I publish this one hour since Northern Ireland's 2-1 defeat to Estonia in Belfast. One long, lonely, depressingly quiet hour (improved marginally by Montenegro's equaliser against England) to let the result at Windsor Park sink in.
The Green and White Army are in complete disarray. (Michael O'Neill of Shamrock Rovers - are you watching?)
Whilst 2 wins in 22 may tell it's own tale, there have many contributing factors in Northern Ireland's spiralling fortunes of late. For example, take in the apparent increase in defections form the Northern pool of talent to the South. Take in the cry-off's from the likes of Kyle Lafferty who conveniently withdraws from the NI squad to play Serbia and Estonia, yet only to net the winner three days later for his club Rangers. Barring Lawrie's spat with George McCartney, our former expectation-less manager had it easy.
I myself, saw this belly-flop finale from Nigel Worthington's lads coming since the Faroe Islands back in October 2010. It was that abysmal 1-1 result against Brian Kerr's minnows that highlighted all that is wrong with Northern Ireland under Nigel's leadership. A defensive display in Italy or Spain can be excused, but to go to the mighty Faroe's with such tactics is nothing short of international footballing suicide.
At that moment Nigel's intentions were clear... "Should we score then, defend what we have." It was an idea based on the great Arsenal sides of the 80's and 90's. "One-nil to the Ar-sen-il" was the frequent chant at Highbury. The difference being though, Arsenal had the quality to back this footballing philosophy up. Northern Ireland simply don't.
As one of Northern Ireland's greatest ever left-backs, Nigel Worthington will go down as one of his country's most decorated players to wear the green and white shirt. As the country's 9th most capped player with 66 appearances he can quite rightly be proud of his record. It was unfortunate to listen to some of the home support calling out for the return of former manager Lawrie Sanchez to the fold. A cry for help, and some people turn to our greatest ever turncoat, second only to Darron Gibson. These so called fans were quick to forget Sanchez's loyalty to his country whenever Fulham FC came calling. From that perspective, Nigel's loyalty to Northern Ireland has been impeccable. Yet, the Ballymena man has found it almost impossible to follow up on the days of Lawrie's legends doing a David versus Goliath job on the international giants of Spain, Sweden and England.
The placards of "Nigel Out" being waved around Windsor Park following the final whistle in the 2-1 dedeat to minnow Estonia however come as no surprise. The fans frustration was always going to boil over into something a little more than a rant on the Nolan Show. Yet, whilst this "Nigel Out" mentality resonates throughout large numbers of the green and white army, I do note the strong support for Nigel within large sections of the fan base. It's an approval however that doesn't shout Nigel's approval, but instead nod's.
The problem for Nigel is, no-one can hear the nods.
Exclusive to this blog comes some extremely 'rare' video footage from the inaugural Carling Nations Fans Cup match between Northern Ireland and Scotland from Irishtown, Dublin.
The game saw nine goals in total. (Eight of which were scored by the Green And White Army.)
Oh and I was making my long-awaited international debut. **cringe**
PS: The other game in the group saw the Republic of Ireland thrash Wales 4-1. The result means both Irish sides lead the way going into next month's rather tasty showdown between the Green and White Army (NI) and the Boys in Green (ROI) back at the Irishtown Stadium.
Is now the right time for Northern Ireland to have it's own anthem played at it's international football matches?
Recently, I posed this question to a number of Northern Ireland supporters. Not to be confused with newly acquired goalkeeper Lee Camp, there emerged two further camp's on the issue...
THE YES CAMP
- "The other Celtic nations have their own anthems, so Northern Ireland as a constituent part of the UK, should be no different."
THE NO CAMP
- "The official National Anthem of Northern Ireland is 'God Save The Queen'. We shouldn't replace facts."
THE YES CAMP
- "We represent Northern Ireland, not the UK as a whole. We are playing Scotland tonight (Feb, 2011) who will be singing 'Flower of Scotland', however we will be singing 'God Save The Queen'. Why?"
THE NO CAMP
- "I don't think we should replace GSTQ just to appease our 'haters' - mainly the republican community. Next on the agenda would be to change our flag then change the name of Windsor Park ...the enemies of Northern Ireland will not stop until the very name of Northern Ireland ceases to exist."
THE YES CAMP
- "GSTQ divides our so-called 'cross-community' squad. Our players should be proud to stand together and sing together. It should a shot in the arm for our players, not a shot in the foot."
THE NO CAMP
- It shouldn't matter what players mightn't like GSTQ. The clearly divisive 'Soldier's Song', which some of the Ulster lads have to stand to before Ireland's rugby matches, doesn't seem to impact on their performance."
THE YES CAMP
- "The Commonwealth Games should set the precedent. 'Danny Boy' is played for those representing Northern Ireland. It's widely seen as our National Anthem already."
THE NO CAMP
- "I sing GSTQ before every game we play with immense pride. We should be proud of our British heritage and not be seen to be sweeping it under the carpet."
The argument's for and against a new anthem for Northern Ireland are not a new phenomenon. They have come to prominence in recent times for a number of reasons, most notably for me, the reception it received in Dublin for the Carling Nations Cup match between NI and Scotland.
