Ray Houghton enjoyed an enviably successful career as a midfielder at Fulham, West Ham, Aston Villa, Oxford United and Crystal Palace (where he scored a victorious goal in their 1986 Milk Cup final match), and was part of the all-conquering Liverpool team of the 1980s.
Houghton’s international career was even more impressive. He was first capped for Ireland in 1986, and quickly became the nation’s hero, scoring the winning goals against England in the European Football Championship of 1988 in Stuttgart and against Italy in World Cup ’94 at Giants Stadium in New York.
Ray was born in Glasgow but spent his adolescence in London, qualified for Ireland by virtue of his Donegal born father. Ray made his international debut, along with club-mate John Aldridge in Jack Charlton’s first game in charge and kept his place in the line-up for each of the next seven games. He would play a key role in Ireland’s qualifying campaign for the 1988 European Championships, missing just one match en route to the finals.
Ray Houghton’s impressive start at international level however was in contrast to the struggles he had faced as a youngster with West Ham United.
In July 1982 Ray moved across London to sign for Second Division Fulham on a free transfer. His stay with the Cottagers proved a success and in September 1985, after three seasons of first-team action, he moved to First Division Oxford United for £150,000. Ray’s progress at both club and international level had been noted by English football’s top teams and, shortly after the start of the 1987-88 season, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish handed Oxford United a profit of £675,000 to sign the 25 year old midfielder and bring him to Anfield.
Title success with Liverpool was quickly followed by further glory as a member of the Republic of Ireland’s team at the 1988 European Championships in Germany. Ray played in all three of Ireland’s games and scored his first international goal with a much- celebrated header after five minutes of the opening game against England. It was not only a goal which brought the Irish a sweet victory over Bobby Robson's highly-fancied England team, but also one which made Houghton a hero in his adopted country.
Ray appeared in all eight qualifying matches for the 1990 World Cup and was also ever-present at the finals in Italy. He was by nature an attack minded player but under Charlton he was appreciated as much for his tenacity and stamina than for his accurate centres or dribbling skills. Ray went on to enjoy a successful three-season spell at Aston Villa with whom was he was a League Cup winner in 1994, before winding down his career with spells at Crystal Palace and Reading.
FIFA WORLD CUP USA 94
Houghton remained a critical player for Ireland throughout the early 1990s. He missed just one of the qualifiers for the 1994 World Cup and of course at the finals scored against Italy with that famous lob in Giants Stadium. Ray played in all four of the Republic’s matches at the USA 94.
However, despite advancing years and niggling injuries, he won 11 more caps before bringing the curtain down on his international career with a substitution appearance in the World Cup play-off match against Belgium in 1997. Ireland lost the match 2-1 but Ray Houghton, ever the big game player, signed off his days in green by scoring Ireland’s goal.
Following his retirement from playing, Houghton became a football agent before becoming assistant manager at Crystal Palace. On leaving Palace, Houghton’s media career has gone from strength to strength, and now presents shows on Talk Sport in the UK, writes for various papers including the Irish Daily Star, and provides football commentary for RTE sport for Champions League and the recent World Cup in South Africa.