In less than two weeks, the European Championships will begin. For the first time ever, both Irish international teams will be represented in the tournament stage of an international football competition.
There is nothing quite like summer football. I grew up during the Republic’s halcyon age from 1988 to 1994, when fans were spoilt due to the unprecedented success of the team, a period in which Jack Charlton led the Republic to three tournaments, including two World Cups and one European Championships.
The Republic’s golden years followed quickly on the heels of Northern Ireland’s most successful phase, which included consecutive appearances at the World Cups of 1982 and 1986. Both teams experienced close misses in terms of European Championship qualification during their respective glory years (Northern Ireland ran West Germany close in 1984 while an undefeated Republic just missed out on qualifying in 1992 to England.)
As every teacher knows, children learn best when they feel engaged and captivated by learning themes. Taking advantage of stories that will feature in children’s lives through the media, their community or family is one way of helping motivate learners, develop knowledge and skills as well as an appreciation for the interconnected nature of learning.
Ahead of this year’s momentous tournament for Irish football fans, I produced a numeracy and literacy booklet (below) for Upper KS2 pupils (P6-P7) using as a backdrop the historic occasion of the two Irish teams’ successful qualification. The booklet was completed by pupils in north Belfast schools from each of the four education sectors (controlled, maintained, Irish medium and integrated) and culminated in a special North Belfast Euros tournament in Solitude earlier this month. Both north Belfast clubs, Cliftonville and Crusaders, were tremendously supportive of the initiative, providing coaches, players and (in the case of Cliftonville) the use of their pitch for the event. The Gibson Cup and the Irish League Cup were both on display for the day to the delight of the enthusiastic children.
Driving across Belfast, it is impossible to avoid noticing the numbers of children (and adults) who have purchased the replica kits for both Irish sides in anticipation of the tournament; school kids excitedly discuss the coming fixtures and adults make arrangements to ensure that evenings are cleared so that they may fully enjoy the pre- and post-match experiences (if not always the actual matches, as Republic fans like myself discovered four years ago.)
These are days that live long in the memory. The fact that we all have a team(s) in the race makes it all the more special this time around, so let’s hope the next six weeks bring great moments to recall in future years.
On another note, I have traditionally assumed responsibility for devising the workplace competition for World Cups and Euros (below), so if anyone is in need of a template, feel free to lift and run with it!