If you’re Irish, you support the Republic in soccer, but if you’re British or staunchly ‘non-Irish’, you would support Northern Ireland; simple enough and sectarian at heart.
I would posit, however, that if we continue to allow the teams to be arbitrarily divided based on walls of the mind and partition, there will never be reconciliation between nationalists and unionists.
Growing up, I will always remember how my family from Northern Ireland loved George Best when he played for Manchester United back in the reds’ heyday, but when it came to him playing for Northern Ireland, they would turn on him in an instant. If we perpetuate this mentality of refusing to support the perceived ‘other’, how can we even begin to imagine cooperation in a political context?
According to a survey conducted by Amarách Research, out of 1,000 Irish adults, 73 percent indicated that they would support an All-Ireland soccer team, while only 18 percent said they didn’t want the teams to come together. This survey conducted in the south of Ireland is reflected among Catholics in the north, but among unionists, it’s a different story altogether.
As of now, players on both sides of the border can choose to represent either team on the international stage, but it’s often the case that this leads to sectarian sorting, where Irish Catholics play for the Republic and unionists choose to play for the north.
I will admit, uniting the teams would pose a significant problem in that they couldn’t start blasting Amhrán na bhFiann at a match and expect the unionists to happily sing along. Nor could they ever get away with playing God Save the Queen and not expect the Irish to be furious.
Arguably, one could play both anthems but the connotations with either of them are far too rooted in historical animosity of one another that this could never work. The neutral Irish rugby approach seems to be the way to go in this case.
Instead of the two anthems, the IRFU (Irish Rugby Football Union) compromised with “Ireland’s Call”, which appeases both sides to buck up and play together. This non-sectarian song strays away from culture and sectarianism, but instead calls for cooperation from “the four proud provinces of Ireland.”
From a team-strength standpoint, dividing the two teams only inhibits the full potential Ireland has for being a world-class soccer team. Having great players from the north such as Will Grigg and Gareth McAuley team up with the likes of James McClean and Wes Hoolahan could give us a much better shot at global success.
Finding myself not being able to root for any team except the ones playing England has made the world cup interesting, to say the least. But, If I could see an All-Ireland squad showing us the best of the best from both sides of the border, I have no doubt that we would be a viable contender for the next UEFA Euro qualifiers in 2020 and certainly Qatar in 2022.
Would you like to see a unified Irish team?