Belfast Telegraph

Opinion: All-Ireland football team will never happen

I’ll win lotto before there is a united Ireland football team - and I don't ever play

By Ivan Little

Here we go. Here we go. Here we go. Back to the predictable claptrap about an all-Ireland football team in the wake of the island’s international sides showing that the sport here is currently a game sans frontieres of feebleness.

No sooner had the final whistle been blown in Luxembourg after the Northern Ireland debacle in the Duchy and the Republic were rolled over in Vienna than all the usual guff kicked off again.

Just as it did nearly 40 years ago when I was commissioned to investigate the feasibility of a united Ireland team during another slump in divided Ireland's footballing fortunes.

Back then the conclusion of my articles was that most of the Northern Ireland players I interviewed, including George Best, were in favour of an Ireland United — but they were also agreed that it would never happen for a whole series of reasons.

They ranged from the ‘small p’ politics of small-minded administrators north and south of the border who didn’t want to lose their power bases or the cash flows to their respective associations to the antipathy of the fans here to the idea of one team, one flag, one anthem and, more than likely, one venue — Dublin.

All these years later, the same arguments are still as pertinent as they ever were.

And there’s as much chance of one Irish outfit indulging in the wearing of the green as there is of me winning the lottery — especially as I don’t do it.

And that’s the problem with Northern Ireland – their performances are sometimes just a lottery. Good against the good teams. Ordinary against the ordinary ones.

Certainly that abysmal performance against Luxembourg was excruciating, but there’s been plenty of competition for the lowest of the lows down the years even at the times of all the highs back in the ’70s and ’80s when I was privileged to co-edit Northern Ireland’s match-day programmes and World Cup publications for Spain and Mexico.

We’re never going to be world-beaters with a tiny population like ours. But the least the 1,200 fans who between them paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to go to Luxembourg should be able to expect is a bit of fighting spirit against a team who hadn’t won a World Cup qualifier since they stuffed Turkey in 1972.


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