The Soccerphile World Cup 2002 Archives Click here to go to the current Soccerphile.com
Football News - Brendan O'Neill - Pluck of The Irish?
If I hear the Irish football team described as plucky, brave or courageous one more time, I'll spit, writes Brendan O'Neill.
I don't know what was more depressing: watching Ireland get knocked out of the World Cup in a nail-biting penalty shoot-out with Spain - or reading the patronising post-match coverage of the 'brave boys in green' and their oh-so- courageous efforts.
'Plucky Irish left with tears for souvenirs', said the Sun. Not that
Really? Even I (weeping Irish fan) could see that Ireland struggled for much of the battle against Spain. In the first half, our best player was the linesman who kept ruling Spanish goals offside - and if it wasn't for Damien Duff's hard work and Niall Quinn's ability to fall into the ball at all the right times, Irish eyes would have stopped smiling a lot sooner.
According to the Guardian, what Ireland lacked in traditional footballing skills they more than made up for with 'spirit, desire and determination' (2). The Mirror labelled the Irish team 'never-say-die heroes', who even have the 'courage to take a penalty when the whole world is watching' as if that isn't something World Cup squads have to do all the time (3).
The Daily Express said the Irish team were 'brave beyond belief, as their
hearts and minds were assaulted by extraordinary drama and controversy'
For the Mirror, the Irish team had far more warmth and emotion than any
other World Cup squad, but were lacking in those cold, nasty, unIrish
things called goals. 'For all their passion, for all Ireland's incredible
desire and the subsequent outpouring of tears, the cold statistics sliced
through the sentiment of this emotional night', said the Mirror's Des
Reading about the brave Irish, you could be forgiven for thinking that
the squad is made up of bogtrotters and builders who wandered into world-class
football by accident. In fact, Ireland has some top-class English Premiership
players. Goalkeeper Shay Given plays for Newcastle United; Robbie Keane
plays for Leeds United; Damien Duff plays for Blackburn Rovers;
When Gary Breen scored the second goal in Ireland's 3-0 win against Saudi Arabia on 11 June 2002, the Sun ran a headline about an 'unemployed man' bringing 'glory to Ireland', as if Breen was some skivvy between building sites with a part-time interest in football. In fact, he is 'between contracts', having done his time at first-division Coventry City.
Yet these players now find themselves patronised for being spirited and good-natured, rather than praised (or criticised) for their footballing skills. We know the Irish are the blacks of Europe. Now it seems that the Irish football team are the black Africans of European football - hailed as 'a breath of fresh air' in a hard sport, just as African teams have been for the past 10 years. Rough translation of 'breath of fresh air': they haven't got a hope in hell of winning, but they provide momentary emotional relief from the real battle for the World Cup.
The patronising appraisal of the Irish team means they were judged by
different standards. So when five million people in the UK watched Ireland
play Saudi Arabia on 11 June 2002, the Guardian got overexcited. 'More
than half the people watching TV yesterday lunchtime were glued to the
dramatic game', the paper exclaimed (6). But when the same number of people
in the UK watched France play Senegal on 30 May 2002, the Guardian was
It is no longer acceptable to call the Irish fighting drunks or thick
The Irish team and its globetrotting fans seem keen to play up to the new cutesy image. Many of the fans in Japan dressed up as leprechauns, complete with big green hats with fake ginger hair sticking out of the sides. And in post-Spain interviews, Irish players and manager Mick McCarthy emphasized that it was the 'taking part' in the World Cup that really mattered, and that at least Ireland gave it their 'spirited best'.
Reading about the 100,000-strong crowd of well-wishers (who included
Irish president Mary McAleese and prime minister Bertie Ahern) who welcomed
the Irish squad back to Ireland with a massive open-air concert in Dublin's
Now, Irish bookmaker Paddy Power is refunding bets to Irish fans who gambled that Ireland would win the tournament: 'Following [Ireland's] tragic exit from the tournament, Paddy Power has decided to give the country's fans something to smile about. In a PR masterstroke the betting chain said it would be handing back £128,000 as part of a goodwill gesture...' (8) Since when has football, or gambling for that matter, been about 'goodwill'?
'They say that no-one ever remembers losers', said the Mirror, 'but
I can't have been the only one who wanted the Irish team to be real heroes too, instead of readymade loveable losers.
This article was first published on Spiked:
(1) 'Killed on the spot', Sun, 17 June 2002.
(2) 'United Ireland keep their dignity amid the despair', Guardian Sport, 17 June 2002.
(3) 'Simply Harte-breaking', Mirror, 17 June 2002.
(4)' Pens write sad end for Irish', Daily Express, 17 June 2002.
(5) 'Pens write sad end for Irish', Daily Express, 17 June 2002.
(6) 5million watch Ireland beat Saudi Arabia, Guardian, 12 June 2002.
(7) Football fans go off the boil, Guardian, 31 May 2002.
(8) Irish eyes are smiling at Paddy Power's PR move, Guardian, 17 June 2002.
(9) 'Simply Harte-breaking', Mirror, 17 June 2002.
The Soccerphile World Cup 2002 Archives
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