Euros Football: There’s Only One Ireland

So the European Football Championships begin in two weeks time. In a not very radical move, I have decided to support Ireland…Republic of Ireland.

I will not be supporting Norn Iron. “Making Northern Ireland Work” can never be interpreted as “Supporting Norn Iron -at Football”.

Football in Norn Iron has always been pretty toxic. There is a myth that Football here united people behind Our Wee Country. I confess that I watched Norn Iron play a few times in the 1960s but Catholic players were never treated well. In the 1990s there was a pretty exclusive OWC culture and it seems to have improved markedly. The Norn Iron Football authorities are to be congratulated but being inclusive in Norn Iron includes the right to reject a Norn Iron identity in favour of a Republic of Ireland identity.

Football IS Football. If the “Big Two” Scottish clubs were playing in a European Champions League, I would expect Scottish First Minister, Nichola Sturgeon to dutifully say that all of Scotland is behind Celtic and Rangers….but that isnt really likely.

In England, it is not much different. Any Prime Minister saying all of England is behind Chelsea AND Liverpool AND Tottenham Hotspur just doesnt get it. Any Mayor of Manchester saying “we are ALL behind City AND United” …well its wishful thinking.

Of course all politicians have to do the political thing. …call it the LetsGetAlongerist thing. The rest of us dont have to bother.

It is good that there will be a big TV screen at Belfast City Hall and wonderful ifsupporters of Norn Iron and Republic of Ireland mix together. A sign of progress? Well lets see the Fleg policy first. The teams are unlikely  to have to play each other. And probably they wont be playing on the same day.

But it will be interesting to see how Norn Iron politicians perform. Unionists will be fully behind Our Wee Country. Republicans will row in behind Republic of Ireland ….but on the fringes there will be nationalist and/or LetsGetAlongerists who will have themselves posing in different colours on different “I support both teams” photo opportunities. And if a LetsGetAlongerist politician has ten children, then expect to find him investing in five Norn Iron shirts and five Republic of Ireland shirts.

I invite you all to join in my “Spot a Politician and Their Kids  in a Football Shirt on TV or Press During Euros” Competition. A few months ago I jokingly suggested a Tshirt indicating support for both teams.

Wearing a Norn Iron shirt is a sign of Football Support. LIkewise a Republic of Ireland shirt. And it is…obviously…. an indicator of national idendity much more than walking thru Tesco wearing a Liverpool top or wearing a Tottenham Hotspur shirt in Sainsburys. You can probably bet that some shopping malls will ban all football tops for the duration.

We should not be surprised that wearing football tops during a major tournament IS political …for British nationalists in Norn Iron, for Irish nationalists in Norn Iron. Nor should we forget the third tribe….the LetsGetAlongeriists. They are the ones who have to face the reality that LetsGetAlongerism is in practice “unionist”.

If politicians are intent on making statements about their Identity …Irish, British, Norn Irish or Both (and in reality only two of these four make sense)….then they have to be aware that the Facebook images WILL be held against them.

But wouldnt it be great if we had one football team representing Ireland. Well ….actually we do. It is called the Republic of Ireland, fully representative of our national identity. Do we really need a sanitised version ….with a non-flag and non-anthem?

Maybe this is a test for what the young politicians call “Progressive Nationalism” or maybe it will be exposed as a meaningless form of words.

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From Busby To Mourinho

Yesterday Mr Bangor Dub, fellow Blogger and decent enough guy for a Gooner (a fan of Arsenal FC)  challenged me to write a post about Jose Mourinho becoming manager at Manchester United.

Ya know its a strange thing. I find it hard to get motivated about Football these days. Of course, I still watch when Manchester United are on TV but what can I say …it isnt the same. There is always a Golden Age.

For me, the Golden Age was 1958-1970. Schooldays. Things are never the same after that. And I can confirm this because I have seen my two sons go thru the Golden Age. And I have two grandsons going thru it.

Football is bigger now than ever. So really hard to describe that I was once a 4 year old boy who went with my father to Uncle Jackies house to see the 1956 Cup Final. Auntie Mary, an amateur soprano came out of the tiny kitchen to sing “Keep Right On To The End of the Road” and “Abide With Me”.

