Setting the record straight on the 1993 Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland football game

News Letter editorial of Wednesday November 24 2021:

Thursday, 25th November 2021, 12:14 am
News Letter editorial

The football game between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in Windsor Park in November 1993 was a memorable occasion.

When NI scored to go into the lead, its fans erupted in joy. Had the result stayed that way, the Republic under Jack Charlton might not have qualified for the 1994 World Cup.

The pleasure of the Green and White Army at going ahead in such a crucial match, when Northern Ireland could not itself by that stage qualify for the tournament, was interpreted as deep sectarianism. But people who reached that conclusion were mis-interpreting the NI fans, who were celebrating for reasons such as the long rivalry between the two teams and the fact that NI were underdogs. Perhaps also there was a sense that the Republic’s much-discussed progress towards the finals was somewhat smug.

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Some observers seemed determined to see sectarianism in the cheering. There had indeed that night been some disgraceful sectarian conduct, leading to a number of NI fans being excluded from the grounds. But not only was there no suggestion from any journalist or credible sources who attended the match that there was widespread sectarian chanting, it is still possible to watch the game online and see that there is no sign of such behaviour.

Yet there has been a shocking but unfounded claim that fans chanted ‘Trick or Treat’, as a taunting reference to the Greysteel loyalist murder of Catholic civilians weeks earlier.

Today our reporter Mark Rainey, who was at the game, helps to set the record straight — that the crowd at the game had been well behaved, which at the time was a relief to everyone given the then communal tensions due to Greysteel and the preceding republican massacre at Shankill.

Why in so many contexts does this happen in Northern Ireland? Constant accusations of loyalist or unionist sectarianism, often involving exaggerations and distortions, and typically pushed by people who are convinced of their own rectitude.

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