The original delay in getting the Carling Nations Cup going still confuses many in Ireland – we just don’t know what the problem was all about. Not called the Home Nations due to certain attendees and non-attendees, soon the forgotten four of the British Isles (geographical lads, let us not go down that messy road) will get together to compete for the only silverware each genuinely have a chance of winning.
A series of competitive friendlies, if you will, this offers national bosses Giovanni Trapattoni, Nigel Worthington, Craig Levein and Gary Speed each the chance to get some games with their players, gain some interest from their fans, and earn some money for their Associations. It suits all involved, no?
Every couple of months, meaningless friendlies interrupt a perfectly enjoyable football calendar for soccer fans. And unless it is against a Brazil or Spain side, no one really cares – unless those youngsters, who we all know are going to change our fortunes, finally get a chance…am I right?
But this series, although unfortunately formatted months apart, is a genuine glimmer of hope. The standard between the four nations cannot be too far apart and it is likely that the best organised team will probably win out (although we here are punting on all draws). There is genuine optimism among fans, in Ireland at least, as we finally get something to cheer about, something we have been lacking since Thierry Henry as good as murdered our pets – I can’t remember the details, but that is how it felt and still feels…
But although we Irish have been ignoring and ignored by the Associations we come up against for what seems like eternity, we should be more than used to such parameters when we kick off against Wales in Dublin on Tuesday, before our brothers up north host our cousins from Scotland on Wednesday.
Abolished in 1984, the tournament is a memory of only our elder gentry now but, in Ireland at least, we have been flying the flag of the Home Nations for decades. Different accents from the United Kingdom heard coming down the tunnel, out onto the pitch…we have had our own little collection of players from the British Isles all knocking it about in one arena, in one jersey!
While we were absent from the Home Nations tournament, from 1921 until a few days from now, we went on our own little nostalgic walk down memory lane. No player was too English for our boys, as Tony Cascarino admitted, no player too Scottish, as Gordon Strachan once bemoaned during the Aiden McGeady coup and no player too Northern Irish, as countless legal debacles showed in the recent past. We, under the blind ideology of desire, passion and pride, scoured the known world – at least the known English-speaking world that Ryanair could fly to in under 20 minutes, in search of our sons. Hell, under Steve Staunton we even went to America on a recruitment drive more suited to colleges or grovelling politicians of late.
For every Damien Duff, there was Ray Houghton. For every Kenny Cunningham, there was Phil Babb. For every Roy Keane, there was Mick McCarthy. Kevin Doyle? Give us Clinton Morrison! We Irish, ignored by the tournament, took the competitors and it seemed no one was safe.
One of the greatest media campaigns I ever witnessed in Ireland was the Carlsberg billboards ahead of the 2002 World Cup – that’s right, after Roy left there was actually a World Cup on. Carlsberg put up a series of billboards with superstar players’ grandmothers on an Irish passport saying ‘Carlsberg don’t make passports…’ Roberto Carlos to replace Ian Harte? Euphoria in the streets!
No embarrassment is taken, ‘the grand mother rule’ we yell. These players are seen as heroes, revisiting their homeland, thirsty for success in the green shirt! No one dares think that a certain number of the players would have gladly taken the call from their respective homelands if it came early enough. No one dares think of the easy opportunity we have for a decent player to make it to a World Cup, therefore attracting the type of players we would hate to join our club sides, nomadic mercenaries I believe they are often referred to as. No one dares think that it was just a drinking team not too long ago, but then again it was because they drank with us. No. We accept all who join.
While other countries struggle with the threat of multiculturalism, we allow the only remaining discriminatory allowance under EU law, that of the home-grown national football side, to be cast aside in the pursuit of international unity.
Take note Angela Merkel. You may indeed now finance us, but we, the boys in green, break the international mould. What you see before you now will only be best understood in 2022 when, I suspect, a distinctly South-American looking Qatar side embark on one of the most bizarre World Cups ever imagined…