back of your neck. It was unreal.” His international caps are still located close to Lansdowne Road. “My mother has it all in the house (in Ringsend). My caps are well looked after by her.”

In 1980, the year he signed for Birmingham City for a then club record of £150,000, he played for Ireland against Argentina and their famous number 10. “Playing against Maradona was very special,” admitted Langan. “It was his balance that was unreal. I’d never seen anything like it. He would go over tackles that would kill others and he’d just skip away from them. I clattered him a few times and he just looked at me as if to stay ‘Is that the best you got!?!’

The following year, in the famous 3-2 home win over France, Langan suffered an injury that has plagued him ever since. That knee injury would also cost him the chance of playing for Shamrock Rovers.
“Noel King, who was managing Rovers at the time, asked me did I fancy coming over to play a few games. He said he’d get me a job but my injury was too severe and I couldn’t go. Rovers have been my club since I was a kid. I was distraught I couldn’t do it.”

That missed opportunity came at the end of Langan’s career following a successful spell with Oxford United. ““My favourite time in club football was with Oxford. I scored a goal against Shrewsbury that brought us up to the division which is now the English Premier League and we also won the Milk Cup.”

That 1986 Milk Cup or League Cup Final was at a time when the League Cup had a much higher status than now, possibly due to the fact that English football clubs were banned from Europe following the Heysel Stadium disaster. It meant Oxford missed out on Europe the same year following that Cup final win over QPR. Winning that game in Wembley was a real career highlight for Langan.

“I was a young guy from Ringsend used to playing on the Dodder pitches and here I was playing at Wembley. It was hard to sink in. When you are a young boy, you see the cup finals, the players walking up the steps and you wonder what that is like. You want to do that yourself and then when it happens to you, you are so proud. I can still remember walking up those steps, being handed the medal and the roar of the crowd when our captain lifted the cup. It just stays with you forever.”

The highs of his time with Oxford United are counterbalanced with lows for Langan in later life. He had difficulties with depression, alcohol and homeless after the end of his playing career; a situation he tells with great honesty in his autobiography. However, with the help of friends and family, his life is in a much better place now.

This year he had his tenth operation on his right knee and he is facing surgery on his left knee next year. “I had a new right knee put in back in April. I’m going in to get a new knee on my left soon. The right knee is still extremely stiff but as time goes on that will ease. I don’t have the severe pain in the right knee that I had before the operation. It is an awful lot better now. The knees were both knackered. The right one kept collapsing on me so that’s the one that was operated on first.”

Tonight he gets a chance to see Rovers play in Tallaght Stadium for the very first time but he is very familiar with all the goings on at Rovers. “I follow the matches. I try and get text updates every Friday night but sometimes that is difficult if I am at work. I can’t wait for the matches to be on. It is like being a kid, I still get excited by the games!”

That level of enthusiasm for Rovers was clear in talking to Langan ahead of tonight’s game. It means a lot for him to be here in Tallaght watching the Hoops in action. “This will be my first ever visit to the stadium which looks fantastic. I can’t wait, I’m wishing the days away!”

Published in Hoops Scene, Issue 19/2012, Shamrock Rovers v Derry City

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