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Perspective of an Irish fan abroad

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While checking my Facebook feed one Saturday morning in late November I came across numerous articles and posts relating to the Late Late Toy Show that had just been screened the night before on RTE.  As a huge fan of the show like everyone else of my generation I found myself watching a clip of international superstar Ed Sheeran surprise one of junior guests on the show.  At the end of Ed’s chat with Ryan he cheekily enquired, with a hint of jealousy that there’s nothing like the toy show in England, if there was any item he could steal from the set!

For some reason Ed’s comment stayed with me about how certain things, experiences, cultures, and even televisions shows don’t exist in the country I’ve now been residing in for almost 5 years.  Don’t get me wrong living in London has many advantages, the social life, the restaurants, the many attractions and theatres along with an outstanding tube and transport network which provides access to a cultured and vibrant city that’s right on your doorstep.  Most importantly, it provided the opportunity to further my career while Ireland’s economy was crumpling to its knees.

So while I left my homeland and the recession for pastures new just across the pond, what are the pieces of my culture and upbringing that make me one day want to make the journey back home?  There are so many to speak of, family, friends, a good pint in your local, Christmas in Dublin, going for a run in the Phoenix Park or taking the dogs for a walk on Rosslare Stand and of course football! My love of the Irish soccer team really began around the age of 14.  I was only 8 when Packie Bonner and David O’Leary became legends on the green fields of Italia ‘90 and while I remember the celebrations and my mother praying in the kitchen with the radio on (her nerves wouldn’t allow her to watch the game live on TV) I don’t think I really grasped exactly what was going on.

In my early teens, while my dad regularly took my older brother to matches at Lansdowne Road, I was starting to feel a bit left out.  So for my sweet 16th birthday Dad took me to see the Republic of Ireland v Malta.  A 5-0 win was secured that cold October night in Dublin with both Keane’s making their mark amongst others on the scoreboard.  I even spotted Ray Houghton and John Aldridge watching the game near my seat in the crowd and secured my very first autographs.  Even though the national side wasn’t successful in qualifying for the Euro’s that season I was hooked!

From then on it was a competition between my brother and I for who would get the lucky seat beside dad for future matches, but actually it didn’t matter if I was left at home.  Like thousands of others you always had the company of the RTE panel in the comfort of your own home if you couldn’t be at the match itself.  I just didn’t realise then how important that would become. As the years went by I attended and watched more and more games.  I revelled in the opportunity for life to come to a standstill for an afternoon or evening as I joined my friends and family in collective support of our Boys in Green.  In 2005 while looking for permanent work straight out of college I was offered a temporary position at the FAI HQ on Merrion Square.  That temporary position became permanent and I spent over three years with the Association working match days in both Lansdowne Road and Croke Park. During this time I was lucky enough to never miss a minute of international action.

I’d been resisting the travel bug for some time while happily settled in Dublin and the FAI but the need to explore new territories and cities became too great and Canada became the destination of choice.  So while my car was sold, health insurance cancelled and bank accounts emptied I got on a flight to Toronto with my Ireland jersey packed into my suitcase for 12 months of something a bit different.  But what did this mean for my consistent support of a team I’d been following since I was a kid?  Landing in a city where I knew absolutely no one except for my travelling companion was daunting to say the least. My last match for the FAI had been a 1-1 draw against Bulgaria in March 2009 at Croke Park and I was hoping that by the end of the year we’d be on our way to South Africa.

In addition to the important items like finding a place to live, finding a job before moving to Vancouver in October and starting the process all over again, a watchful eye was always kept on the international fixture list.  The challenge was finding the location to watch the match and the Canadians saw us coming.  Any pub we found came complete with a $20 entry fee.  The news stung at first but hey it was a small price to pay to watch your home side in a country where the national sport involves a stick, a puck and lots of ice!  So we joined in with the growing number of travelling Irish keen for a bit of home sport, a few pints and the never ending collective hope of an Irish win. The most random of these $20 pubs came in the shape of the University of British Columbia campus bar in Vancouver.  Not exactly packed to the rafters with Ireland fans but the television was working and that was all we needed.  Unfortunately this was the location for the ultimate heartbreak in the shape of you-know-who in November ’09 but we’re over that by now, aren’t we? Non.

Following 12 months in the land of Mounties and maple syrup it was time to pack my bags and head to a city a little closer to Ireland where the time difference was reduced to 0!  By this time the recession was monopolising life in Ireland, which led to a greater number of people especially within my own peer group leaving the homestead and becoming what the Irish Times now refers to as “Generation Emigration”.  In terms of football, this meant an ever growing number of Irish in London making their way to their local Irish bar each time the internationals came around.  In essence, these occasions began to feel very much like you were at home, surrounded by your own accents and wearing various shades of green, it’s certainly the closest I’ve ever felt to being at home in all the time I’ve been away.

When the FAI announced matches at Craven Cottage and the friendly against England in Wembley in May 2013, tickets were secured, family members travelled over from home and plans for the all-important pre-match pint were made.  Following Shane Long’s goal at Wembley and the full time score of 1-1 there was only the sound of the green army singing and chanting as they made their way back to the tube station.  It could have easily been mistaken for a night in Dublin if the transport provided wasn’t so good!

As time has gone by I’ve visited various establishments for a pint and 90 minutes of football but my current venue of choice is a small pub known as the Mayfair Tavern in Tooting.  Aesthetically, it’s nothing to write home about but what it lacks in style it more than makes up for in substance.  It is wwned by a Galway man and sport is a permanent fixture on all the screens.  With Guinness on tap, Magners behind the bar and Tayto on offer, yes Tayto as the owner brings boxes of the nation’s favourite crisp back in the van after every trip back home, what more could you ask for?  I’m now familiar with the other regulars who show up for the international matches and look forward to hearing the well-known voices of the RTE panel.

They say familiarity breeds contempt but that certainly doesn’t apply in this case.  When the coverage begins I could easily be 16 again, in the sitting room ready for another 90 minutes of watching a team that no matter what they do you’ll never stop supporting them.  There’s no escape you see, no matter where you are you’ll find a way to support the team even if it does come with a $20 door charge and an early morning start.  Before the whistle blows and the ball is kicked that feeling of hope comes back as you dream of a summer and a competition on the world stage.  Of booking flights and securing tickets, of packing jerseys and flags, of travelling with friends and making new ones along the way, there’s nothing really that compares.

There are many things that tie us together as a nation.  No matter how far any of us travel or how long we spend away from home there are so many things that make us who we are.  We’re a proud and passionate nation, always ready to get behind the latest team.  From Johnny Giles to Paul McGrath and from Packie Bonner to Seamus Coleman we’ll always be watching, it will always connect us to each other and that’s what makes it special.  So you’re right Ed when you say they don’t have anything like the Late Late Toy Show outside of Ireland but there are a few other things that make us different as well.

  • Author: Julie O’Leary
Published inblogfeatureNews

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