"To be honest, I'm sad. Gutted. My heart is heavy. I thought he'd live forever. I know no one lives for ever but I just can't imagine him gone, dead. He was a real, genuine legend."
That was the reaction of Longford's Michael Gibbons to the news of the death of former Republic of Ireland manager and England World Cup winner Jack Charlton.
Also read: Longford remembers legendary Jack Charlton, the man who lifted the spirits of a nation and made dreams come true
Michael spoke with Tiernan Dolan, curator of the Humans of Longford Facebook page, on Saturday morning.
He said, "Jack Charlton might be gone but in a way, he'll live forever for a whole lot of people.
"I'm one of them. He lifted the whole country. He gave us something to believe in. Spirit, fighting spirit, pride, real pride and we puffed out our chests because of Big Jack.
"Sure I never dreamt of being in Italy or America following the boys in green at the World Cups but those dreams came true for me and a whole lot of others too. Those memories of Italy and America will live forever.
Also read: Paul McGrath pays tribute to 'Big Jack': Jack backed me as a footballer and as a person - he became a father figure to me
"He really made dreams come true. That's why I'm sad today, ok. He was 85, full life but he really made a huge difference to so many people's lives and he visited Longford Town.
"At least we now have an other manager with massive links to Longford, Stephen Kenny. He made dreams come true for Longford Town. From rock bottom to Europe, some achievement.
"I suppose you heard the story about when he almost left. We were playing Kilkenny, 1nil down. Mickey Cox says there wasn't enough money to pay the players. Kenny said he'd walk at the final whistle but another Longford legend, the late and great Butch Tracey heard what he said.
"Butch asked for an hour. He raced home, opened his socks drawer where he kept bundles of coins for a rainy day. This was the rainy day. It was lashing!
"Anyway, Butch's money saved the day, Longford Town eventually won 2-1 and went on to be promoted. Legends, the two of them, Jack and Stephen. I have faith in Stephen Kenny, he'll do the business.
"I'm soccer mad, love it, love the games. The craic, we've lost sport for the last few months and now today, we've lost a legend of sport, Big Jack.
"That's why I'm sad today. A bit down, just couldn't chat about anything else. But at least, the games will be starting again in a few weeks. Can't wait."
Also read: Former Ireland manager and England World Cup winner Jack Charlton dies aged 85
Current Ireland manager and former Longford Town supremo Stephen Kenny also paid tribute to the late Jack Charlton.
Big Jack guided Ireland to a major tournament for the first team when his team qualified for the 1988 European Championships, famously beating England in Stuttgart.
He also led Ireland to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1990, before they lost out 1-0 to the host nation Italy in Rome, and to the second phase in the 1994 tournament in America.
“It was very sad to hear the news of Jack’s passing,” Ireland manager Stephen Kenny told FAI.ie. “To qualify for three major tournaments, two World Cups and a European Championship, was an exceptional achievement.
“Those tournaments also showed us how a successful Irish football team can lift and inspire the nation. May he rest in peace.”
The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) has opened a virtual Book of Condolences where Longford people can express their sympathies to the family of the late Jack Charlton. The Book of Condolences is live at fai.ie/jack-charlton-rip
The link will remain live until Monday, July 27 when the FAI will share all messages with the Charlton family.
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