Soccer / ireland

Can we have Jack Grealish back now?
It's finally beyond doubt that political correctness has gone mad. An Englishman, born in England, reared in England and working in England has taken the blinkered, insular, and frankly, illiberal decision to play football for England. Baldly symptomatic of the broader geopolitical trend toward isolationism, Declan Rice's decision to play for his native country can be considered emblematic of the decline of the west and, much more significantly, as the full stop at the end of Irish football's obituary. What was he thinking? Rice could have been to millennials what Townsend, Lawrenson, or, dare I say it, Cascarino still represent to previous generations - at least if their Anglo-washed punditry personae are ignored - face it Mark you played for Ireland. Instead, his portrait will now hang in the national rogues' gallery alongside likenesses of disreputable sorts like back-stabber Scholes, Judas Gascoigne, and the apostate Kane. For most Irish people, stealing even a quick glance at such a harrowing collection is as painful as having one's eyeballs scratched out by a snow leopard. Somewhat fittingly the person most up in arms about Rice's decision is English-born, Irishman Kevin Kilbane. Ever since the controversy first broke Zinedine has draped himself in the tricolour of public patriotism to preach with such indignant conviction on Rice's effrontery as to almost transform a 20-year-old Londoner into a totem of 800 years of Anglo-Irish relations. Tóg go bog é (take it easy). As an assertion of "Irishness", Rice's childhood promise made to an ageing grandparent is pretty flimsy and is certainly nowhere near the renunciation of his "Englishness" that Kilbane would like it to have been. It was a moment in time, and unfortunately for Ireland, that time has passed. Indeed, if the roles were reversed I wonder what position Kilbane would have taken. In any emotive case, dispassionate analysis is difficult but also necessary. So, let's be honest if a promising young Irish-born player with non-competitive England caps had declared for Ireland we'd be cock-a-hoop about it. We certainly show no compunction about poaching the likes of James McClean or Shane Duffy from Northern Ireland or even about asserting it as our inalienable right to do so. This, of course, is dangerously choppy water infused with centuries of identity-based dispute and as such the parallels to Declan Rice's case are inexact, but what does stand, especially when considered in light of our enthusiastic exploitation of the "Grandparent rule", is a manifest willingness to work the system to our best advantage. It's more than a bit rich, therefore, to play the innocent victim when the system bites back. Nevertheless, we are now lumbered with a midfield of Harry Arter, Jeff Hendrick, and Cyrus Christie (actually on second thoughts f*ck it, we should be allowed to play the victim) and as such we clearly need to find at least one scapegoat to pillory. First up, Martin O'Neill. It was O'Neill's principled stance, some would say myopic obduracy, concerning the sanctity of international football, which brought all this to a head in the first place. Why didn't we just cap Rice? After all, we had next to no chance of actually qualifying given the death-like predictability of our stone age football, so why not build for the future? I'll tell you why; because the Mourinho-like double pivot of O'Neill and Roy Keane had slunk into the strand of lazy self-referential conservatism most comfortable with navel gazing at their own past glories - that's why. Next up, West Ham's shameful peddler of pornography, David Gold. Ever since Rice began to string together a series of Beckenbauer-ian performances, typified by the cool authority and hint of arrogance which distinguishes top-level players from, well, any of Ireland's current crop, the purveyor of smut has been busily prostituting his opinion on Rice like a loose-lipped media rent-boy at a rent-a-quote orgy. Bear in mind that at a time when he was still technically an Irish international, Rice was openly touted as a future England captain and all but anointed as Bobby Moore's heir apparent by the sticky-fingered businessman. Given the public nature of such proclamations, it's easy to draw the conclusion that behind the scenes Rice was under considerable pressure from his employers to commit his future to England. While from a purely commercial standpoint declaring for England made sense to both parties, it's hard to ignore the disrespectful, antagonistic and unethical tactics which seem to have precipitated the ultimate decision. Of course, for all of Gold's husky-voiced sweet-nothings, none of this would have been possible without the intervention of the waistcoated-talent-predator heretofore known to most as Gareth Southgate, but now known in Ireland exclusively as that feckin' good-for-nothing gobshite Southgate. Already, by guiding England to the verge of World Cup glory through a mix of sartorial elegance, boyish grins, and losing to any moderately decent opposition, the one time Pizza Hut ambassador had reduced the Irish nation to a gibbering wreck. By going one further and using his best Lord Kitchener impersonation to recruit Rice he tipped us over the babbling edge into a full-on state of drooling incontinent fury. The Republic of Ireland, as the football team is known, exists only as a Narnia-like dreamscape of mythologised identity or as a psyche crystallised by our shared imagination into a place beyond maps. The idiosyncrasy of Ireland playing as the Republic of Ireland is quirkily appropriate as the diasporic makeup of the national side makes it an essentially borderless entity and in some ways, therefore, more imagined than real. What is real however is what the side means. As a collective shared experience, the greatest moment in Irish sport will forever be when David O'Leary's penalty settled in the back of the Romanian net at Italia '90. As a child, I remember genuinely believing, if only for a moment, that Ireland were actually going to win the World Cup. All these years later, I know that I'll never experience that again, to be honest, these days I'd be happy if we could pass the ball 5 yards without spontaneously combusting. Despite such reduced horizons the important thing is that I had that moment and it was all down to a patchwork team stitched together by the hybrid "Republic of Irish" identity. Declan Rice is "Republic of Irish" but that doesn't prevent him from also being English and from therefore being well within his rights to wear the three lions. The issue though was never his right to do so, it was more that people felt he had reduced his version of Irishness to a convenient backup identity, to something he could revert to if he wasn't quite good enough for England. Even this may be something of a red-herring. By deconstructing "Republic of Irish" identity into something which isn't necessarily a romantic expression of some deepseated Celtic consciousness, Rice effectively distilled the mythology of our diasporic soul into the cold prosaic realism of expediency. Well, that got depressing, I'm off to rewatch Ray Houghton's header against England on a continuous month-long loop to console myself. Wait, what d'ya mean he's Scottish?