James McClean has been selected to play for Ireland in the European Football Championships. Born in Derry, he has previously played for Norn Iron’s Under 21 team and has elected to represent the “Republic of Ireland”. He tweeted yesterday. “Absolutely honoured and couldn’t be happier to have been called up to represent my country at the Euros” (my emphasis).
He has however been subject to sectarian abuse online and his life has been threatened. This is of course the stark sectarian reality behind much but not all of Norn Ireland football supporters.
The Norn Iron football authorities have made efforts….belated but sincere….to outreach to “Catholic” players coming thru the ranks. Certainly World Rankings show that Norn Iron needs all the players it can get. Including Lee Camp (born in Derby, England), Maik Taylor (born in Germany), Lee Hodson (born in Watford, England) and Jamie Ward (born in Birmingham, England). All raised in England and gone thru English youth football. Norn Iron currently languish in #100 in Football rankings. The “Republic” are in #19 place.
Norn Iron supporters claim to want a level playing field. James McClean and fellow Derry man Darron Gibson have played youth football in Norn Iron before being “poached” (in Norn Iron mythology) by the evil folks from the South. Actually the players have merely exercised their right to be Irish citizens to play for their national team.
There is no legal mechanism to stop McClean or Gibson so doing. There is no legal mechanism to compel them to play for Norn Iron. Nor is there any quasi-legal “football rule” that can make them do this. The Norn Iron football authorities have already taken their case….their unique situation (as they have it) to “World Football” (FIFA) and humiliatingly lost. In fact even taking the case was counter-productive.
The current tactic devised in Norn Iron football is to demand compensation for the finacial loss incurred in developing players who then opt to play for Ireland. Well of course, the problem with that is that Norn Iron is not rushing to pay compensation to the English FA for developing members of their squad. And there is also the uncomfortable fact that the Norn Iron football authorities gets grants from the Norn Iron government………taxpayer money, collected by the British Treasury from people who include Norn Iron “nationalists”.
Of course real Norn Iron football fans will rightly condemn people who put sectarian abuse on Twitter and Facebook. And will of course will condemn those who resort to threats. While many Norn Iron football fans recognise the “right” of McClean or Gibson to choose to play for Ireland, many of them are “lets get alongerists” who believe that if players did not play for the Republic, it would create a harmonious and homogenous “country”. Alas that call is not for the “lets get alongerists to make”. The call is for McClean and Gibson.
While those “lets get alongerists” present themselves as respectable, even “liberal” people, the threats to James McClean shows that too many Norn Iron fans feel he has no right to make this decision. And of course the threats are de-humanising.
Is it more or less likely that James McClean will reverse a decision and not go to the Euros because of threats from some internet warriors? Is it likely to change the mind of other young Catholics currently working their way thru youth football in Norn Iron?
The struggle in Norn Iron has always been between those who wish to enhance peoples rights and those who wish to limit peoples rights.