The rise of the Northern Ireland football team

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‘We’re not Brazil, we’re Northern Ireland’ is the catchy, tongue in cheek chant that is regularly sung at matches by fans of the Green and White Army, but their recent successes have given their colourful and passionate supporters plenty of reasons to be cheerful in recent years.

For many years, supporters of the Northern Irish team saw very little to be proud of. True, they had their isolated successes in the forms of shock wins against rivals England in 2005 and a fantastic 3-2 win over eventual European Champions Spain in the European Championship Qualifying for Euro 2008, both games courtesy of Northern Irish icon David Healy. However, they’d failed to reach a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup and were considered cannon fodder for some of the bigger sides in Europe.

Despite this, they’ve got a reputation for having some of the most passionate fans in Europe. This was recognised in 2006, when the GAWA were awarded the Brussels International Supporters Award for their charity work, general good humour and, most of all, their attempts to stamp out sectarianism, which has been a big problem in Northern Ireland, due to the political climate.

However, what has really caught the general public’s eye is Northern Ireland’s team’s unbelievable transformation into a very apt side. Since new manager Michael O’Neill took over, they’ve both reached the finals of the Euro 2016 and gone onto to reach the play-offs of the 2018 World Cup; an outstanding achievement for a country that hadn’t reached the finals of a major tournament in 30 years and has a problem of a sizeable chunk of the country, both players and supporters, opting for the Republic of Ireland, due to political and religious beliefs.

Gary McAllister, chairman and press officer of the London Northern Ireland Supporters’ Club, believes that a big part of the side’s current success is down to the new manager: Quite simply the input and influence from our Manager, Michael O’Neill. “He’s a very impressive speaker, very switched on and seems to have an excellent rapport with the players. We could also see that the standard of our play had improved greatly and there was a recognition of the work Michael was doing away from the Senior International squad too. Our momentum has continued to build over the last three years.”

This has clearly shown, as the Northern Ireland team showed, despite a disappointing outcome, great promise during the 2014 World Cup Qualifying, with promising results against Russia and Euro 2016 winners Portugal. This would go onto two very successful back to back qualification campaigns.

McAllister is not alone in this view. Jordan Moran, who runs the Norn Iron Fans Twitter account, backs the view that O’Neill has been instrumental in the side’s recent successes. However, he also makes the point that a big part of it is squad harmony and playing people together who work well together. “You can see this organisation as NI hardly leak any goals if you watch them over the Euro qualifiers and WC qualifiers. The fact that 3/4 of NI’s back 4 (Brunt, McAuley and Johnny Evans) play for West Brom together week in week out is very beneficial to this.” This has been a huge part of O’Neill’s success, especially as he has clearly identified the strength of West Brom under Tony Pulis and how hard to beat they are.

There is also the element of the team working for each other, rather than being over reliant on one player. Jacob Graham, of Everywhere we go fanzine, believes that this has been very positive for the side and has made Northern Ireland a very strong side as a result. “The strange thing is that there has been no one player who has been behind the recent brilliant results, like Wales were propelled to the Euros by Bale, we’re generally a strong team.” This has shown particularly in these World Cup qualifiers just gone, as Bale’s absence has been a real hindrance to the Wales side that have missed out on qualification. It is a similar technique to one used by France manager Didier Deschamps, who once stated he’d pick the best team, rather than the best players. Since then France have gone from embarrassing themselves in disarray to a respectable World Cup in 2014 and were unlucky not to win Euro 2016.

However, one problem that the Northern Ireland team have that not many other countries do is the rule that exists between the Irish Football Association and the Football Assiociation of Ireland, who represent the Republic. As people in Northern Ireland are given the right to both British and Irish citizenship, players from the North are entitled to be selected to play for the Republic. Indeed, it was Derry-born James McClean who recently secured Ireland’s play off place with a winning goal in Cardiff. Whilst in recent years that hasn’t been so much of an issue since Northern Ireland’s rapid ascension, this used to be a big problem for the IFA.

Jacob Graham believes that this is fine, provided the player switches allegiances early on and doesn’t do it having played for Northern Ireland at youth level, as McClean did. “Personally, though, if a player wants to represent the Republic let them go, as a player who doesn’t want to play for your team isn’t going to put maximum effort in and is therefore letting the team down. The frustrating thing for fans and the FA is that these players take all the coaching and resources of Northern Ireland in youth age groups but then switch allegiance before playing for the first team. If you want to play for the Republic, fine, but switch early on.”

Nonetheless, despite this obvious drawback for the national side, Michael O’Neill’s management is taking the Northern Irish team places they wouldn’t have dreamed of a few years ago and has developed them from minnows to a side who can get results and are hard to beat, much like the reputation that their neighbours to the south have garnered over the years. There are still the play-offs to go, but, following another positive qualifying campaign, the Northern Ireland team have much to be optimistic about.