That Cup Final is famous. Manchester City beat Birmingham City but City’s goalie Bert Trautmann, a former German POW played with a broken neck. To be honest I barely remember the 1957 FA Cup Final when Aston Villa beat Manchester United except that Auntie Mary sang again.

But…6th February 1958….my grandparents  house…they now had a TV and there was a news item that made my father say “oh my GOD” and a plane had crashed. I was 6 years old and I asked my father what colours they played in when he said red, I said “thats my team daddy”.I can actually remember that very moment, in part because the innocence, the childishness of it was one of those things that parents, grandparents remember and remind children about. Even into the 1990s, Auntie Sheila would just say it when watching the football results come thru….”Everton 2…Manchester United 0… thats my team daddy”…”Manchester United 4….Arsenal 0…thats my team daddy”.

For some reason, I can recall Man Utd playing Fulham in the 1958 FA Cup Semi Final Replay. Was it a news item, highlights or live? I dont know. And my grannys house again for the Final were the recovering Man Utd (eight players had died in the Munich Air Crash) lost to Bolton but the Legend had been born.

Really very young children are incapable of having favourite football teams without the loving input of parents or an “Auntie Sheila”. So my father taught me to read thru the Manhester United reports by James Mossop in the Sunday Express and syndicated match previews in the Irish News. The English Catholic newspaper The Universe often mentioned Manchester. United ….Salford was a big anglo-Irish diocese and United were the “Catholic-supported” team. So things like United players getting married or christenings were big stories. Most Catholic priests (including my cousin) in the Diocese of Salford had complimentary tickets to Old Trafford.

Every summer in the early 1960s my cousin would talk about Matt Busby, Joe Murphy, Shay Brennan, Wilf McGuinness, Nobby Stiles, Tony Dunne etc.

There was no live Football on TV in those days. Probably the reason why I can recall hazy images from 1957 and 1958. We only ever got to see FA Cup Finals and hoghlight programmes years before Match of The Day seemed to formalise it all. There was of course chewing gum cards

So after the difficult post Munich years, Manchester United reached the 1963 Cup Final beating Leicester City, which was the beginning of a great team whiich won two league titles and a European Cup.

But of course in those days, there were no substitures and teams rarely used more than twenty players in a season. Just a few weeks ago, I used a website to make up a spread sheet…67 players were used by Manchester United from 1958 to 1970. And I recognised 65 names. Like I say….a Golden Age.

it is not unusual. My sons can rhyme off names from Giggs, Scholes, Schmeichel thru Djemba Djemba to Rashford. Likewise my grandsons can rhyme off names with Janujaz, Rojo, de Gea ….and as for me, I am just more familiar with the 1963 FA Cup. Winners than the 2016 FA Cup Winners. Strange….the United team that won the 1968 European Cup is engraved in my heart. Not so the names of the teams that won it two more times.

Thee Matt Busby Years. But for my contemporaies there were the Shankley Years at Liverpool, the Revie Years (Leeds), the Nicholson Years (Spurs) the Greenwood Years (West Ham)…because Football Clubs were more constant then. Brand loyalty at its best.

After Busby…. McGuinness, O’Farrell, Docherty, Sexton, Atkinson  all failed to really make an impact. The glory of the Ferguson Years warms me but only thru my sons and grandsons. Moyes and Van Gaal failed.

And Jose Mourinho? He will come, negotiate his image rights install his own backroom team and the whole hype of 21st Century Football will start. Not really looking forward to it. Great coach of course. Unique character….but there is that cliché that nobody is bigger than the club. One thing Id like to see is a Womans team at Manchester United. It is frankly inexcusable that United are the only major club that neglects Womens Football.

Mourinho has something to prove. He lost his touch this season. No Premiership title will be won in the first six games of a season but it can be lost.

Me….I am not as enthused at 64 as I was at 14. But supporting MAnchester United has been a very fundamental part of who I am. I got to go to Old Trafford, in the 1960s and I even got to bring my father in 1976. Having been critically ill for years, he told me it was the first time he had felt normal in years. And in the 1990s, I got to bring my sons to Old Trafford….and in the 21st century my sons bring my grandsons….and occasionally they bring me. But its not the same.

There is no Golden Age of Football as such…just Golden Ages in our own lives.

