Football Is A Political… Football

Football (ie Soccer)  is the World Game.

Ireland has TWO teams, the “Republic of Ireland” (representing the 26 counties) and “Northern Ireland” (representing the six counties). Now that might mean that people in Norn Iron actually support “Northern Ireland” but this is not the case. Most Catholics/Nationalists/Republicans in the North identify with the “Republic of Ireland”, naturally enough perhaps as the symbolism of the National Flag and Anthem……is “our” Flag and Anthem.

The so called United Kingdom actually has four teams playing international football. England (anthem “God Save The Queen”) of course. Wales flies its own national flag and sings “Land of Our Fathers”. Scotland displays its own flag and sings “Flower of Scotland”. These two British nations use Football as an occasion to display their own national fervour. Peculiarly “Northern Ireland” displays its non-existent flag and sings…………..”God Save The Queen” thus using Football as an occasion to display its Britishness.

On other sporting occasions, notably the Commonwealth Games “Oh Danny Boy” is deemed more acceptable.

With the 1998 Good Friday Agreement confirming the rights of Irish people living in Norn Iron to identify themselves as “Irish”, there has been a trickle of “Catholic” northern players declaring to play for the Republic of Ireland.

This right was foolishly challenged by the Norths Football authorities with the World Football Governing Body……FIFA…..and predictably FIFA ruled in favour of the Republic of Ireland choosing any player with an Irish passport who chose to declared for them.

The Norths accusation that young players nourished locally at their expense are being “poached by the Republic” is of course risible. After all the Norths Football Association receives a government grant …financed by taxes paid by people in Norn Iron, including those of us who are “Irish”. The Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure is actually a member of Sinn Féin (Carál Ní Chuílín).

The Norths Football Association shot itself in the foot………actually both feet….with a double barrelled shotgun. Not least because the have “poached” players born in England, Scotland and Wales of “Norn Iron” parents. The Norths goalkeeper Maik taylor was actually born in Germany to British Army parents but the North took advantage of the fact that a British citizen born abroad can play for ANY of the British teams.

All of this showed Northern hypocrisy. And in trying to limit the rights of an Irish citizen (enshrined in Law), the Norths Football authorities further damaged its relationship with northern nationalists.

Let me make it clear that the Norths Football authorities are NOT sectarian. They are attempting to protect their own interests. But doing so clumsily. And in a manner which has proven counter-productive. The “right” way to go about it…….would be the recent Hearts and Minds policy…….where Gerry Armstrong, a Catholic former Norn Iron international has been dispatched on a Charm Offensive to talk with Catholic schoolkids.

Too little. Much too late. While the Norths Footballing authorities are not sectarian, the same cannot be said for their fans, who in the past have chanted obscene anti Catholic hatred and vitriol directed against their “own” players. Describing themselves as “Our Wee Country” they take a perverse delight in their own isolation…………and in the fact that they are a crap football team “We’re Not Brazil……..We’re Northern Ireland!”

Belatedly Norn Iron football supporter groups have come to the conclusion that being offensive to Catholics is no way of convincing a talented Catholic footballer to play for them.

Of course Norn Iron is NOT Brazil. Or Argentina. Or Germany. Or even England. Nor is the Republic of Ireland Brazil. Or Italy. Or Spain. Or Netherlands.

Qualification for the World Cup or European Championship is always going to be difficult.

“Northern Ireland” has however qualified for World Cups in 1958, 1982 and 1986.

The Republic of Ireland has qualified for World Cups in 1990, 1994, and 2002. And European Championships in 1988……….and earlier this week qualified for next years European Championship.

George Orwell, the writer said that “(international) Sport is War minus the shooting”. Which probably overstates it. But nevertheless Sport means a lot to a lot of people. So this weekend Irish people, suffering a daily dose of economic humiliation have a spring in our steps.

Well at least I know my birthday present (10th May) will be the new Ireland Euro top……presumably there will be a new one. And that sorts out the grandsons without much bother.

Cant really see us doing well in Ukraine/Poland but ater a ten year absence its a timely boost for Ireland and its fans. And a blow to “Our Wee Country” folk who will affect not to care but alas the fates of both teams are linked.

With Ireland 25th in FIFA rankings and Norn Iron 80th or whatever,there is no real parity. Ireland is the local team who are not top drawer but will get occasional glimpses of the top table (like Belgium, Norway and Austria). Norn Iron is the local team who will never be anywhere near the top table (like Luxembourg, Leichtenstein and Malta). And when there is no parity, the local kids go with the flow as well as family ties……so the kids in Crossmaglen, West Belfast and Derry will be re-newed in their sense of Irishness. So the shirt sales to the 4 year olds and the Panini stickers for the 9 year olds and the “Irish News” supplement will influence an entire new generation. And of course the Ireland tops will be highly visible in our shopping centres and High Streets. BBC Norn Iron will even send a reporter to cover it for us.

Of course some will say “I support Norn Iron but I like to see the Republic do well”. Or indeed vice versa. But such “lets get alongerism” is alien in the zero sum game of North of Ireland politics. And isnt really within the understanding of the vast majority of football fans. To many in the “red half” of Manchester……it will not be a consolation if Manchester Citeh win the Premiership. Or Arsenal/Tottenham. Indeed if Glasgow Rangers get relegated, I cant see Glasgow Celtic fans being sorry.

Nor can I see New York Giants fans share the joy if New York Jets win the Superbowl. And I cant see New York Mets fans share the joy when New York Yankees win the World Series.

Thats not how Football works. Or how Sport works. Or zero sum politics works. Simply put, Irelands qualification is bad news for “our wee country”. And…….I am kinda glad about that.


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