Northern Ireland must recover its 'Celtic' roots

Interesting reflection from Andersonstown News editor Robin Livingstone on last weekend’s Northern Ireland Wales match. He notes that all sports codes are in competition for new players and that, as things stand, few Catholics are making their way to Windsor Park.

He argues that making Windsor Park a warm place for Catholics should be an important objective for Northern Ireland matches, for the most pragmatic of reasons:

With the largest percentage of young people in Europe and a population that’s 98% Catholic, the harsh fact of the matter is that Rip-Off Rovers will continue to pull the crowds and the money in, whether the game’s played at the cattle mart masquerading as a football ground that is Lansdowne Road, or in the theatre of very expensive dreams that is Croker. The Ulster soccer team, though, can’t survive without the very Fenians that are so regularly reviled on the South Belfast terraces for the very simple reason that the population of the North is nearing 50-50.

Fair enough, THP are regularly pulling in ten to twelve thousand for games at Windsor, a ground which makes Lansdowne look like the Stade de France. But even as they’re patting themselves on the back, the IFA shouldn’t forget that GAA club finals involving parish teams from the back of beyond pull in crowds of that size and larger. The four- or fivefold increase required to fill a new sports stadium for THP matches ain’t gonna happen with just Prods fella, and the green-wigged faithful are going to have to spread out a fair bit if they don’t want international soccer nights at the new stadium to resemble Royal Avenue on a Sunday evening.

Here’s the bottom line. The part of the city I live in has a huge population, but I don’t know anybody, not a single person, who goes to Windsor Park to support This Here Province. I expect you might find one or two if you looked hard enough, just as you might find a Grimsby Town supporter or a beekeeper. But that degree of apathy – hostility, even – among half of the population is ultimately unsustainable. It terrifies potential sponsors, advertisers and broadcasters and means that every match will be followed not by analysis of performance or tactics, but by a debilitating post-mortem of the kind we’ve seen this week and so many times before.

The point is neither trivial nor new. The Catholics of West Belfast fell out of love with Windsor Park many years ago. Charlie Tully, a former Belfast Celtic player, is quoted in Padraig Coyle’s excellent history of the West Belfast club which unilaterally left the Irish League (and football) at the end of the 1947/48 season. Tully wrote in 1958:

I know how much Celtic means to Ulster. The game needs them badly. Even Linfield supporters will tell you that. And the fans of every other club will tell you that with nobs on. My old club gave some star material to the English club football and to Ireland’s international side. But where are those players that Celtic used to discover and develop?

I say that because Belfast Celtic no longer operate, many young local lads are lost to football. For many of them it’s a case of if they cannot join the green and whites they would rather not play for anyone. And they just drift out of football.

  • smcgiff

    Well said buckfasthero.

  • maca

    B
    “Because we have all been socialised into our respective tribes there really is no point to debating the issue.”

    Not true. Communication is essential, you need to be able to discuss problems if you want to solve them.

    “Has even ONE person who has followed this blog been persuaded to abandon their point of view based on someone else’s opinion from ‘the other side’?”

    My views on a number of issues have changed due to discussions with some of the decent people here.

  • Rationalist

    How about this for a cross-community sports initiative? Tyrone GAA should enter a reciprocal arrangement with Ulster Rugby, so that if either side runs out of jerseys they could borrow from the other? You’ d hardly notice the difference.

  • slug

    “The majority (not all) of unionists will refuse to support the GAA because it is a 32 county organisation, and is therefore inherently nationalist. “

    Disproved by contradiction:

    Presbyterian Church, Rugby, Cricket, C of I, etc all organized at 32 country level.

  • darthrumsfeld

    “I also don’t agree with your use of the term sectarian. It’s a loaded term and should be used more carefully.”

    Cardinal O Fiaich was the first to identify what he saw as the different sectarian attitudes of the communities, and even though he got it wrong, the differences on this thread are noticable.

    Sectarianism to nationalists ( I presume Roman Catholics too) is only religious- thus Ian paisley is sectarian because he is “anti-catholic” (sic) But political preference cannot be sectarian, thus the GAA having a quasi-political ethos is not sectarian , even though it excludes non-nationalists by its ethos- thus they blame the cause but excuse the effect

    Sectarianism to Unionists/Protestants is anything that does what it says on the tin. If it excludes someone by definition it’s sectarian. But if there is an indirect discrimination- the so-called “chill factor” because that doesn’t explicitly exclude they tend to the view that it shouldn’t count as sectarianism- hence the outrage about the removal of British symbols which obviously cannot of themselves exclude.

