Finn McRedmond: Come on you fascinatingly boring England!

Why I support England in the Euros and why you should too

England football team: ‘In lieu of rallying behind the green jerseys, it seems natural to offer those services to our oldest and closest neighbour, the nation with which we have most in common.’ Photograph: Miguel Riopa/AFP via Getty

England football team: ‘In lieu of rallying behind the green jerseys, it seems natural to offer those services to our oldest and closest neighbour, the nation with which we have most in common.’ Photograph: Miguel Riopa/AFP via Getty

 

It is a shame, though not an unexpected one, that Ireland did not qualify for the Euros. The tournament is too fun to ignore entirely, or to passively enjoy with no emotional investment. And sitting with friends on a sunny evening to watch the match is too perfect a way to spend time to deny ourselves the luxury. So what’s to be done?

Everyone needs a team, of course. There is always the option to dust off our Balkan history books and claim Croatia has always been the natural choice. We could instead think fondly of a weekend spent in Prague and decide the Czech Republic is most deserving of our cheers. Everyone loves an underdog, so how about Wales? All fine choices, but the answer is obvious: Team England.

I am sure this will not be controversial. In lieu of rallying behind the green jerseys, it seems natural to offer those services to our oldest and closest neighbour, the nation with which we have most in common. The relationship between the two countries at the highest political level may have seen some stresses and strains in recent years, and several hundred before that. But football is about people, not protocols, sportsmanship not chilled-meats-based trade wars.

In fact, there is so much to admire in the young men that wear the England jersey. Marcus Rashford, at just 22, heroically campaigned for disadvantaged children to continue to receive free school meals. Raheem Sterling speaks stoically and eloquently about racism and its impacts on sport. Gareth Southgate, England coach, wrote a paean to moderation and progressive patriotism in his letter “Dear England” ahead of the tournament. The players take a knee before kick off, too. These are values we should want to endorse.

Porous relationship

But more than all of that, football reminds us of our common culture and heritage. So porous is the relationship that both England players Declan Rice and Jack Grealish have played for Ireland before. Roy Keane is a cultural icon both sides of the Irish sea. And former Ireland manager Jack Charlton’s death one year ago was a reminder that a Yorkshire man could become an Irish hero. We should remember it is this kind of exchange that underpins our relationship, no matter what vein of diplomatic tussling our politicians are embroiled in.

As anyone else raised in Leinster, I understand the joy of a sporting rivalry. Munster’s rugby team will, for better or for worse, always be the enemy. But this harmless regionalism is of a very different flavour to those who espouse the “anyone-but-England” mantra. It certainly cannot be kind to the thousands of British citizens who call Ireland their home. And it comes from the same place as the flag waving nationalism of the Conservative administration we are so quick to denounce.

By channelling historical grievances through football it seems we are conveniently forgetting that it is not the sport, nor its fans, nor its players, who are responsible for any enmity that may have emerged in Anglo-Irish relations. It is, after all, just football.

Many will remember the horror of the Lansdowne riots nearly thirty years ago, which saw English nationalists indulge the basest instincts for bigotry and violence, succumbing to hooligan mentality replete with loyalist slogans. But just as Ireland cannot be defined by the few irredentists who are comfortable with violent means to reach political ends, England’s football culture cannot be defined by a few men nearly three decades ago in possession of some British Nationalist Party literature.

Historical reconciliation

When God Save the Queen was played at Croke Park before the England-Ireland rugby match in 2007, it was a pivotal moment in the arduous process of historical reconciliation. That process may have hit a few bumps in the road recently, but it is one that will be fed and bolstered by seeing England for what it actually is. And that is not the high octane diplomatic disputes, nor is it a vision decided on by the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg. Rather, it is the thousands sitting in pubs on Tuesday evening with their friends watching England win in fascinatingly boring style.

The Anglo-Irish relationship is a thorny one so often characterised by strife and difficulty. But it is also borne out of a common language and a shared culture; national purposes that may have diverged in recent years but are ultimately in step; an English actress playing the lead role in Sally Rooney’s Normal People; Graham Norton and Terry Wogan becoming stars of the British small screen. It is a culture defined by the thousands of Irish who call England their home, and the other way round. If there is such a thing as a special relationship, perhaps this is it.

And besides, there could hardly be a lower stakes way to remind ourselves of that: supporting a team that will most likely not win in a tournament that we are not even part of. But, when the Six Nations rolls around early next year, all bets are off.

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