“Ireland in the World Cup
EIther North or South”
- Snow Patrol - Lifening
“I am a proud Northern Ireland fan but I love the Rep of Ireland too. I have no politics nor religion. Just love.”
– Gary Lightbody Tweet
To follow Snow Patrol singer, Gary Lightbody’s Twitter support of both Irish soccer teams is the simplest of gestures but one which I believe makes you an active societal peacemaker. I once agreed to have coffee with an American student who seemed to have contrived a dissertation linking sport and reconciliation in Northern Ireland to gain the funding for a wee trip overseas! Having thought that I would have little to contribute to a threadbare hypothesis I agreed to have coffee.
Within seconds I was into the vast deep confusion of the intentional and unintentional segregation that is Irish sport. Soccer used to be frowned upon in the Republic Of Ireland as a foreign sport; many older folk will share how they were banned from playing it. Gaelic sports is predominantly Catholic and for many years refused to allow members who belonged to the British security forces. Rugby has been played at international level as a united team but very few of the northerners on that team would be Catholics as their schools prefer Gaelic to Rugby; a new neutral anthem was written to unite players! Catholics and Protestants can in general be divided into whether they support Glasgow soccer teams Celtic and Rangers; the shirts of these two teams could let you know what side of the city you are in.
In Belfast itself Protestants cheer Linfield and Glentoran and Catholics offer allegiance to Cliftonville. When these teams play tensions have historically run high. When it comes to the international soccer teams Protestants in general support Northern Ireland and Catholics the Republic. Catholic Neil Lennon had death threatens from Protestant paramilitaries when he played for the North. Many Catholic players have recently renounced the country of their birth to commit to playing for the Republic. Everything is political and sectarian.
So Lightbody’s throwaway Tweet and that lyric on the song Lifening from Snow Patrol’s Fallen Empires, “Ireland in the World Cup/Either North or South” are prophetic statements of reconciliation. Sport is a very powerful to set division. A pair of Rangers or Celtic slippers at 3 years of age or a shirt at 7 years of age can birth your lifetime sectarianism. Sport also gives very easy ways to cross historical boundaries and defuse the old divisions though even then some courage is needed. I have been known to follow Gaelic sport, at least when it comes to All Ireland Finals etc and wear my Antrim shirt proudly though without much hope of success. Wearing that shirt disturbs and yet can make people think and allow connections across old boundaries. I also refused to support any teams with sectarian allegiance and am like Lightbody proud to support either north or south. If they met in the final Gary who will we cheer; come on the wee north!
Last night both North and South did incredibly well. I was watching the wee North shouting with joy as Kyle Lafferty put us 2 up against the top seeds in our group, Greece! Three wins in our first three games; dream land! On the iPad I was sneaking glances at the Republic’s match with World Champions Germany. The German goal deflated me but very late on I glanced back and saw John O’Shea running away with his arms in the air. Had they? Surely not? YES! Double joy. Many in my country are either north or south, many holding allegiance with segregated hatred. Rory McIlroy was getting grief on Twitter for only celebrating the North's win! I am Northern Irish but I love both countries and feel an affinity across the island. I call my space the Venn Diagram. On nights like last night it is a double blessing. What about “Ireland in the Euros/Both north and south.” Gary Lightbody would be past himself. Me too!