Asif Burhan blogs from Ireland V England
In his latest blog for Kick It Out, Asif Burhan offers his thoughts on the friendly international between Ireland and England which took place on Sunday 7 June.
To read more of Asif’s blogs, including articles from the 2014 FIFA World Cup, click here.
“When we said we wanted Ireland-England to pass off without incident, I think someone misunderstood”
For only the second time in a decade, I was not in the city hosting the UEFA Champions League Final. Berlin in 2015 was particularly enticing to true lovers of the game. The contrast between the Catalan blaugrana and the Italian bianconeri in an historic city at the crossroads of Europe meant the German capital was the place to be this weekend. A festival to celebrate the heights this wonderful game can reach.
Yet, I gave all that up for Dublin, for a soulless, goalless draw. An early kick-off and a post-season date had sucked the life out of the game. It easy to blame the paucity of the teams, but the history of this fixture suggests that a draw was always likely.
For a few years from 1988, England v Republic of Ireland became the Chelsea v Liverpool of the international game. Four fiercely contested games, low on quality and goals but rich in significance for Ireland who didn’t lose any of them. Then came the events of 15 February 1995 which shamed a nation preparing to host the 1996 European Championship finals.
It took 18 years for The FA to risk staging such a fixture again. A friendly at Wembley, part of The Football Association’s 150-year anniversary celebrations, passed off without major incident. “You’ll never beat the Irish” sang the jubilant men in green at the final whistle as Ireland completed a fifth match without losing to England.
I had long feared the scheduling of this game, initially an evening kick-off on a Sunday night following the Champions League final. Dublin was too close, too familiar for England fans not to take a long weekend here. The prospect of one or more English teams in the European Cup final could have led to club rivalries spilling over amongst fans from different countries who watch the same Premier League teams.
In the event, I had overestimated the quality of English club sides and underestimated the change in Dublin since I had last visited as a student. The make-up of the city’s inhabitants had changed to such an extent that there were more Spaniards and Brazilians in and around Temple Bar on Saturday night than Englishmen.
More significantly, moving the kick-off to 1pm had the double-edged effect of keeping this England fan from staying out too late on Saturday night and those around me from drinking before the game. There was the usual “No Surrender” during God Save The Queen but none of the IRA chants which had marred the Scotland v England match.
In an hour-long preview of this game on Setanta Sports, Irish journalists discussed the significance of the relationship between the two countries on the football field. It was Ireland who became the first foreign team to defeat England on home soil at Goodison Park in 1949. It was England who Ireland met in their first match at a European Championship and World Cup finals. It was an Englishman who masterminded Ireland’s greatest successes.
Jack Charlton came out onto the pitch before the game to a rapturous standing ovation from both sets of fans, worthy of an English World Cup winner and the man who revolutionised Irish international football. Yet, it was not always this way. When Charlton came out for his first home game as Irish manager in Dublin, he was met with a banner “Go Home, Union Jack”. In Irish eyes, success changed everything. In English eyes too, his intransigence when facing England, led to him being labelled a “traitor”.
Long before, questions of dual allegiance became commonplace, Charlton redefined our concepts of nationality, fielding every player of requisite quality available to him, whatever his upbringing or accent. It was not universally acclaimed, but it worked.
There is a story that when England lost to Ireland in 1988, Andy Townsend was cheering the English. Two years later, he was starting against them for Ireland in the World Cup. He was Ireland’s captain in 1994, when England failed to qualify. Now, Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish is faced with the same choice but such is the ever-shifting diaspora of populations, every country has faced this dilemma. Ireland’s competitive advantage in this area has disappeared.
Setanta had billed the game “More Than A Friendly” but the truth is when the stakes are high, winning becomes less important than not losing. This may explain why Ireland and England played out a fifth successive bore draw.
Such was the insipidity of the contest, England fans were not held back in the Aviva Stadium to allow the Irish fans to disperse as everyone had presumed. We came out onto a narrow pathway beside the canal leading back into the city and merged with Irish fans heading in the same direction. This was unthinkable 20 years ago.
Maybe it was progress, maybe it was a one-off but if it required a tedious 0-0 draw to prove that English and Irish fans can co-exist side-by-side then perhaps 90 minutes of forgettable football was a price worth paying.