By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — In the wake of revelations that Tony Cascarino believed he wasn’t eligible to play soccer for the Republic of Ireland, doubts have also been raised about the eligibility of another Irish stalwart, John Aldridge. Last weekend, the Irish edition of The Sunday Times alleged that Aldridge was not qualified to play for Ireland for most of his international career.
The newspaper alleged that Aldridge, who has always insisted he qualified through his maternal great-grandmother, couldn’t claim Irish citizenship because his mother was never an Irish citizen and never had an Irish passport.
While he was playing for Ireland between 1986 and ’96, Aldridge, who scored 19 goals in 69 games, traveled on a British passport. However, he was granted an Irish passport in 1996, which, The Sunday Times alleged, came after he received a certificate of naturalization from the Irish Department of Justice based on the fact that he had played for the Republic for 10 years.
Aldridge, currently manager with Tranmere Rovers in the English First Division, rejected The Sunday Times article out of hand.
"The story is totally unfounded and I’m checking my legal position," he said. "I’m not having anyone defaming my name and my reputation. Without a shadow of doubt I was 100 percent qualified when I played for Ireland."
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Several Irish players such as Ray Houghton, Cascarino and Aldridge traveled on British passports until 1996, when FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, changed its regulations and insisted that every international player had to carry the passport of the country he represented. Asked if thought he would have been granted an Irish passport if he had applied prior to 1996, Aldridge said he had "no doubts whatsoever."
The Football Association of Ireland’s chief executive, Bernard O’Byrne, backed up Aldridge’s claim. "As far as we are concerned, there are no question marks in relation to his eligibility."
Asked about the fact that neither Aldridge nor his mother had taken out Irish citizenship, O’Byrne said: "Since 1964, if you were eligible for citizenship you were eligible to play for Ireland. You didn’t actually have to take out citizenship."
O’Byrne believed that Aldridge had been unwittingly caught up in the Cascarino controversy. "One of the regrettable sideshows of the Tony Cascarino affair is that others have been dragged in. That’s unfair."
Meanwhile, the FAI also insisted that Cascarino was always eligible to play for Ireland despite the player’s claims to the contrary in his autobiography, "Full Time: The Secret Life of Tony Cascarino."
"The FAI is satisfied that Tony Cascarino was always eligible to become a citizen of the Republic of Ireland and was therefore always eligible to play for Ireland," the FAI said in a statement.
However, the web of intrigue continued to hang over Cascarino’s legacy when he responded: "I don’t know that the FAI are 100 percent right. I don’t want to get into a tit-for-tat situation, but it’s not as cut and dried as they are saying."
Several commentators, including his former teammate Liam Brady, have accused Cascarino of using the eligibility story to drum up publicity for his book.