Sat in so-called 'neutral' East Stand Lower of the Aviva Stadium, I watched on as Scottish fans mixed well with their Northern Irish counterparts. As the few locals in attendance would say 'the craic was at ninety'. However, that was until it came to the National Anthems. The first to be played was 'God Save The Queen' representing NI, but on this occasion, might as well have been England with a few tint's of green. The sheer volume of boo's and jeers from the Scots during the anthem was deafening. The doubtless 'Buckfast fueled' venom coming from large sections of Tartan Army was quite startling, and at times hostile, with one such fan's face almost turning the colour of his country's shirt as the anthem reached it's end. Cross Rab C Nesbitt with Gordon Ramsey and you will get a rough idea of the sort of chap.
Yet, as much as I disagree with how disrespectful the booing of any national anthem may be, I understood this aggression was not directed at the Northern Irish support in-particular. The message was read loud and clear - Scotland consider GSTQ to be exclusively an 'English anthem'. Of course, we know this is not the case. It is after all the anthem of the United Kingdom of which Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England are all equally entitled to, and is rightfully played when the UK complete as a single country in athletics for example.
But this international football where all four home nations compete independently as separate entities in FIFA. The thought of Scotland and Wales reverting back to GSTQ wouldn't bare thinking about as the world governing body would surely have to question why exactly a separate UK team wasn't created instead.
Northern Ireland needs to relinquish it's current 'UK anthem' and opt for an anthem of it's own. We're not Brazil, we're not the United Kingdom either. Quite simply we are Northern Ireland. Now is the time for the 'revamped' Irish Football Association to step up to the mark and finally give Danny Boy his long overdue call-up to international football.
If not, then perhaps I should get used to the chant's of "Are you England in disguise?" which are still ringing in my ears from the Aviva this year.
The very first FAI Cup Final at the Aviva Stadium was a battle of the Rovers; Sligo and Shamrock.
A far from eventful game went all the way to 'peno's' (otherwise known as a penalty shoot-out) with Sligo Rovers goalkeeperCiarán Kelly becoming a hero for the night saving a remarkable FOUR penatlies in total to deny league champions Shamrock Rovers a much anticipated 'Double'.
Not the greatest advertisement for the local game but the 36,101 in attendance is truly astonishing. A phenomenal turn-out from the locals - many of whom didn't support either Sligo or Shamrock Rovers!
But for me, a special mention must go out to the Northern contingent from 'the Hoops'. Alan Mannus and Tommy Stewart in-particular can count themselves very unlucky not to have been selected for Nigel Worthington's Northern Ireland squad. Certainly, both are due a call-up considering the amount of the expected withdrawals from the squad from next Wednesday's visit of African outfit Morocco.
And as it pains me to say it, I too will be absent from Windsor Park for the up-and-coming friendly international.
PS: Have to point out... there were an awful lot of neutrals in attendance today (a good thing for the local leagues IMO). However the two lads in-front of me (not exactly 'soccer buffs' as the GAA gear might suggest) headed home after 90 mins of FAI Cup Final itself. Clearly thought the game was going to a replay...
In the spirit of writing wrongs from our troubled past, it is only right that the spotlight should fall upon our resident police force in the Republic of Ireland; An Garda Síochána na hÉireann.
Saturday 13th March saw over 700 Glentoran supporters travel to Dublin for their club's Setanta Cup match with Bohemian FC. It was to be a day to remember unfortunately not for the football, but for the needless violence leading to up to, and during, the game itself.
The only known cause for the inflammatory response by the 'Guards' in calling in the riot squad?
Flags. What else?
Whilst one or two Ulster Flags/Union Flags could be spotted amongst the away crowd, and easily five Irish tricolours in the home end might I add, the offending flag that really got the old bill's knickers in a twist was a big green, red & black tricolour - coincidentally, the colours of Glentoran FC.
Please note that it wasn't until the second half that this flag was reinstated amid fears of another mini-riot, like this one...
And like the red of a St Patricks Athletic shirt to a raging bull, many within the Jody Stand of Dalymount Park which held the away support, a direct confrontation between Glentoran fans and the 'Guards' had been firmly established. Heavy-handed batons were yielded to those who dared question the reasoning behind the removal of their flags. I thought scenes like this were only acted out in flashpoint areas of Northern Ireland? Surely not over the border too?
Haven't an Garda Síochána learnt anything from 30 years of violence up North? A hostile police force creates a hostile atmosphere. This wasn't a high risk Old Firm game. It was Glentoran vs Bohemians playing what was essentially a 'nothing' game as Boh's had already progressed to the final stages of the tournament.
An Garda Síochána roughly translates as 'Guardians of the peace'. God help the poor lad (above) on the receiving end of such peace. It's a shame they didn't guard this peace instead of inflame tensions with their over-zealous actions. Actions that I am informed even had the home fans looking on disbelief at what had kicked off - excuse the pun.
A bad taste was left in the mouth at the end for many fans' excursion down South from the trouble that ensued, perhaps even more-so than their club's exit from the all-Ireland club cup. And needless to say, it certainly made a mockery of my pre-match assurances to the various Glenmen that there would be no trouble at all. The scuffle outside The Bohemian Bar between the 10 or 15 'Ultras' from both teams looked minuscule in comparison to the unexpected riot police threat.