Football is essentially FOR children. But in the spirit that Men have some kinda need to hand on a football team as much as a political party or religion to our male chilldren…then I maintain an interest. I would really look up obscure internet articles about Manchester United 1958-1970 and buy histories of the Club than worry about 2016/17. I need Auntie Sheila to encourage me.

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EU Referendum: A Voter’s Guide

1…This whole referendum was little more than a tactic to keep the Conservative Party united and to stop defections of voters and Tory members to UKIP.

Yes ….so I should probably abstain.

2…Cameron won the 2015 Election on the basis he would re-negotiate the relationship between Britain and EU. The negotiations and the result were a total sham.

Yes…I should abstain.

3…But the EU is a good thing economically and politically.

Yes to the first part. I should vote to REMAIN. But a bad thing politically. I should vote to LEAVE.

4….But you are a European citizen.

Bollox. I should vote to LEAVE …and go to the European Commission, ask for a EU flag….and burn it.

5 Have you no affection or loyalty for Europe?

Absolutely none. I should vote to LEAVE.

6 But a LEAVE vote could lead to the break up of the United Kingdom.

I certainly hope so. I will persuade my friends to vote to LEAVE.

7 Isnt it important that British Labour are supporting the Tory Government?

A responsible Opposition should act in accordance with its conscience and if Labour support Cameron…so be it. But on the other hand, Tories are Tories….and screwing them is always a good choice. Either way Cameron is toast. REMAIN OR LEAVE is irrelevant….but bringing down a government before its term is tempting.

8 But you cant support Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove….

No…I should vote REMAIN. And dont forget Kate Hoey.

9 and two hundred celebrities have written to the Guardian urging people to vote REMAIN….and Jess Phillips.

yes and it convinces me to vote to LEAVE.

10 but seriously the Norn Iron Independent Retailers Association  say REMAIN.

yes and seriously that convinces me to vote LEAVE.

11 but if theres a LEAVE vote….World War Three would break out.

well then I should definitely vote REMAIN.

12  And arent you looking forward to being in a political union with Turkey??

Strangely no….their Human Rights record is bad. IM voting LEAVE

13 But Turkey is a major trading partner?

then I should vote REMAIN.

14on the other hand the major trade is Migrants and Refugees.

yes ….Europe has made People Trafficking a respjectable industry. VOte LEAVE, I think.

15…but Greece was bailed out by Europe.

actually Europe made German Inmperilaism respectable for the first time since 1945. I will vote LEAVE.

16 Dont mention Hitler …

OK….Angela Merkel.

17 what is best for Ireland?

ah now youre talking…I actually care about Ireland. I should vote REMAIN.

18 ah now you have joined the Establishment?

If I thought that Id vote to LEAVE. The Establishment always win. Look at the Scotland Referendum. THe Establishment will lie thru their teeth.

19 a REMAINvote will settle the issue?

probably not. The anti EU people will strike again. And the REMAIN side are as bad.

20 Wont someone think of the children?

actually I do…MY children. MY grandchildren. My vote is not about what is best for me…because I dont give a tinkers curse either way. I am inclined to vote IN SPITE OF rather than BECAUSE of the stances taken up by public people…all in search of an OBE.



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An 11 Year Old Journalist Writes…

When I was 11 years old part of the English lesson was producing a newspaper. The idea was that the English double period on Friday was spent putting together THREE newspapers. One for each row of twelve boys. For the record, my newspaper was called “Topic”.

It was hardly cutting edge. Mostly I remember cutting pictures of politicians, sports people and pop stars out of newspapers and magazines and pasting them into our newspaper. Cutting and pasting…literally.

One morning there was a discussion about “news” and our teacher explained that it was not just about newspapers …there were magazines like the “Economist”, “Time”, “The Spectator”…..thats where real journalism and real news was. Essentially a murder, a bank robbery or a fatal car crash are only news for a few days and real journalism is the ongoing stories.

So watching “Newsnight”, we see in depth coverage of major events and somehow the stories affecting ordinary people get devalued.

So tonight I was watching the local UTV News which led of course with the formation of our New Executive. It was a depressing enough feature…a pantomime … Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (SF) and Simon Hamilton (DUP) nodding and agreeing with each other about facing serious challenges ahead.

