Walk into any pub in Shepherd's Bush on Wednesday and, when Tony Cascarino misses his first sitter of the evening, for every shout of "Jayzus, what a gobshite," you'll hear two of "wha' a tossah". Try telling any of the blokes with London accents that they're not Irish in spite of the green jerseys and you'll get pretty short shrift. Try telling them that the British-born children of Irish immigrants shouldn't be playing for Ireland and you'll get the same reaction.
It is true that Ireland uses parental qualification rules for players more than most (or even all) other countries. Ireland has been haemorrhaging people for 150 years and of all the people theoretically qualified to play for Ireland only a fraction is Irish by birth. I don't see why Alan Kelly, for example, should not play for Ireland just because his dad, also an Irish international, had to move to Preston to get paid for playing football.
Anyway, think of all the players we could have picked but didn't. Would Argentina have won the World Cup in 1986 if we had not generously overlooked the sweeper Jorge Brown's Irish grandmother? Possibly not, but since FAI officials had famously scoured a Wicklow graveyard at midnight to find the gravestone of Mark Lawrenson's granny so that he could play for us it would have been a bit greedy to go for Jorge merely as a back-up. See how restrained we can be.
It is not even as if we are alone in this. A certain country not a million miles from here went to the 1990 World Cup with Terry Butcher, Tony Dorigo and John Barnes, who were born in Singapore, Australia and Jamaica respectively. Bobby Robson was even reported as trying to persuade the South African- born Roy Wegerle to join up as well. If only he had succeeded then he could have gone to the 1990 World Cup with a team made of players from every continent on Earth except America. Not that I want to point the finger at anyone.
Of course Ireland uses the fact that half the world has an Irish granny to gather as many good players as possible for our team. England uses the fact that it has a wealthy Premier League. I don't see much of a difference.
It is not where you're born but how you feel that gives you your nationality. If Mick McCarthy is English just because he was born here then Cliff Richard is Indian and the Duke of Wellington was Irish. But as the Duke himself said, if you're born in a stable does it make you a horse?
As for Wednesday, I'll be back in the pub watching on satellite even though the game is on terrestrial TV for once. Even Charlton Athletic get on telly here more often than Charlton's Ireland and I'm not abandoning the craic in the local for the novelty of watching from the sofa. I know we will be going for all-out attack and a high-scoring win - once we get to the penalty shoot-out that is. But, if it all goes wrong and Aron Winter should score against us at Anfield, I hope I won't be alone in appreciating the irony of it. Winter was born in Surinam.Reuse content