This week ‘Irish’ soccer’s commentariat had their say about teenage soccer sensation Declan Rice. But what do they really know about how a teenager feels about his Irishness?
Declan was born in England to Irish parents. Nothing remarkable in that. It’s been an ‘Irish’ thing for centuries! The dilemma for Declan and many second generation Irish, the 2GI’s as I call them who’ve come into the public spotlight, is how to respond when asked ‘Where are your real loyalties?’ Whilst Declan’s already played in an Irish jersey at junior level, he must now decide whose senior jersey he pulls on and committing the rest of his international career to.
It’s understood the English coach recently had a word in his ear. No doubt the two Irish qualified lads, both named Harry, part of England’s 2018 World Cup team, Captain Kane and striker Maguire were part of his ‘pitch’! I’m sure these two ‘Irish’ Englishmen have a soft spot for Ireland!
The Republic’s 4 – 1 drubbing by Ryan Gigg’s Wales this week may add to Rice’s doubts. Interestingly, Wales recently departed coach Chris Coleman always said his Dublin born father had little influence on him and that he only ever wanted to play for Wales. He wasn’t ‘feeling’ Irish enough.
Back in 1976, when word got around the Irish Soccer squad was training at our senior school, I recall the excitement scurrying up to see them at 11am school breaks. Paper and pen in hand as we waited patiently for a break to get their autographs! Many sporting heroes were there – Liverpool’s Steve Highway, Man United’s Gerry Daly, Arsenal’s Dave O’Leary & Liam Brady. Former Leeds United great Johnny Giles was manager. I was surprised to hear English accents call out for the ball as they practiced their routines on Irish ‘rugby soil’.
So, the Irish team wasn’t and isn’t quite ‘Irish’. What of it? Were we cheating somehow? Getting an unfair advantage? I learned about the ‘Granny rule’ and still smile about how one soccer wit rebranded the Irish Soccer Association acronym F.A.I. (Football Association of Ireland) as Find Another Irishman! In the '50’s, and again after the '70’s oil crisis, we lost another a generation. So, no we weren’t cheating!
The late 70’s was also the time of Punk Rock and alternative bands living under Thatcher’s rule. The ‘break the unions and ignore civil human rights in Northern Ireland days', as part of the Empire edged ever closer to ‘Anarchy in the UK ‘. As young teenagers, we listened to Radio Luxembourg and many pirate radio stations like Radio Dublin 253, ARD 257 & Big D on 273. The Irishness of the Sex Pistols British flag waving Johnny Rotten or Morrissey, the song writer and lead singer from The Smiths , was never mentioned. Nor was the lineage of the audacious and outrageous ‘Boy George’. Elvis Costello ‘came out’ earliest, he proudly associating with The Pogues in their early days.
All these 2GI’s were Brits! All feeling different levels of ‘Irishness’. The Irish blood of a 3 GI, singer songwriter Sting, was largely unknown until he outed it in ‘Broken Music’, his autobiography dedicated to his beloved Irish Granny. More recent times Dido and Ed Sheeran were more than happy to share their Irishness, the latter unleashing this last year, even re-recording one of his songs ‘as Gaeilge’ ! What of Irish born singers with British parents? I wonder how Irish U2’s Dublin raised The Edge felt (Welsh parents)? Not to mention English born Adam Clayton!
With the next massive emigration wave in the late '80’s and early 90’s, Gaelic, Soccer & Rugby clubs all lost huge numbers of young men who left in search of work, adventure and a better life style. I was one who caught that wave, settling in Sydney.
I remember being so surprised to see Aussie Brian Smith being picked for Ireland in 1989. 12 months earlier we shared the same training pitch down at Manly Rugby oval with the likes of Willie O. The Lynagh/Horan/Little combination blocked Smith’s long term Queensland & International aspirations. Smith looked further afield but soon Granny Smith to the rescue. This apple had rolled back under the tree! It’s believed the former Manly & Wallaby coach Alan Jones paved the way for Smith through his strong connections to both the rugby fraternity and Oxford, where Smith went to study and play rugby. I know several Irish players greatly angered by this decision to parachute him in. Awful for team morale. The fact Smith never made an effort to live in Ireland during his international career will always be held against him.
Skipping forward a decade and the decision to move back to Ireland by Glenageary, Dublin born Keith Gleeson was far more successful. Gleeson emigrated with his family at 8 years old and went on to captain the all-conquering Wallabies Under 20’s team in 1991. Jesuit educated, the same Kirribilli, Sydney school as Wallabies Pat Mc Cabe & Bernard Foley, Gleeson’s NSW game time was limited ahead of the 2003 Rugby World Cup. In the now fully professional era, he had to make a decision and so he did in 2000 to head ‘home’. Gleeson was always honest about his Wallaby ambitions but Ireland beckoned and he said he never regretted his decision.
In 3 weeks’ time ( September 29 ) , the creator of Ross O’ Carroll Kelly will be a guest on our show. Paul Howard knows the English born, Irish parents dilemma. Being treated as Irish in England and English when his family returned to Ireland as a young fella! Pete Mc Carthy, English writer and comedian (Mc Carthy’s Bar) told readers how unnerved he was by the suspicion of Irish people with his English accent when visiting Ireland. You just can’t win!
I’ve interviewed several people on our show over the years who were taken back to the land of their parent(s) birth. Naturally, at first, many felt like outsiders. Sadly most were bullied. The same thing happened in reverse i.e. Irish kids settling in at school in Australia were also pressured to feel ashamed about their Irish accent, their Irish ways.
So, what about Declan Rice? Let this 19 year old lad have time to work out where he wants to be. He does need time to reflect, as the decision will have a big impact on his sporting future. He doesn’t need the commentariat or current squad players who don’t know him giving their opinions publicly. Let’s hope he finds the answer. Hopefully it's that he has both Irish heart and Irish blood!
Even if ‘Deco’ dons the white jersey instead of the green, he’ll still be, to most Irish, ‘one of us’. Although we will be watching his lips to see if he's singing 'God Save The Queen' !