Follow on Twitter:

Me: @joedoherty21

NISCL: @LondonNISC

Norn Iron Fans: @GAWAfans

EWG Fanzine: @EverywhereWeGo_

Jordan Farren (Proofreader): @Lapxrte

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Is the Manchester Derby as exciting as it could be?

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One of the most eagerly anticipated games of the Premier League season, for neutral and supporter alike, is the Manchester Derby. Always a passionate rivalry between Manchester’s two clubs; a rivalry that has intensified in recent years since Manchester City’s takeover, which has allowed them to compete with Manchester United, who for many years were streets ahead of City. However, for such a big rivalry between two of Britain’s top sides, the matches between the two sides have often not been the best games of football and looking back there have been few genuinely exciting games in recent years.

Of course, there was the 4-3 Manchester United victory in September 2009, which was seen by many people on both sides of the divide as a potential turning point for how the fixture is viewed. Yes, as usual, United had won, but City had shown a lot of fight and, apart from a last minute winner for United, came very close to matching their rivals. From a United point of view, Jordan Farren of UTD Report and Vavel, believes that the 2009/10 season was a fantastic advert for this fixture, as it brought this game, as well as an exciting two-legged League Cup semi final, in which City won the first leg, but United fought back to win the second, not to mention late drama in the fixture at the Etihad Stadium, when a last minute Paul Scholes goal stole the points for United. As a City fan, these games were, of course, painful; to see my side lose three times to our biggest rivals in late circumstances is never easy to watch. However, these games certainly showed that City could pose a credible threat to United.

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Despite this, since this season, the games have often lacked intensity. Of course, both sides have had games they’ve enjoyed. Manchester City fans fondly remember comprehensive beatings of United in recent years, such as the 1-6 win at Old Trafford in October 2011 and the 4-1 home win in September 2013, whilst United fans will fondly remember the 4-2 home win in 2015, in which they completely outclassed City, not to mention Marcus Rashford’s Manchester Derby debut, in which he outplayed veteran Martin Demichelis to earn United a win at the Etihad Stadium. However, none of these games were genuinely hard fought games of football with both teams giving the other something to worry about, these were often comprehensive beatings, which, whilst thoroughly enjoyable for the fans, weren’t especially exciting for neutrals. Whilst there have been a handful of exiciting games – United’s 3-2 win at the Etihad in December 2012 sticking out as an outstanding game of football – the fixture doesn’t always generate great games of football; something both the North London Derby and the Merseyside Derby has done on numerous occasions.

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So what for the future? The appointment of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, two managers with a successful past and an intense rivalry to boot, has the potential to give this fixture a new lease of life. Certainly, September’s fixture, in which City narrowly won 2-1, was a significantly more interesting game to watch than either of the previous season’s games. However, both managers also have a reputation for leaving clubs after not many years have passed. In addition to this, the fixture could also struggle to improve as the rivalry between the fans has one significant weakness: only one half of the city views it as the biggest game of the season. It is no secret that, whilst United fans have certainly taken more notice of City recently, that their biggest rivalry lies with Liverpool FC and that is the game that both they and the team turn up for most. Jordan Farren believes that, as a result of this, the game is highly unlikely to surpass El Classico in Spain or The Old Firm Derby in Scotland in terms of rivalry.

What do you think? Do you believe that this Derby has been less exciting in recent years than it should have been or do you think that this game is still one of the most exciting in the Premier League?

 

Follow me on Twitter – @joedoherty21

Follow Jordon on Twitter – @Lapxrte

Wolfe Tones visit Manchester

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On 9th November 2016, Irish Folk legends The Wolfe Tones played a gig at St Kentigern’s Irish Social Club in Southern Manchester as they have been doing for the previous 12 years. However, this year’s performance was even more significant, as it was a part of the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, in which Irish rebels seized the GPO and began to gain independence from Britain. This tour has gone all over the country, from Glasgow to Manchester, both cities with strong Irish communities, and even going out as far as Hamburg, where the band are popular, due to the friendship between FC St Pauli of Hamburg and The Wolfe Tones’ own club, Celtic FC.

There is no doubt some controversy over the sort of songs that The Wolfe Tones sing, as they are rebel songs that are linked with The Troubles in Northern Irish and are from a republican point of view, with songs such as “Go on home British Soldiers” and “Bloody Sunday” clearly being in favour of the IRA. However, Kevin Fitzpatrick, the proprietor of St Kentigern’s describes them in a more positive light and believes that their music “goes a long way in telling the story of Ireland, especially the Troubles”.

