- Pat Bonner turns 60 today
- He is still stunned by the impact of his penalty save against Romania
- He believes Republic of Ireland’s Italy 1990 campaign brought the nation together
Throughout the world, there are footballers destined to be forever remembered for one solitary moment.
For the unlucky ones, that can mean an otherwise glittering career being completely overshadowed by an embarrassing own-goal or a costly penalty miss. Fortunately for Pat Bonner, he belongs to another, more auspicious breed. That’s because, for the rest of his days and doubtless beyond, the name of this beloved Irish goalkeeper will always be synonymous with one very special save.
It was by no means his best: he had made and would go on to make many better in a career that spanned 80 caps and 642 appearances for Celtic, his one and only club.
Yet none were more significant, nor more fondly remembered, than the diving lunge that blocked a penalty from Romania’s Daniel Timofte and sent Republic of Ireland into the quarter-finals at the FIFA World Cup Italy 1990™. To this day, in fact, many consider it to be the nation’s ‘JFK moment’, with every Irishman able to tell you where he was when ‘Packie’ took his place in history.
“It still amazes me, the impact that save has had,” Bonner told FIFA.com two decades later. “Every day, I have people coming up to me to talk about it and thank me.
“It really wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that that one save changed my life forever, certainly in terms of recognition. It’s lovely, although sometimes you do feel like saying, ‘I did make some other saves, you know!’
“But I do feel very fortunate because one thing that whole World Cup experience achieved, which was unique and very special, was to bring everyone in the country together.
“Our economy was very weak at the time, there was a bit of pessimism there, and I really believe that seeing us out there in Italy, taking on the world, fighting our corner against the very best, changed the mindset of the nation. Football can be that important, I genuinely believe that.”
When Jack Charlton’s team returned to Dublin, an estimated 500,000 people packed the streets to let the players know just how important their efforts had been. Italy 1990 had changed a country. As Bonner would discover over the coming days, months and years, it had also changed his life.