Growing up in Ringsend, Dave Langan dreamed of playing international football for his country in Lansdowne Road, the stadium that was just a fullback’s long throw away from his home. He was able to live out that dream of playing for Ireland as well as to fulfil the ambition of many boys to walk up those famous Wembley steps to collect a winner’s medal at a cup final.
Those footballing highs were counterbalanced with lows in both his career and away from football where he battled with injury, marriage difficulties and, at one stage, homelessness. This month Langan published his autobiography ‘Running through Walls’ which chronicles his battles on the pitch as well as the battles he faced, and continues to face, off the pitch.
Langan played 26 times for his country over an 12 year period so when Extratime.ie spoke with the former Ireland right back this week, we asked what was his career highlight from his time in an Ireland shirt?
“My debut was something I will never forget. I played against Turkey and we won 4-2. Every game was great though especially 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.”
Another career highlight for Langan was playing against Argentina in Lansdowne Road in 1980 where he had to mark a certain Diego Armando Maradona.
“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!?!’”
Langan was part of the Ireland team for the famous win over France in 1981. It was a win that was to come at a price for the former Cherry Orchard player who picked up a knee injury that would cause him untold trouble in the rest of his football career and beyond.
“The French game when we won 3-2 was one of hell a match. I got a bad tackle that day when a French player came in on me very late. My knee has given me severe problems from then on. I’ve had to have 10 operations on that knee.”
That game was part of the qualification for the 1982 World Cup and Langan has strong views on Ireland’s failure to qualify for that tournament.
“The most disappointing time with Ireland was when we missed out on qualifying on goal difference when Eoin Hand was in charge. We were cheated over in Belgium. The player who dived in the last couple of minutes should have got an Oscar for it. They scored from that free kick to beat us 1-0. Kevin Moran had a goal disallowed in France. The gods were against us that year. We didn’t have one bit of luck. It was a major disappointment and we would have loved to have played in that tournament.”
When Ireland did subsequently qualify for a tournament in 1988, Langan missed out when manager Jack Charlton controversially omitted him from the squad. It had been another famous English manager, Brian Clough, who gave Langan his start in the professional game. Clough had a unique way of welcoming Langan into the ranks.
“The first thing he said to me was not ‘welcome to Derby’ but ‘can you use a brush? Well, go down and brush my office.’ From then on he kept ringing and sending for me. He’d ring the boot room and say ‘send me down the Irishman.’ He’d never call me by my first name, just Irishman. I’d go down, and he’d say ‘go get me a whiskey’ or ‘go and wash my car’. He was a one off and he wouldn’t get away with that now! He is an all time great for what he did in his career. He was a hell of character.
“He hated you giving the ball away. In the Derby dressing room, there was a sign he put up that said ‘The biggest crime in football is to give the ball to the opposition’. If you gave the ball away, he’d go absolutely ballistic! It was a good way of teaching you to keep the ball and it was a good way to bring you from an apprentice to a professional.”
After Derby, Langan moved to Birmingham City before joining Oxford United where he had great success.
“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 Premier League in England and we also won the Milk Cup.”
The 1986 League Cup Final, or Milk Cup Final as it was known then, played at Wembley saw Oxford beat QPR.
“It was my first time in Wembley and I couldn’t believe it. I remember going up Wembley Way with Ray Houghton sitting beside me in the coach. He goes ‘there is your three sisters’ as he recognized them having been over for an Irish dinner in my house before. When I looked, the three of them were there waving at me!
“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.”
In Langan’s book, co-written with Trevor Keane and Alan Conway, he tells the story of these footballing career highlights but also of the dark days that followed him hanging up his boots in 1989. He admitted that documenting his troubles has at times “been very difficult. There have been many lows in my life. Moments like when I turned to drink, all the operations I needed and how depressed I got. It all had to come out but it was great to get it off my chest as you are better off getting it out in the open. We’ve worked really hard, it has nearly taken us nearly 18 months to write. It has been tough going at times. Sometimes you want to jack it in but we hope it goes well.”
At one point after he finished playing, Langan even found himself homeless but it was through the help of friends and family that he was able to get back on his feet.
“I ended up sleeping in the town hall basement cupboard as I’d nowhere to go. Cherry Orchard did a charity night for me and that helped me a great deal to get back on my feet. The FAI did a dinner for me too.”
Peterborough, the town where he finished his playing career, is Langan’s home now and he works there in the local authority.
“I look after the Mayor, help him get ready and do the teas and coffees for his guests,” said the 55 year-old. It is a nice little job. There is no lifting!”
This is important as Langan had his right knee fully replaced in April this year and will have his left knee operated on early next year. The launch of his book has surprised some of those in the city hall.
“I was on Radio Cambridge and they did a big spread in the Peterborough Telegraph so people are coming up to me saying ‘I didn’t realise who you were’. I suppose I kept things quiet but it is good now that the book is coming out.”
Next month, Langan will be in Ireland for a book tour. He hopes to get to Aviva Stadium to watch Ireland take on Germany and he is particularly looking forward to a book signing in Tallaght Stadium ahead of the Shamrock Rovers v Derry City game on October 13th. Growing up in Ringsend where Rovers were founded, Langan is a big Shamrock Rovers supporter. As a child he used to travel to see the Hoops when they played in Milltown and he still keeps a close eye on goings on at Rovers.
“I am coming over for 12 days for the book launch. There will be loads of book signings in Easons and I’m going to travel around Ireland for that. I’m going to be busy but the one I’m really looking forward to is the one in Tallaght. I also hope to do a book signing near Lansdowne the day before that and am hoping to get to the Ireland v Germany game.”
Published by DB Publishing, ‘Running through Walls' Dave Langan's Autobiography is released in September.
Macdara made his debut as a football supporter in Lansdowne Road watching Ireland defeat Liechtenstein. He still believes one day he will see his club Shamrock Rovers win an FAI Cup. You can follow Macdara on twitter @macdarabueller