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Who does Northern Ireland want to win the World Cup?

By Claire McNeilly

In just two days time the World Cup will kick off in South Africa. With Northern Ireland failing to qualify and the Republic just missing out due to Thierry Henry’s handball, the question for sports fans across the province will be: who do we support?

Or, to put it another way, in Northern Ireland 2010 is it acceptable to back our near neighbours England?

While football fans here regularly support Wayne Rooney or Steven Gerrard in Manchester United or Liverpool shirts, most seem to take a very different view when they don the Three Lions of England.

While for some the problem may lie in historical differences between the two countries, for many more the animosity seems to stem from the blanket media saturation which follows the England team when they qualify for any major championship.

Of course, mentioning 1966 in every other sentence doesn’t help attract support from the rather less successful football traditions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

In short, many will be tuning in over the next few weeks just to appreciate the joy of seeing England lose — on penalties in the quarter finals — once again.

Perhaps the tide of opinion is beginning to change, however.

Outspoken Northern Ireland-born football commentator Alan Green has argued publicly that everyone in the UK should fall in behind England in the absence of any other home nation at the World Cup.

And Dr Nigel Dobson, Co-Director of the Ulster Sports Academy at the University of Ulster, said he believed that more and more people are turning towards supporting England.

He said: “It is easy to get caught up in the national fervour of the English media machine during the build up of the World Cup and I think that for the Northern Irish there is probably a natural empathy to support England in the tournament.”

The Belfast Telegraph spoke to a number of well known faces from across the province to find out if they could bring themselves to support Fabio Capello’s men — and found the results to be rather mixed.

Standing in Downing Street, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he could not see himself supporting England “under any circumstances”. This is despite him previously stating that he follows the fortunes of the England cricket team.

Radio personality Stephen Nolan said he had been receiving criticism on air because of his support for England.

“My Northern Ireland listeners to Five Live have been having a go at me recently when I've been presenting on the network,” he said.

“When talking about England, I said ‘I hope we do the business’ — and my Ulster listeners have been querying the word ‘we’. Northern Ireland is my first love — but since we are not there, I'll be buying an extra-large England shirt.”

Why some of our great and the good are throwing their weight behind England... and some aren’t