But the second item on the News was the 1976 Kingsmill Massacre…and the inquests forty years later. A massacre of Protestant workmen. The testimony of the sole survivor was chilling. How he heard an 18 year old victim call for his mother..seeing the boots of a murderer as he walked among them, finishing off the wounded.

So much happened in those years. I think we rationalised it. That  when we heard the first item of news on the radio….”a body was found…”.

We needed to find a reason that it could not be me. Thus a British Army soldier or RUC man killed by bullet or roadside bomb could not be me. The men drinking in a bar…couldnt be me…the men in the “IRA Active Service Unit” or the alleged tout found hooded on a border road. None could be me.

I had different and precise fears about abduction and being tortured to death in a Shankill Road “romper room”. Some things are too painful like the girl I knew…a professional singer abducted and tortured to death after being made to watch the torture and death of the young man abducted with her. …he had only just met her that night and was giving her a lift home. The loyalist killers promised they would spare them if she sang for them.

Back then, Catholics like myself carried a “Prayer to St Joseph” petitioning that we “would not fall into the hands of our enemies”. Because thats a phrase that still chills me….”falling into the hands of your enemies”. It does not end well in Iraq and it does not end well in Syria….and for that girl I knew, it didnt end well in Belfast…..and it did not end well for ten men at Kingsmill.

So forty years later, the sole survivor gets to tell his story. His humanity comes thru. He has lived with the true facts, having saved the bereaved from the information that their loved ones had not died instantly.  We owe him a debt….and  owe others like the Bloody Sunday, Claudy, Ballymurphy and La Mon victims a debt.

You might tell me that “we should move on” or maybe just tell me that I should move on. But we do not deserve to move on because increasingly we have neglected victims and frankly we chose to believe that “our people were not as bad as their people”.

There will be no court cases of course but the very least that the Kingsmill bereaved deserve is to know the names of the killers…the murderers. Will anyone allow that to happen?

DUP and Sinn Féin now share the spoils. This is a coalition….there is  not even any pretence as Arlene and Martin stand shoulder to shoulder. Frankly I cant see this latest farce not having consequences for Sinn Féin. Máirtín ÓMuilleoir will be implementing Austerity and piously talking about finding new solutions in Health. Of course there are five long years ahead and Sinn Féin will be hoping that with DUP blessing that they can go to West Belfast, Mid Ulster and South Down with something to show.

But really hard to see how this “new, young” Executive deserves more attention than Kingsmill. Disturbingly local BBC and UTV will be as supportive of this coalition as they were of the old unionist regime fifty years ago. The media will be as uncritical of Mairtin Ó Muilleoir, Simon Hamilton and the rest of the Government as much as they were uncritical of Terence O’Neill and William Craig.
The virtues of Stability will be fed to us. Arlene Foster is the new James Chichester Clarke and Martin McGuinness is the new Brookeborough.

Maybe the English teacher was wrong in 1963. Publishing three newspapers might have prepared us to read a broadsheet like The Guardian instead of a tabloid like the Daily Mirror. Or have us watch Channel 4 News instead of Jeremy Kyle or locally we might be sophisticated to watch Mark Carruthers rather than Stephen Nolan.
Maybe the cutting and pasting I did to produce a newspaper in 1963 is not that much different to writing “Keeping An Eye On The Czar of Russia”.
But how insular we all are in the Norn Iron media and Blogosphere….how gossipy …how irrelevant…covering minutiae.
We miss the real story.
It is nice of BBC Norn Iron to run off to Coleraine Grammar School to interview Claire Sugden’s Politics teacher. Didnt she do well? But what was happening behind closed doors at Stormont over the past few weeks and months is probably more interesting.
“Move on” they tell us.
The Ministry of Truth…our own little 1984….where the voices from Kingsmill and Ballymurphy count for nothing.

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The New Executive

Well three weeks is certainly a long time in Norn Iron Politics. I was pretty disappointed as the results came thru. But today as the new Executive takes up office, I am actually quite happy.

As it turns out, the biggest loser is the Alliance Party. That delights me. In hindsight, they have had power beyond their mandate since 2011 and getting used to being “also rans” in the Assembly will be hard for them. No mandate for Government and no mandate for Opposition. They wont even be chairing a scrutinising committee.

