One of the ESPN commentators made a very telling comment toward the end of the Republic of Ireland’s game against Saudi Arabia. He noted how the Republic’s soccer team had a terrific ability to draw the far-flung Irish diaspora together in common cause. As if to confirm this idea, the camera panned across the regiments of cheering Irish fans at the end of the match that saw Mick McCarthy’s men break into the World Cup’s oh-so-sweet final 16.
There flags and banners galore. One of them had the name of an Irish pub in Perth, Western Australia. It was just one fitting reminder that the Irish who are roaring on their heroes in Japan and Korea have not all traveled from a small island on the western fringes of Europe. They have come from all over the globe, the United States included, to spur on their beloved boyz in green.
Whatever the outcome of the Republic’s campaign, this World Cup will be remembered as one helluva party, a joyous gathering of a people who have much to be proud of, sporting and non.
Back in Ireland, where most things shuddered to a halt yet again for Tuesday’s match, some people see the World Cup as an opportunity for a resurgence in a visible, yet largely apolitical, Irish patriotism. This sense is not universal, of course.
The Derry Journal reported the complaint of one local Unionist politician that celebrations of Irish success by soccer fans in the city, tricolor flags to the fore, were designed to taunt local Protestants.
But why shouldn’t Protestants in the North cheer on this team and this flag? After all, one of its colors is dedicated to them. In the darker days of south-of-the-border Irish soccer, when the Republic could barely muster a handful of players truly worthy of the term “international,” Irish soccer fans had no problem cheering on the World Cup exploits of the then better Northern Ireland side. If all else failed, many of them would even cheer on England.
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The irony of the Garrison Game, the English game, whatever you like to call it, is that it can transcend the kind of barriers so painfully evident in other aspects of life.
The Irish didn’t ask for the English language. But they adopted it anyway and more than improved it. The Irish didn’t ask for soccer either. But they adopted it and, by means of their followers in particular, have injected the game with an unbounded joy that many other countries would do well to emulate.
So two things to cheer loudly about this World Cup: the strong performances by some of the less fancied nations, Ireland and the U.S. being but two, and the generally good behavior of fans, touch wood. With that in mind, it’s on to the next stage of the tournament. Again, olT, olT, olT.