“I’m supporting Brazil. I’ve supported Brazil since I was a child in every World Cup, except of course when Ireland are playing. Brazil to me are the Harlem Globetrotters of soccer and they are the ones that have thrilled and excited me since I was a boy. I don’t think I could support England under any circumstances.” - Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister
“I’ll be supporting England, absolutely. I find it quite sad to hear the Scottish say they will support any team who plays against England. I don’t understand that instinctive, gut loathing and I don't think it’s like that in Northern Ireland. I think Spain will win, they play sublime football. But you can never rule out Brazil, Italy or Germany.” - Bill Neely, ITV news editor
“I’m supporting Spain, not England, in the competition. I don’t have anything against England, but I think they have had a few problems with injured players and I can’t really see them going all the way. I think that Spain have a better chance of winning and I like to support a team who have a shot at victory.” - Alison Campbell, former Miss Northern Ireland
“It would be great for English football if they did really well, but that doesn't mean I'll be supporting them. My country is Northern Ireland and that's where my allegiances will always lie. I’d like to see Argentina win it because so many people are writing off their manager Diego Maradona, who was one of the greatest players of all time.” - David Healy, Northern Ireland striker
“I’m a great believer in the beautiful game and Brazil is always going to be my team choice. The 1970 Brazil squad featuring Pele and Jairzinho was probably the best football team in my opinion. I would like to see England do well, but if they won, it would be hard to deal with their media.” - Jackie Fullerton, TV presenter
“I would follow England rather than France after Thierry Henry’s handball knocked Ireland out in the 2009 World Cup play-off against France. If I was to bet on a winner I’d probably be looking at Portugal, but I’d really love Italy to win because I lived there for seven years and I love the country.” - Fr Aidan Troy
“I’m supporting Spain obviously, but in saying that I think England will get through to the quarter finals. I’d like to think people here would support England because so many support Premiership teams like Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool, so surely they’d like to see their key players doing well.” - Gerry Armstrong, former N Ireland player
“I won’t be supporting England fanatically but I’d like to see them do well. It’s an individual choice which team people support — plenty in Northern Ireland will back England, and plenty won’t. I’ll be supporting Spain, although I think Brazil will win.” - James Nesbitt, Coleraine actor
“England would be my least favourite team and I’ll definitely not be supporting them. I was born in 1966, when England last won and I’m fed up hearing about it ever since. I’m opting for Argentina because I admire the majesty of Lionel Messi. I’ll also be paying close attention to Tyrone in the All-Ireland . . .” - Barry McElduff, Sinn Fein politician
“I can’t do the anti-English thing when it comes to football. We watch Match of the Day and we can identify with these players. If England go out of the World Cup, it will be less interesting. I’m not sure I could deal with 1966 again, so maybe they could get to the final and lose...” - Robert McNeil, Scottish journalist
“I’m going to support England because I always go for the team that is closest to me geographically and emotionally. I want them to win but I think Argentina might do it because it has the best squad. I think Holland might have an outside chance, though, as they have a great team as well.” - Martin Lynch, Belfast playwright
“I don’t think people from Northern Ireland should get behind England any more than they should get behind Portugal, Spain or Brazil. There’s nothing sectarian about that though, if Northern Ireland were playing in the World Cup, I’d get behind them. I’ll be supporting Portugal and I reckon they or Spain will win.” - Marty McCann, Belfast actor
“I would like to see Argentina win because they’ve got some fantastic players. I imagine that very few people in this part of the world will be actively supporting England. Many support English Premier League teams, but people get a bit turned off by the press coverage and over-the-top approach to the World Cup.” - Noel Doran, Irish News editor
“Northern Ireland didn’t make it. England are the only home team in the championship, so I’ll be supporting them. Football brings out the best and the worst in people. I’m not a huge soccer fan, but I think it’s probably going to be down to Brazil or Germany when it comes to winning the tournament.” - Ian Paisley Jnr, DUP MP
“I'll be supporting England this year. The more I think about it, I don't want to contemplate them losing. My Northern Ireland listeners to Five Live have been having a go at me recently when I've been presenting on the network. To clarify, Northern Ireland is my first love but since we are not there, I'll be buying an extra large England shirt.” - Stephen Nolan, presenter
“I wouldn’t support England when they’re playing against Northern Ireland but I will be supporting them in the World Cup. We have a great affinity with the players and I also have three English nieces and nephews who will be expecting me to back England. But I think Spain is the favourite to win.” - Trevor Ringland, former rugby international
“I’ll back England as it’s the closest to home, but I’m rooting for Argentina because Maradona has promised run through the streets of Buenos Aires naked if they do win. Northern Ireland isn’t in the competition, so people here should get behind England, but I think Spain or Brazil will probably win.” - Zoe Salmon, TV presenter

Interviews by Claire McNeilly and Maureen Coleman

YouTube: 50 Best World Cup Goals



Analysis

English success could bolster bid to be 2018 hosts

By Dr Nigel Dobson

As a Welshman who lives in Northern Ireland there are a lot of conflicting feelings as to whether or not to support England in the upcoming World Cup in South Africa.

Obviously in any championships when England would be our opposition there would be no question that I would support my own country, but it is a strange situation when the English are in a tournament that Wales, and similarly Northern Ireland, hasn’t qualified for.

It is easy to get caught up in the national fervour of the English media machine during the build up of the World Cup and I think that for Welsh people and probably the Northern Irish there is a natural empathy to support England in the tournament.

Unlike in rugby where there is more of a national divide, soccer seems to spread across the borders more.

The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, as well as supporting a local Carling Pre

miership team will just as passionately support an English Premiership team, with Manchester United or Liverpool or Chelsea being followed by people from Northern Ireland.

Stripping away England’s tag of the ‘old enemy’ most people spend weekends watching English soccer players and supporting English-based teams.

I think we should be supporting England because they are the only British team competing for the trophy.

Another aspect of this is that if England go on to win the World Cup or even get to the latter stages, it may strengthen their bid to host the 2018 tournament. This will be one of the greatest sporting events of the next decade and follow on from the legacy that the London 2012 Olympics will leave behind.

Hosting the tournament in 2018 also could bring with it the economic benefits for all of the countries in Britain and Northern Ireland.

With teams needing to acclimatise, why shouldn’t Northern Ireland attract international squads to training camps in the future?

Dr Nigel Dobson is Co-Director of the Ulster Sports Academy at the University of Ulster

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