Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Anton Rogan bares his true colours for Northern Ireland

Anton Rogan says people born in Northern Ireland should play for Northern Ireland

Short and unspectacular as it was, there is little doubt that Anton Rogan’s international career was memorable.

Memorable, though, for all the wrong reasons.

Players all over the world get booed and jeered by opposition fans. It’s part of football and always will be.

When fans give the same kind of treatment to a player on their own team it’s a different story.

As a Catholic from west Belfast who was playing his club football for Celtic, Rogan became a target.

Twenty-two years later players from the same area as Rogan have elected to play for the Republic of Ireland, while two particular Celtic players are amongst those who are favoured most by Northern Ireland fans.

As despicable as it was that Rogan’s first appearances for his country at Windsor Park was marred by abuse from a section of the Northern Ireland support, he wouldn’t have followed any other route onto the international scene and he insists that where you’re born should dictate who you play for, not holding dual nationality.

“I was born in Belfast and I had to play for Northern Ireland. That was my philosophy and always had been,” he said.

“If I’d been born in Dublin I’d have played for the Republic, but I was born in Belfast and I wanted to play for Northern Ireland.

“I enjoyed playing for Northern Ireland

“Things have changed since 1988. You don’t see Paddy McCourt or Niall McGinn coming on and getting booed, which is good for football and it’s good young boys like that play for Northern Ireland because they are born there.

“If you’re born there you play for Northern Ireland.”

The spring of 1988 is the most memorable time of Rogan’s career.

Not only was he fulfilling his boyhood dream by becoming a regular in Celtic’s first team, the Glasgow giants were on their way to marking their centenary year in style.

Rogan was 22-years-old when Billy McNeill — who had captained the club to their 1967 European Cup success — led Celtic to a historic league and cup double.

The Lenadoon-man’s happiness was blighted, though, when he played for Northern Ireland against Poland just a couple of days before his 22nd birthday.

His first couple of international appearances came away from home in late 1987 and early the following year in the low-key surroundings of Yugoslavia and Greece.

It was when he stepped out at Windsor Park that things changed — and it was all down to his religion and the club he played for.

The strange thing was, however, that Rogan saw it coming.

“I got called into the international squad and I was on the bench against Poland at Windsor Park. Billy Bingham said I was coming on, and when I stood on the halfway line a lot of people started booing me,” Rogan told Celtic fans’ website lostbhoys.com.

“I wasn’t really surprised, because I played for Celtic.

“There’s Celtic and Rangers and I know that a lot of Rangers fans support Northern Ireland. That’s football, but I got booed as I just ran onto the pitch.”

That was the first time Rogan was jeered during an international, but it wasn’t the last.

Eighteen of Rogan’s 19 caps were won in a four-year period before a brief return four years later.

Over 20 years since he was playing regularly in the green shirt, however, few who watched Northern Ireland during the late 80s have forgotten the fate that befell Rogan.

Neither the Northern Ireland team or the supporters have ever been exclusively Protestant, but Rogan stepped onto the scene at a time when sectarian tensions here were at one of their highest points.

Just a few weeks before Rogan’s first appearance at Windsor Park, three IRA men were killed by the SAS in Gibraltar and the events which were to follow — Michael Stone attacked mourners at those IRA funerals, killing three people and when those he killed were buried a few days later two off-duty soldiers were murdered in west Belfast when they inadvertently drove into the cortege.

“I was aware of things when I went onto the pitch and I knew what I was going into before I went onto the pitch,” said Rogan.

“It wasn’t rocket science to know it was going to happen.

“I was the first Celtic player to play for Northern Ireland for a long time.

“This was 1988 and there was still a great deal going on, so I expected it.

“Belfast was a hard place to be, there were a lot of things going on that were very unsavoury.

“It was just football to me, there was never anything else in my mind.

“Once it happened, I just had to get on with it and 90 per cent of the fans were fine.”

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