Sport divides and is like war without the killing
Take the heavy police presence from most football matches and something approaching a mini-war would result, writes DAVID ADAMS
WHO WOULD ever have thought it possible: the Republic displays overwhelming pride in a Protestant boxer, and this is matched by how obviously honoured the boxer is to represent her country; a Catholic Northern Irish manager of Liverpool FC consistently refers to his homeland as Northern Ireland (and insists on being described as Northern Irish); and a young two-time major winning golfer from the North publicly embraces both the British and Irish aspects of his background.
Isn’t sport a great healer? No it isn’t. In fact, almost the complete opposite is the case.
Sport, as much if not more than politics, is war by other means. Indeed, absent the heavy police presence from most high-profile football matches and something approaching a mini-war would be the result.
The two Glasgow football clubs, Rangers and Celtic, have played one another 399 times since their first official meeting in 1888. Yet after 124 years there still isn’t any evidence of divisions being healed and old hatreds disappearing.
Wrong city, perhaps. Manchester’s football clubs aren’t subject to the same kind of incendiary mix of religions, politics and ethnicities as those of Glasgow, so one might expect football supporters from that city to be less tribally aggressive. Unfortunately, one would be disappointed.
The other week, when Manchester United played Everton, the bulk of the Manchester supporters spent the entire game chanting and singing obscenities about people from Liverpool in general, and most especially about 96 Liverpool fans who lost their lives in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.
It should be noted that relations between the fans of Everton and Manchester United are regarded as good, at least in comparison to the hatred many followers of Manchester United and Liverpool have for one another.
Wrong sport, perhaps. Soccer, after all, draws most of its participants and support from the unsophisticated lower social classes – or so it is generally assumed.
What about Gaelic sports? Not much in the way of crowd trouble there, admittedly, if you ignore the occasional referee or umpire being hospitalised by an irate spectator. And we can disregard the bigoted chants of some spectators (a flavour of which was provided in this newspaper the other day by the courageous Dónal Óg Cusack).
Still, there is no denying that Gaelic supporters, by and large, are much better behaved than their soccer counterparts. This, like the even better behaved crowds that rugby attracts, might have something to do with numbers, or lack thereof. Taken together, the two Uniteds, Manchester and Newcastle, probably attract more fans to their weekend home games than Gaelic and rugby manage across the whole of Ireland.