Playing for your country should not be hard work

 

If national characteristics are reflected in various aspects of a country's football, differing English and Irish attitudes have tended to conform to stereotype when on the road. Whether in South Africa or St Albans, England shut themselves away in a luxurious hotel, country club or castle with security on the door, and only recently opted for a central location in Krakow – albeit in a country where they are not playing and in a city where no football is actually taking place.

In contrast, a vivid personal memory is visiting the Republic of Ireland team hotel to find one of the country's most celebrated players standing on a table leading the singing of rebel songs to family, fans, journalists and all who cared to join in. In Florida at the 1994 World Cup, the "three amigos" – Jason McAteer, Gary Kelly and Phil Babb – frolicked in the pool with supporters, and a barrel of Guinness was on tap in the manager's room.

The Irish captain at that tournament was Andy Townsend, then of Aston Villa, whose take on the difference between representing the two countries is interesting; not least because as a Londoner born and bred he was still supporting England as late as the 1988 European Championship when the teams met in Stuttgart.

"The spontaneity that I enjoyed and the relaxed nature around that [Ireland] squad was part of the reason why we had as good a time as we did," Townsend said. "I know it used to get on Roy's nerves a bit, but I think it was part of the reason why we were as difficult to beat as we were."

The Roy in question is, of course, Keane, who found much of the preparation in the United States underwhelming and eight years later walked out of the Irish camp before the tournament, raging about what he perceived to be an amateurish approach and telling Mick McCarthy in front of the whole squad exactly what he thought of him "as a player... a manager... and a person".

Where the former captains, who will be colleagues in ITV's coverage of Euro 2012, agree is that there is a spirit among the Irish players of every generation that England struggle to match.

"When I watch England, one of the things is that it appears hard work," Townsend says. "It appears like an ordeal, that actually they would rather be somewhere else – some players. It has been one of Ireland's strengths that it has always been a pleasure to play. It's always been fun to meet up and be with the rest of the guys."

Fabio Capello was surprised by how often England "played with fear", without reflecting that his martinet approach contributed to it. The Ireland coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, may be a compatriot of Capello's but seems more relaxed.

"What Trapattoni has to get right," Townsend said, "is that it is vitally important in these tournaments that the players enjoy it and are looking forward to it, pumped up and ready. That is crucial. It's wrong for the Irish team to ever lose the free spirit we have around the camp. It is far more disciplined nowadays but there has to be freedom for the players to enjoy it. He has got to give players breathing space and find the right ways to do that."

He does accept that times have changed: "Social networks and all the media nowadays will just pick holes in anything that is seen to be different. You can't do what we did, being seen out and about and having a drink with the fans and being given a night off here and there and told, 'Off you go'. You can't do that any more."

What does not change is the nature of tournament football, where Ireland have traditionally made sure of a good start; they must do so again on Saturday week in Poznan against Croatia, "We have an exceptionally tough group. It's all about the first game for us," Townsend says. "If we get a result in the first game we will give ourselves an opportunity to rattle the other two cages.

"We have never come up short in those games – England [in 1988], England [1990], Italy [1994], Cameroon [2002]. The players will be absolutely aware of the importance of not getting beat in the first game. I keep my fingers crossed that if we score first against Croatia, they will find us very, very difficult to break down.

"I don't think that Italian team is a special side, it's not an Italian team that would strike fear into you. It has nothing like the players they have had in recent years, particularly at the back. I can see our boys giving Italy a serious run for their money.

"I am more worried about the first game than the last game. That's why we have to get a result against Croatia because I don't fancy us against the Spanish. But I tell you what, in the third game if we needed something to get through going in against Italy I think we would have a great opportunity. I really do."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker