Belfast Telegraph

Eilis O'Hanlon: If all you have to worry about is Stephen Nolan wanting England to win the World Cup, then you really need to get out more

Dissatisfaction must be our national religion in Northern Ireland. Cheer up, for goodness' sake, says Eilis O'Hanlon. The sun's shining

If Stephen Nolan had to be compared to any character from Winnie-the-Pooh, it would be Tigger. Bouncy, enthusiastic, always "up", always "on", the BBC broadcaster seems to throw himself into every day with energy and exuberance. If you could bottle and sell what he has, Northern Ireland would be richer than Saudi Arabia.

Unfortunately, Nolan comes from a part of the country (whichever country that's considered to be by respective factions) that takes more after Pooh's other friend, Eeyore, the gloomy donkey who always manages to find the fly in every jar of ointment.

Pessimists by nature, people in Northern Ireland tend to live their lives with an expectation that it will probably rain, because then we won't be too disappointed when it does.

So, when he tweeted his delight on Tuesday evening that England had finally won a penalty shoot-out at a World Cup, beating Colombia to reach the quarter-finals, Nolan must have known that he was asking for trouble. Right on cue, Twitter users descended en masse to demand that he stop being so happy.

The Radio Ulster host often finds himself the target of these social media "pile-ons", as online punishment beatings are known. The army of Shinnerbots on the internet have even tried to blame Nolan for the repeated breakdown of talks on the resumption of power-sharing - as if the inability of the DUP and Sinn Fein to agree the time of day, never mind anything more meaningful, didn't have something to do with it as well.

He's surely used to it by now.

But this latest attack on the Belfast native felt particularly unhinged. What seemed to most annoy the detractors was Nolan's assertion, in the wake of England's victory, that he was "proud to be British today".

The trolls took great delight in pointing out that "Britain" didn't have a team at the World Cup. Talk about pedantic.

In a country with the official name of "United Kingdom", it shouldn't be controversial for one part of the realm to take pleasure in the success of a neighbouring part. Even those who fervently wish not to be a part of the UK shouldn't be offended by that.

Nolan put it best. Responding to the kerfuffle on Twitter, he later said: "I feel Northern Irish, British and Irish. And I don't think any of that is a contradiction."

Nor should it be. It's crazy that so many still struggle with this notion of overlapping identities. You should be free to call yourself British, or Irish, or Irish and British, or jointly British and Irish and Indian, or whatever it happens to be. It's entirely up to the individual.

In the run-up to Tuesday's match, BBC News showed an interview with two men from London who'd grown up speaking Spanish at home with their Colombian families, but who were equally passionate supporters of the England team. The match left them with divided loyalties, but they were perfectly comfortable being both English and Colombian.

There would certainly be nowhere near as big a fuss if a BBC broadcaster had said they were cheering on Ireland at a major international competition, or declared that a particularly symbolic win made them proud to be Irish. Nolan himself said that he would be equally happy to cheer on the Republic in a crucial fixture.

It's only those whose identity is wholly, or partly, British who are expected to keep their allegiances zipped-up tight in case it triggers rage in more sensitive souls still unable to think about any event involving our neighbours across the Irish Sea without couching it in terms of "800 years of oppression".

Some of that backlash is understandable, admittedly. Anyone who bases their reaction to an event on how it will be reported by the media is giving way too much power to things over which they have no control.

But it is tiresome the way that the English tabloids react whenever England is doing well, as if every win is a triumph against the odds on a par with Dunkirk.

A being can only hear about the "Spirit of '66" so many times before losing the will to live.

I also freely admit that, in our house, the children do love to torment their English father by shouting for the opposition, because that can definitely be fun, too. But it's important not to take that "anyone but England" mentality to extremes.

Are we really so miserable that we'd begrudge the English some joy and relief at breaking their legendary penalty shoot-out curse? So warped by competing political allegiances that we can't share the delight of former England striker Ian Wright ecstatically celebrating the win in the ITV studio?

Cheer up. The sun is shining. The World Cup's in full swing. Wimbledon's started and, for once, it isn't raining.

Even World War Three appears to have been averted for the moment, thanks to President Trump's unlikely bromance with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

Instead of just kicking back, relaxing and enjoying the glorious summer, Northern Irish gloom-mongers seem to be in active search of something about which to complain. We spend months moaning that it's too cold and then, within days of the sun coming out, we're all too hot. Dissatisfaction must be our national religion.

Right now, the main target of discontent is Northern Ireland Water, which is being criticised because supplies are running low, leading to the region becoming the first to introduce a hosepipe ban. Followers of Eeyore have been whinging about that all week on Twitter, too.

Fair enough. Providing customers with a reliable supply of water is their job, so it's not an unreasonable expectation that the taps won't run dry and it's undoubtedly a headache for farmers.

Having said that, we have just come through the hottest June on record.

It's probably not realistic to expect the authorities to be prepared at all times for circumstances which are so rare that they only come round once in a blue moon.

People should try looking on the bright side for a change. The world won't end just because your lawn isn't getting sufficient moisture and at least the Mournes aren't on fire, unlike the Pennines.

Come the autumn, facing into another dismal Northern Ireland winter, we'll all be ardently wishing the current heatwave would return, whatever inconveniences and irritations it might bring our way.

Put it this way: if the only thing you have to worry about is that Stephen Nolan wants England to win the World Cup, then your life can't be too bad at all.

Belfast Telegraph


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