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07th Sep 2015

Being from the north and supporting the Republic isn’t a choice; it’s just who you are

No politics

Conan Doherty

We sat in the office one evening keeping an eye on the international games. Northern Ireland scored. I tutted.

Okay, there was maybe an expletive or two added in there as well.

Eyebrows were raised.

The resident nordie giving off stink about the north’s success? That’s a bit strange, isn’t it?

But it’s not. It’s far from it. In fact, anything to do with Northern Ireland is as immaterial to a man from Derry as it is to a girl from Cork.

There’s not even animosity towards Michael O’Neill’s team, there’s none of that. The tuts and head shakes in this case were nothing more than another chorus of ‘how did we get such a tough group and they got a pants one?’ They were simply directed out of Republic self-pity and a genuine fear that weaker nations could be going to the big stage and we wouldn’t be.

Kyle Lafferty celebrates scoring with Michael O'Neill 4/9/2015

There seems to be a lack of understanding about Irish people north of the border.

We didn’t just suddenly choose to support the Republic over Northern Ireland because they had a better football team. Barely.

We didn’t choose to support the Republic for any political reasons – well, most of us anyway.

And, do you know what, it’s not even out of any nationalism or statement of Irishness or any of that.

It’s a simple case of you’re born into a community and this is who you are. You grow up in this world. You support Ireland. And Northern Ireland is just the other team. You weren’t even given a choice about them.

Those from the six counties are either Irish or Northern Irish. They’re one or the other by birth. So they grow up accordingly.

James McClean 13/6/2015I don’t think I’ve ever sat and watched a full Northern Ireland match.

That’s not to make a statement, it’s not some sort of political boycott and it’s definitely not because I don’t like them. I simply don’t care.

Do I want to see Northern Ireland do well? I don’t know. I don’t care enough.

Sure, I don’t mind seeing them getting on alright but as much as I don’t mind seeing Wales have a bit of relative success too. As long as Ireland has their house in order, the rest can do what they like.

If the north went to the Euros and Ireland didn’t, I couldn’t possibly take any real interest or joy from pretending to follow Michael O’Neill’s men. There’s no history there for me or my family of supporting Northern Ireland. There’s no affiliation there with the country whatsoever.

Martin O'Neill and Michael O'Neill 23/5/2015That’s why some of the aggro that comes from Northern Ireland’s fans over the like of James McClean and Darron Gibson is genuinely baffling.

They were born and raised in Derry city. Playing for Northern Ireland would never have even crossed either of their minds. Yes, they came up through the schoolboy system to develop themselves as players – because the system doesn’t represent what is actually happening – but, given the choice, it isn’t even a choice.

Playing for Northern Ireland isn’t something that the vast majority of people in Derry would aspire to – because it’s not their country. And it’s certainly not the one they grow up supporting. Or even keeping an eye on.

Would I play for the north? If I knew my chances of playing for the Republic were completely finished, yes. I’d play for the north the same way all those English lads play for the Republic. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But I’d only be playing for a team. I wouldn’t be playing for my country.

Darron Gibson 14/11/2014I have a friend who works out in Germany with adidas and he got a freebie the other day, a Northern Ireland away jersey. It’s great, he uses it for football, it’s a nice piece of knitwear but, in his own words, ‘imagine wearing that around Derry.’

He wouldn’t exactly be strung up for it but it’s just not something you do.

When you talk about Ireland with friends and with brothers and that, you say ‘we’. You could be talking about Northern Ireland in the same conversation and it wouldn’t even occur to anyone that, technically, that’s where we’re all from. And here we are, treating them as arbitrarily as we would Belgium.

I lived with a Northern Ireland fan in Belfast. He grew up an hour down the road from me but into a completely different way of life. He grew up as a Northern Ireland man. And he sat with us during Henry-gate in 2009 and he laughed, the wee fecker.

He brought an Henry top and hung it up on the wall the next day. We grew up inside the same border and we couldn’t have been farther from the same beliefs.

He didn’t understand the passion for Gary Breen. He never could…

Gary Breen 24/5/2006Neither of us were particularly embroiled in politics or nationalism or unionism or any of that. This was football. And where he grew up, they supported Northern Ireland.

Where I grew up, we supported Ireland.

It wasn’t a choice.

And it never will be.

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