As a proud Northern Ireland fan, I would not endorse any move to an all-Ireland team

Dejected Northern Ireland players Jamie Ward and Steve Davis  after the game against Switzerland on Sunday at the St Jakob-Park Stadium, Base in which their World Cup hopes were dashed. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Dejected Northern Ireland players Jamie Ward and Steve Davis after the game against Switzerland on Sunday at the St Jakob-Park Stadium, Base in which their World Cup hopes were dashed. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

The end of the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign with neither Northern Ireland nor the Republic qualifying for Russia has led to predictable calls from the usual quarters for an all-Ireland team.

As an ordinary Northern Ireland supporter my view is clear.

Stephen Barr, a longstanding Northern Ireland team fan, in France to support them for the 2016 Euros

Stephen Barr, a longstanding Northern Ireland team fan, in France to support them for the 2016 Euros

I was taken to my first Northern Ireland game by my father in 1978 and have been lucky enough to watch the team in 38 away games since then, from Chicago to Tallinn, and Reykjavik to Malta.

I am proud of our history which stretches back unbroken to the establishment of the Irish Football Association in Belfast in 1880.

Growing up I read about the exploits of the heroes in green at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden and watched from the Spion Kop at Windsor Park in November 1981 as a new generation of legends qualified for Espana 82.

In November 1985 I was on the Wembley terraces for my first away game, to witness the 0-0 draw that saw us make it to Mexico 86.

And of course 30 years later, our loyalty through the lean years was rewarded and I was privileged to join with the rest of the Green and White Army and head to France for our first ever Euros.

I am proud of our history and legends like Gregg, Blanchflower, Peacock. Best, Jennings, Armstrong, Whiteside and Healy who have worn our colours with pride and distinction.

There is simply no way I would trade it or endorse any move to an all-Ireland team.

Calls for an all-Ireland team fall into two camps. A political agenda or a glory-hunt.

An all-Ireland team would serve a political agenda that seeks to deny the right of Northern Ireland to exist, and sees some people refuse to even utter the words ‘Northern Ireland’.

If people want to support the Republic then that option is already open to them. Establishing an all-Ireland side would make people like myself – in football terms at least – stateless persons.

The example of rugby is often raised as a model for an all-Ireland side. Firstly, rugby – entertaining as it is – is not football.

Football is the world game, played everywhere, whereas rugby is a minority sport played to a decent level in the British Isles, south-west France and three former British colonies in the southern hemisphere.

In the British Isles, rugby – the preserve of grammar schools (outside of south Wales at any rate) – never seized and held the interest of the working classes in the way in which football did.

Rugby can decide for itself and so can football.

Personally I have no desire to watch a football side that would play all its games in Dublin under a flag and anthem that I have absolute respect for, but no allegiance to.

Some people suggest that an all-Ireland team would bring a better prospect of success. That rather misses the point that national football teams represent nations and there is no all-Ireland political jurisdiction.

It also misses the point that the Republic failed to qualify in spite of the assistance of a manager from Northern Ireland and the fact that the FAI already tries to acquire the services of any player they can from up here.

Two were on the pitch when the Danes hit five and I’m not actually sure that any of the Republic players would strengthen this Northern Ireland side anyway.

Following the logic of the desire for greater success, perhaps Scotland should disband and join with England given that England always seem to qualify for tournaments and Scotland haven’t been anywhere since 1998?

Indeed, if it is all about success, then perhaps rather than call for an all-Ireland side, those people should be should be looking at forming a UK team and availing of the best talent from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

After all we are actually part of the UK and not part of the Republic, so that would make far more logical sense.

And If the Republic wanted to join a UK entity in a bid to maximise chances of belonging to a team that stood a better chance of qualification, then I’m sure they could be accommodated.

After all, those who want an all-Ireland team clearly have no issue two separate states playing in the same team.

As for me, I’m happy where I am, being able to support my own country alongside my own countrymen through thick and thin.

Northern Irish and proud.