How to be an England fan in Ireland: ‘We just laugh it off’

As they close in on a World Cup final, English expats expect colourful ‘support’ from the natives

On the wall of his Ballsbridge office the British ambassador to Ireland, Robin Barnett, has a framed Manchester United jersey signed by Roy Keane. Later this month he might add an English shirt if only – well, say nothing.

There are two universal truths to English World Cup campaigns: an often misplaced level of expectation and a lack of support from near neighbours, particularly Ireland.

Ever the diplomat, Barnett lauds the increasingly strong “people-to-people links” between the two nations.

“But when it comes to sporting rivalry I completely get that people take a totally different approach,” he says. “I enjoy sporting rivalry.”


The gathering excitement around England's quarter-final clash with Sweden will be nothing new to the ambassador, who has had a lifelong love affair with the game. He remembers watching that 1966 final with his family, and the immortal commentary of Kenneth Wolstenholme – "They think it's all over ... "

“A truly extraordinary day and that memory has had to last for quite a long time,” says Barnett.

Tomorrow, as thousands of English expats file into Irish pubs and private gatherings, they will hope things are just beginning.

“I am always very careful not to jinx anything, but what you have to say is that this English team looks as good as any team in our half of the draw,” reflects the ambassador. “I think we have that something special that gives us a chance.”

No Irish support

At the Woolshed Baa & Grill in Dublin, English man Matt Hudson is preparing for an invasion of red and white jerseys. He is not expecting Irish support but then, after 23 years living here, he knows how it goes.

"People say to me they don't want England to win – we keep going on about 1966 and [they] couldn't bear to hear them going on about it again. It's friendly banter," he says.

The 103,000 English people living in Ireland form the second-largest group of foreign nationals next to the Polish community. Hudson arrived here from Oxford in 1995, not long after, he notes, a cohort of English fans tore up the former Lansdowne Road stadium in a “friendly” against Ireland.

But Hudson prefers other memories that exemplify Anglo-Irish relations on the sporting field. His uncles followed the English rugby team to Dublin for the 1973 Five Nations Championship. The previous year the Scottish and Welsh were put off doing the same because of the Troubles.

“They said it was the best reception they ever had,” he says. “A few of them came over and the welcome they got from the Irish supporters was huge and it went over really well. I still meet people who talk about that.”

Today, though, he knows the banter is unlikely to be any less potent.

“We are just kind of used to it; we kind of laugh it off. Sometimes it’s just jealousy,” he says, unable to resist.

If England win today, they will have carved out a mouth-watering path to a World Cup final, needing only to beat Croatia or Russia.

The Woolshed expects an even split of Swedes and English. The Scandinavians will be treated to some familiar comforts: hotdogs and liquorice flavoured vodka. There will be nothing so exotic for the English, though; they are a little too close to home.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times