Even in 2023 it’s a tension filled image. Northern Ireland and a Union flag alongside Rep Of Ireland.
Then a tension filled sound. The Irish National Anthem at Windsor Park, The Northern Irish National Stadium before a God Save The King. I can only imagine the negative aggression if this was a men’s game.
BUT it wasn’t and the respect from players and crowd was meticulous. Where we sitting we could even hear the Republic team belting it out.
There are a lot of good things about Women’s Football. So many. That there are so many children attending says loads about the atmosphere and attitude of players and crowd. These children bring an energy, innocence and a great deal of hope for the sport’s future.
The players it has to be said play their part. After the game there was a sea of children flocking down to the front of the stands to get a selfie or maybe even a shirt. The players were in absolutely no rush to leave the pitch. Even Northern Ireland players who had just been trounced 6-1 stayed out smiling for every photo.
It is inspirational.
It allowed Jasmine and I to cheer both Northern Ireland and Republic star player Katie McCabe without anyone ion the crowd giving us grief.
McCabe is a superstar. A Ballon D’Or nominee for goodness sake. I had watched her in the Dublin fixture in September utterly marvelled at her comfort with a football. Her touch. Her speed of pass, short or long. The accuracy of her pass. World class.
At Windsor Park she stepped up a gear. A beautiful assist was lovely but then…
Earlier in the game I had sensed that she was only comfortable on her left foot. I suggested to my daughter Jasmine that she made had a chink of weakness but then…
She picks it up on the touchline that she hugs so close when playing for the Republic. She cuts inside and starts running. Twenty five yards out she hits it and curls it around a defender and into the top corner… and you guessed it, on her right foot. It is a wow moment!
As the one superstar on the pitch we watched her every move and I have to say that every time a lovely wee ball girl gave her the ball she said ‘Thank you’. Class.
Now, I am not saying that everything in the stadium was lovely. There were odd moments where the different Ireland’s sneaked out. What I am saying is that if the island dealt with our differences the way two very competitive set of women footballers and their crowds did in this match, we’d be a better island.
I for one have been won over to the Women’s game. A breath of fresh air in every way.