There is no doubt that previously, an Irish republican band wouldn’t have performed in Manchester without serious backlash, especially after the Arndale Centre was bombed in 1996 by the IRA. However, since the Good Friday Agreement, this sort of gig is less of a political statement these days and appears more of a social occasion. Certainly on the night, everyone was enjoying a drink and everybody there was very hospitable and friendly, not the hostile atmosphere you might expect at a gig that would’ve been making a political statement.

Fitzpatrick also believes that this sort of music is important in peace time between the UK and Ireland, as the reporting of the events comes from less of an angle these days and looks at The Troubles from both sides, especially after the Savile Inquiry, which shows how British Soldiers killed 14 unarmed protesters in Derry. “Investigations like Bloody Sunday are now closer to the truth so people understand the songs more as they do tell the story of our lives way back then – but people are so happy with the truth now and the peace – long may it continue,” being Fitzpatrick’s view.

Personally, despite the songs having connotations certain people might find offensive or unsavoury, I found the performance to be very good, especially when the age of the band members is taken into account, and the people at the gig to be very friendly and welcoming. In addition to this, I do not believe this is made for a political statement to extent it used to and is now just a chance for people to have an enjoyable social occasion.

This map shows whereabouts the Wolfe Tones have been on this tour:

Fundraising allows local park to be built

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A new playground has been given the go ahead to be built in the mixed urban and rural district of Stowshire, Bradfield.

Peter Smithson, chair of Landsmere Community Association, said “work started last week on the construction of the new playground.

“It is the culmination of six years’ fundraising and campaigning to see a derelict area reformed.” The whole scheme is costing £50,000 but the LCA have been given £10,000 by Bradfield Council and £15,000 by Bradfield Community Chest. The rest was raised by the LCA.

Mrs Sheree Harltley, CEO of the BCC, told the Bradfield Mirror “we were delighted to support the Landsmere play area scheme,” describing it as a “good cause”.

Numerous attempts have been made to improve the image of the much deprived Landsmere, so it is a point of much pride for locals that this scheme is going ahead.

Top 5 Telling Manchester City games so far this season

Source: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/33/Escudo_do_Man_City.jpg

1.) Stoke City 1 Manchester City 4

After a nervy first game of the season against Sunderland, City needed to make a statement in their first away game of the season at Stoke, a ground where City have struggled. Indeed, last season, two Arnautovic goals fired Stoke to a 2-0 victory. However, City approached this game very differently and quickly lead 2-0 through two Sergio Aguero goals. Despite a Bojan penalty increasing pressure on City, two goals from Nolito rounded off a crucial win

 

2.) Manchester City 3 West Ham United 1

Following on from the Stoke away win, this home win against West Ham United was arguably a more impressive performance and set the tone for someone who has been the most improved City player from the previous season: Raheem Sterling. Much maligned after a poor 2015/16 and  Euro 2016; Raheem Sterling has come on well this season and this game was arguably his strongest. Two well taken goals by Sterling succumbed the Londoners to a comprehensive beating. Nigel Rothband of The Man City Show Podcast believes this is an example of the type of game that City play outstanding football in for periods, but need to show that sort of form for 90 minutes, as City allowed West Ham back into the game.

3.) Manchester United 1 Manchester City 2

Old rivals Pep Guardiola and his Manchester United counterpart Jose Mourinho met at Old Trafford in a game that is becoming one of the biggest on the world stage. Both sides had to make an impact going into this game, but it was City that impressed. An exceptional first 40 minutes saw City leading 2-0 through goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Kelechi Iheanacho, who was in for the suspended Sergio Aguero. Despite an iffy performance by Claudio Bravo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic pulling a goal back for United, City held on.

4.) West Bromwich Albion 0 Manchester City 4

City needed to make a statement away at the Hawthorns when they played West Bromwich Albion. After weeks of speculation in the media over the future of forward Sergio Aguero, he silenced all his critics by scoring two outstanding goals to put City 2-0 up. City continued to play strong attacking football and  two goals from German midfielder Ilkay Gundogan ended the poor run and set City up for their meeting with Barcelona.

5.) Manchester City 3 Barcelona 1

Simply put, this was one of the finest Manchester City performances in recent years. If critics doubted that beating West Brom could redeem Pep Guardiola and his side after a poor run, this game succeeded tenfold. Whilst the first half was somewhat closer, with Lionel Messi giving Barcelona the lead and Gundogan’s equaliser coming somewhat against the run of play, the second half proved just how good City could be. Following the break, City played with confidence and panache and, apart from a chance for Andre Gomes, which hit the bar, completely outclassed the Catalans. Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan wrapped up the points, but truthfully, the second half could have brought so many more goals for City. Nigel Rothband of The Man City Show Podcast described this game as showing Gundogan’s encouraging start to the season and that this could be a key signing, although more consistency could be required to make him the bargain of the season.

Nigel and others discuss the Barcelona game on The Man City Show Podcast