Last week saw the culmination of the inaugural Carling Cup of Nations with the remaining games all being played in Dublin. On Tuesday Northern Ireland faced the Republic of Ireland and then on Friday they were lined up to complete their tournament against Wales.
As I’d previously mentioned there was a lot of chat about the remaining Northern Ireland matches being boycotted by ‘the Green & White Army’. As it turned out, the Irish Football Association had sold around 240 tickets for the first meeting between the two teams on Ireland since 1999 – a paltry number given that around 6,000 had turned up for the Scotland match in February.
The northern masses weren’t the only ones not too bothered. The ground was much more than half empty as the locals in the south stayed away in their droves also (SKY sports reported the crowd at just over 12,000). The Northern Ireland regular first team also didn’t seem to keen with many of them absent due to injury or ‘pre-arranged’ family vacation plans.
I flew in to Dublin from Gatwick on the Tuesday afternoon & headed straight down to the Temple Bar area to meet up with Stevie. Stevie travels to NI games from Stavanger in Norway. We’ve roomed together quite a bit as the ‘international’ section of the London Northern Ireland Supporters Club. When I met him he had a work friend with him from Scotland who was planning to join us to watch the NI game as well as the Scotland v Wales game scheduled for the following night in Dublin also.
Richard soon joined up with us bringing along another NI supporters, this time from Leeds in England. The five of us hung around the city centre in the afternoon & headed down to the Stadium about an hour before kick off. A couple of us still had to collect our tickets from the IFA team in an hotel near the ‘bed-pan’ stadium.
Now a game against the neighbours is guaranteed to attract a certain type of paddy… namely the bigoted ones… the RoI support was full of people from NI who were intent on making their political ideology known. Our National Anthem was boo’ed. There were an incredible number of Glasgow Celtic football tops & flags on show. There were Basque and Palestinian flags on display too (though goodness knows why). There was booing of the single player who plays for Glasgow Rangers and there was even a moment when a chant of “Uh, Ah, up the ‘Ra” was audible.
In return the NI support had a number of idiots who boo’ed the Irish President’s appearance. There were an influx of Union Flags (and I’m told an Orange Standard). There were comments from individuals based on religion though thankfully no persistent or loud chanting of anything sectarian in side the ground.
The game was, frankly, awful. With a severely depleted team we fielded 7 non-regular players. For the first 20 minutes we held out, created half chances but nothing major & then it all went to pot. We gave away three terrible goals in the last 30 minutes of the first half… gifts them all. It didn’t get much better in the second with a conceded penalty, the offender sent off and finally another gift of a goal (albeit not quite as wrapped as the previous four). When the fifth hit the net, the five of us bailed… we’d had enough of the humiliation.
We headed for central Dublin and found a quiet spot to sit down and forget about football for a while… the conversation was varied and bizarre at points – the Scot actually said he’d welcome Scotland competing in the UEFA sponsored European Championships, but a unified UK team competing in the FIFA sponsored World Cup! We also discovered that the chap from Leeds was actually on his way to watching 100 consecutive England matches & was only attending NI games for a laugh. That’s a sick sense of humour in my mind.
The evening was topped though by a drunk local who came over to our table… she was in her 20’s and frankly out for a rise. She started coming out with increasingly more testing statements about politics to the point where she claimed that her Great Uncle was one of the ‘Columbia 3’ – IRA terrorists who were training and sharing ideas with FARC terrorists in the South American Jungles.
Having given up on that I hit the road for the bus to Belfast… getting the 0100 service, to be surrounded by northerners from Belfast who were in Dublin to support the Republic of Ireland… only on Ireland.
One down, two more match stories to come.