Tuesday, 3 February 2015


Shane Ferguson in action for Northern Ireland

The Premier League's January Transfer window shut with a disappointing late surge of activity for many of the club's. However the same can't be said for Rangers FC who have completed the deadline day signing of FIVE Newcastle United players on loan deals. Of these five, perhaps the most interesting is the switch by Northern Ireland international Shane Ferguson. The move will see the Derry native - a self confessed Celtic fan - join the Gers for the remainder of the season.

The news will come as a huge blow to the mindless minority of Old Firm supporters who still harbour the old sectarian attitudes of the past. Many of a Celtic-minded disposition will find the story of this young Roman Catholc - and former Gaelic footballer -  crossing the once well-guarded religious divide in Glasgow to join a club typecast as 'Loyalist and Protestant' troubling indeed. Others though, welcome it. The myth that Rangers only signed Protestant players has been exposed for what it is - a myth. But then sometimes you're damned if you do and damned if you dont. Take Republic of Ireland native Jon Daly's move to Ibrox last year for example. The player was berrated for breaking the mould and becoming the first post-troubles Irishman to play for the club. Thankfully, much of the vemon directed towards Dubliner Daly was limited to the usual bile that is often spewed on social media websites.

However, it is transfer activity such as this which can help break down the religious barriers that still exist in Glasgow today. But it is important to note, as history has told us before, the deep rooted hatred between the Old Firm support will never be totally eradicated, as the Mo Johnston saga confirmed. The rivalry is what it is. Love them or loathe them, it's what makes the game tick in Scotland and is the reason it is such a big draw for not just UK and Irish audiences, but on a global scale too.

With the Old Firm currently in different leagues, the prospect of a clash with his supposed boyhood favourites Celtic is now firmly off the menu for Shane. For the duration of his loan period, the player can let his footballing do the talking, and try to play his way back into the Newcastle United side. The talent is there in abundance, so it's now up to Shane to live up to those high expectations that had propelled him into international football at such a tender age.

Fair play to Shane for challenging the age-old stereotypes that all too often drag down the old firm.  Although, for the player this move will be seen as an opportunity for some much needed game time. His international manager Michael O'Neill will be espeically delighted considering the crucial couple of games coming up for Northern Ireland in the race for Euro 2016.

There's a reason the FAI were hoping he would defect, you know...

Thursday, 19 September 2013


O'Neill on international duty for Northern Ireland

Former Northern Ireland captain Martin O’Neill is the man John Delaney and those nice chaps down at the FAI are closing in on to be new Republic of Ireland manager. It’s an obvious choice in my opinion, and one that unsurprisingly has been warmly welcomed by fans of the "Boys in Green".

The Derry man had successful spells at Leicester City, Celtic, Aston Villa and more recently Sunderland, which albeit ended somewhat prematurely.  However, it was only a few years ago O’Neill was touted as a possible successor to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. Now, the man from Kilrea looks set to be presented with the opportunity to try his hand at international management with the Republic of Ireland. It's a proposal O'Neill would find very hard to refuse given that he was very nearly handed the England job at the peak of his managerial career.

Some might say trading one shade of green for another might be a bitter pill to swallow for many Northern Ireland fans, but is it really?

Let’s face facts.

Martin O’Neill has, and always will be, an advocate of an all-Ireland football team. He does not share the same sense of rivalry that many NI and ROI fans may have with one another. He simply does not see a border in footballing terms, therefore no matter which Irish side O’Neill had chosen to manage, you can guarantee he would be 100% behind either one. He is not alone in this view. Amongst others, George Best had said he would be just as comfortable representing a unified team as he was playing for Northern Ireland.  

This concept should not be viewed as a slap in the face to the Irish Football Association -  in fact, to the contrary. For when you delve into the proud history of football in Ireland prior to partition politically, the IFA were at the forefront of organising international and domestic football on an island-wide basis. It was only in 1921 and a decision taken by those based in the newly formed Irish Free State, and in particular it's capital in Dublin, that would serve to rock the very foundations of both the domestic game and international football on the island to the point where even today we are still feeling the tremors.  For the first time in sport, as it was politically, a complete severance of ties between North and South had now taken place.  

The local media on both sides of the border would have many believe a United Ireland football team is viable.  In truth, it has never been further away. The modern day Football Association of Ireland who represent the 26 county Republic of Ireland would not wish to give up their status within FIFA, therefore prospects of a unified 'Ireland' side competing in the near future are extremely unlikely.

Comparisons with rugby are drawn on a regular basis as this is organised on an all-Ireland basis.  But unlike rugby where the the IRFU had no split in it's association, relationships were somewhat strained in football circles. Belfast was football's original home in Ireland.  Perhaps the fact rugby was already based primarily in Dublin and the team played the vast majority of their home games at Lansdowne Road was a factor. Arguably, Ulster rugby could have gone down the 'breakaway' route (many still believe it should) but to date the IRFU remain unscathed from the wreckage of our troubled past.  

However, the unique situation football on this island finds itself in can not be placed at the door of Martin O'Neill.  He is merely grasping a chance to manage on the international stage with an Irish side, albeit not the one he hails from and represented with such pride all those years ago. In contrast, O'Neill's arrival in Dublin will see him reunited with fellow Derry native's James McClean and Darron Gibson, two players who used the IFA and Northern Ireland football as a stepping stone towards defecting to the FAI.  I am quite sure had the proposition of switching associations presented itself to O'Neill forty years ago it would been dismissed without a second thought.  Not many players from such a small footballing Nation can say they've been to two World Cups. O'Neill attended two.

Collectively, Northern Irish fans should be proud of Martin O'Neill's achievements both as a player and now as a high profile manager.  The FAI recognise he is the best man for the job and I would have to agree with their choice.  Of course, it will be uneasy for even the most liberal Northern Ireland supporter to see one of our former players paraded around Dublin before a rival association, but thats football.

But, unlike the bad blood of recent defections across the border, I look forward to seeing this move remain purely about football.  Leave the political baggage at the turnstiles.

Good luck Martin, and we look forward to your return to Windsor Park for the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Third time lucky perhaps...

Friday, 7 September 2012

ON THIS DAY IN 2005...

Venue: Windsor Park, Belfast

Result: Northern Ireland 1-0 England

Message to Michael and the boys: Brazil 2014... Believe.

Friday, 7 October 2011


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.

Friday, 15 April 2011


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.

Friday, 25 February 2011


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 other Celtic nations have their own anthems, so Northern Ireland as a constituent part of the UK, should be no different."


- "The official National Anthem of Northern Ireland is 'God Save The Queen'.  We shouldn't replace facts."


- "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?"


- "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."


- "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."


- 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 Commonwealth Games should set the precedent.  'Danny Boy' is played for those representing Northern Ireland.  It's widely seen as our National Anthem already."


- "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.

Monday, 15 November 2010


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 goalkeeper Ciarán 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.

"Thigh strain..."


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...

Oh dear...

Foreign games eh?