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Euros 2020

This column is supposed to be about Ireland and the EU so I may be taking a liberty in writing about the Euro 2020 soccer tournament currently taking place across Europe. As you probably know, Ireland didn’t qualify and lots of teams that did qualify are not even in the EU. Apologies if I am straying beyond my remit. Soccer has always been my sport having played junior soccer for many years and coaching adult teams and kids’ teams. I should therefore be more excited by the Euros. Soccer is in my family on my father’s side for generations. The recent growth of Gaelic games in Dublin coincided with the availability of decent jobs in the capital for people from all over Ireland in the 1990s who would otherwise have had to emigrate. They brought their passion for Gaelic football and hurling with them. Some of you will know that my grandfather was Todd Andrews who was part of the revolutionary generation 100 years ago and went on to run Bord an Mona and CIE. Less well known was his younger brother Paddy Andrews. Paddy was a ‘Corinthian’ of the old style excelling in discus, shot-putt, tennis, Gaelic football and athletics.

But he was best known as a soccer player captaining Bohemians FC in the 1930s. He also earned one cap for Ireland in a match in 1935 against the Netherlands. We lost 5-3. On neither side of my family is there any tradition of participating in Gaelic games. My grandfather was quite dismissive of Gaelic football which he considered a primitive game, the rudiments of which he described as catching, kicking and fighting. My father David, was a decent player and was part of the first UCG team to win the Collingwood Cup in 1955. In later years he was involved with UCD soccer club, going on the famous trip to China in 1976 (curtailed due to the death of Chairman Mao) and welcoming the FAI Cup winning team to Leinster House in 1984 (picture attached). I still love the game although diving and feigning injuries totally switches me off. It’s the one apsect of the game that I cannot abide and is particularly prevalent in soccer. I think I can trace my disillusionment back to the Euros in 2004 and to one player in particular; Deco from Portugal. He was the Neymar of his day, rolling around like he’d been shot. That summer I had the good fortune to be at the Munster hurling final between Waterford and Cork in Thurles. Far from being a primitive game, the skill level and passion for the jersey was unreal (as they say in Waterford). Aficionados will remember the game for John Mullane’s red card and his emotional ‘I love me county’ interview afterwards. My best memory of that game was Ken McGrath’s fielding of a high ball in the last minute drawing a match-winning free. It was an antidote to the cynicism of the brand of soccer being played at that time at the highest level. The 2020 Euros so far have been pretty good. The new style of playing the ball out from the back is a far cry from the (primitive) long ball game of yesteryear. And nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see players getting yellow cards for blatant dives or dissimulation.

Finally, we can’t proceed without mentioning ‘taking the knee’. Of course, there will come a time when it no longer has any impact. I don’t believe we are there yet and that Hungarian fans booing the Irish soccer team for doing so is a disgrace. This is particularly so as Ireland is now fielding a number of first and second generation players of African extraction.

I know that my granduncle Paddy Andrews would have been delighted to see the game he loved contributing to the integration of new communities in Ireland.

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