They really should have seen it coming. I cant believe that canvas returns over the last two months led them to believe they would turn eight Assembly seats into the magical TEN to claim an Executive seat “as of right”. So clearly they thought that David Ford could dial a friend at DUP-SF and that they would be given a lifeline thru the Justice Department. Indeed they were so confident that they presented demands to DUP-SF….were kicked out after less than ten minutes and optimistically left the door open for DUP-SF to come back to Alliance. And they….didn’t.

The Alliance Party do not take reversals well. They have an exaggerated sense of their own righteousness. So cue internal bickering which will see David Ford resign sooner rather than later. And the television appearances tonight should be interesting. David Ford will be doing his irritating Mr Angry impersonation. And self-styled Ginga Ninja, Naomi Long will do her shrill Ginga Whinga act.

The New Executive is indeed different. Streamlined to just eight ministries. UUP and SDLP preferring the dignity (and pragmatism) of Opposition to giving any credence to the Executive being anything more than a DUP-Sinn Féin coalition. With SF also failing to get a magic number of MLAs….THIRTY (Petition of Concern veto mechanism) ….Sinn Féin is now reduced to being a “junior partner in a centre-right coalition” (credit to Christopher Stalford MLA).

And of course the New Executive only gets off the ground because the impasse over Justice is unblocked by Claire Sugden MLA, Independent Unionist taking up the invitation from Arlene  Foster and Martin McGuinness.

Claire Sugden’s three weeks has been better than David Fords.

Nominally the Justice role has gone from a “Neutral” party Alliance. But seriously does anyone think that Alliance isnt “unionist”. While Colum Eastwood is right that SF view of Justice is “no nationalist need apply”, I would regard both Claire Sugden and David Ford as “independent unionists”.

To be a unionist or indeed nationalist does not imply unfairness in the delicate role of Justice Minister. It is about appearances. The bottom line is that whether thru Inquests, Inquiries or Investigations, there is little hope for victims of Injustice. The British Government and Sinn Féin are guarantors that Justice will always be denied. Is Claire Sugden the Minister to unlock the Truth?

Well….Arlene and Marty would not have asked her if they thought she was.

She is being dismissed too easily….and a lot of it seems gender based, a 29 year old woman elected for the first time, just three weeks ago. True, there is nothing in the previous Assembly (she was a co-option) to indicate that she will be a stunning success. Nor is there anything to indicate she will be a disaster. Necessarily the role of an Independent back bencher is limited.

We should be more mature. Is she a DUP-SF stooge? Or will she turn out to be their worst nightmare…independent. And how will she handle or be handled by the mandarins and assorted spooks within the Department of Justice….not to mention PSNI, Prisons Service, the Law Officers like Larkin and McGrory and the heavyweights in the Judiciary?

As for the rest of the Executive.
Good choices on DUP side. Peter Weir (ex UUP like his boss Arlene) will be an asset and some deadwood has been weeded. Looks more like Arlene Foster’s choices than Peter Robinson’s.
As expected, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir gets an Executive post…Finance. And whether or not you regard him as genius or a shameless self publicist, it will be interesting two years before he is booted out to be replaced by another SF MLA.

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Alliance Party…Down and Hopefully Out

I am not usually the kinda person who would kick anyone when they are down. But in the case of the Alliance Party, I will happily make an exception.

They were content to drift along, picking up extra Executive seats as a reward from DUP-Sinn Féin for keeping them in power. Alternatively…Alliance selflessly served the community. But to be honest, not even the Alliance Party believe that.

Now they are not in Government, they can hardly be surprised that UUP and SDLP dont want to touch them with John Taylor’s legenary ten foot pole.

It has of course been interesting to watch Alliance try to sell themselves over the past week.It should make the next annual Conference interesting. Perhaps the Dunadry Hotel and La Mon House would  be unsuitable venues. A very large window bathed in red light in Amsterdam…that would be different.

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Congratulations Gladys!

A big shout out to Dr Gladys Ganiel who is well known as a commentator on Conflict Resolution on Slugger O’Toole.

Less well known is that Gladys is a pretty good long distance runner. Today she has been selected as first reserve for Ireland for the Olympic marathon.


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