    Nationalism’as view is widely accepted, but until they also buy into the Unionist concept of sectarianism then we’ll always talk at cross purposes. For the record I don’t distinguish between the effect both notions have on those who sincerely perceive themselves to be victims of sectarianism, though naturally I am more taken by the Unionist definition.

  • darthrumsfeld

    “I also don’t agree with your use of the term sectarian. It’s a loaded term and should be used more carefully.”

    Cardinal O Fiaich was the first to identify what he saw as the different sectarian attitudes of the communities, and even though he got it wrong, the differences on this thread are noticable.

    Sectarianism to nationalists ( I presume Roman Catholics too) is only religious- thus Ian paisley is sectarian because he is “anti-catholic” (sic) But political preference cannot be sectarian, thus the GAA having a quasi-political ethos is not sectarian , even though it excludes non-nationalists by its ethos- thus they blame the cause but excuse the effect

    Sectarianism to Unionists/Protestants is anything that does what it says on the tin. If it excludes someone by definition it’s sectarian. But if there is an indirect discrimination- the so-called “chill factor” because that doesn’t explicitly exclude they tend to the view that it shouldn’t count as sectarianism- hence the outrage about the removal of British symbols which obviously cannot of themselves exclude.

    Nationalism’as view is widely accepted, but until they also buy into the Unionist concept of sectarianism then we’ll always talk at cross purposes. For the record I don’t distinguish between the effect both notions have on those who sincerely perceive themselves to be victims of sectarianism, though naturally I am more taken by the Unionist definition.

  • maca

    I’m so sure Darthrumsfeld.
    Many unionists I have discussed with here use the religious meaning of sectarianism.

    “even though it excludes non-nationalists by its ethos”

    You seem to have the same “problem” as Ian, thinking that all GAA members must be nationalist. They’re not. Or do you consider anyone who is non-unionist to be nationalist? 🙂

    Can I ask though, seriously, how non-nationalists are excluded. I know how (U)(u)nionists are excluded, but how about non-nationalists? And what’s your definition of nationalist/non-nationalist?

  • smcgiff

    Nationalists excluded from Orange Order
    Tories Excluded from Labour Party
    Liverpool players excluded from Manu Utd Dressing room.
    Students excluded from Examiner’s office
    Nun excluded from Priesthood
    Elvis excluded from greatest living rockstar contest (He’s ALIVE and pumping gas in UTAH!)
    George W Bush excluded from Greenpeace
    smcgiff excluded from KeithM’s fanclub

    Can ye see a pattern?

  • slug

    smcgiff, not really.

  • smcgiff

    Oh! – sorry

  • buckfasthero

    Maca. I’ve read your postings, and my impression is that you are a level headed guy (or gal!), but I think you have taken what I have said much to literally.

    My comment was the result of my intense frustration when reading through blogs such as these from our beloved country/province/region/state/statelet/district/occupied territory. It really makes me want to bang my head against the nearest wall.

    “Not true. Communication is essential, you need to be able to discuss problems if you want to solve them.”

    People seem to equate the whole “whataboutus?” “whataboutthem?” drivel as communication. When are people going to start discussing the actual “problems” rather than focusing on tripe such as who supports what team.

    Most people are quite happy with their chosen sport/team and are only using this debate to “enlighten” us with their political ideology.

    If you have changed your opinion on some matters after reading these blogs then fair play, but as recent elections show, green still votes green, and orange still votes orange (by and large).

    Here’s hoping our kids might be a little more open minded…

  • maca

    Buckfasthero – Fair enough!

  • buckfasthero

    Slug,

    The GAA flies the tricolour at Casement Park in Belfast and other Northern stadiums. This is testament to its 32-county ideology.

    The same could not be said of the organisations you mentioned because the reason for their 32-county set-up is simply to do with them having been formed before partition.

    They decided not to go their separate ways as was the case with the IFA and the FAI.

    While I therefore apologise for the use of the word “inherently” I feel it hardly disproves my point.

  • maca

    Buckfasthero
    “the reason for their 32-county set-up is simply to do with them having been formed before partition”

    Though the GAA was also “formed before partition”

  • slug

    buckfastero

    First you said:

    “The majority (not all) of unionists will refuse to support the GAA because it is a 32 county organisation, and is therefore inherently nationalist. “

    Now you say you will remove the term inherently from the above. However its still wrong without the word inherently, because unionists have no problems with lots of other ’32 county’ or Irish-level organizations such as ICU, PCI, COI, IRFU, and the like. Thus, unionist ‘refusal to support’ it is not BECAUSE the GAA is 32 county.