Irish domestic football has often struggled to maintain support and many cite the support of English teams as the primary reason for this, however, supporting English football should not stop people from going to League of Ireland games. It has become a lazy criticism. It’s true that our national league needs improvement but fans supporting teams from abroad are not the problem. There is a stark difference in quality between the two leagues which is only natural considering their respective resources. People should be free to support who they like without the wrath of national league fans.
Trips to Manchester and Liverpool have become a routine for many Irish fans. If you find yourself in Dublin airport on the eve of a weekend of Premier League football, you’d be hard pressed to not find fans donning their Manchester United or Liverpool merchandise. It is an exciting journey and one we shouldn’t feel guilty about. Football should be something to be enjoyed and it should not be our duty to solely support our own country’s league. The argument that we are somehow betraying our culture and our national identity by attending British football games has been worn out at this stage and ignores the amicable relationship between the two countries now.
Going to a 60,000 seater stadium to see some of the best players in the world is something you can’t do in Ireland. We shouldn’t begrudge those who want to see the best football. The Irish league certainly has its benefits like considerably cheaper tickets and less travel but in terms of pure quality, it is miles behind and while we certainly should not abandon it for this reason, it is understandable why so many people follow the English league instead.
Irish fans supporting English teams is not exclusive to modern football. There is a long standing affiliation between Irish fans and British clubs such as Celtic, Leeds, Manchester United and Liverpool. There are many families in Ireland that have had the tradition of supporting clubs like Manchester United passed down to them. The same sort of good natured banter can be heard in a south County Dublin School on the Monday morning after a Manchester United vs Liverpool as you would find in any British school. Some of Ireland’s greatest ever players have made their name playing for English teams. The likes of Liam Brady, Roy Keane and Damien Duff have had great success overseas and are representative of the strong Irish connection in the premier league.
Much of the current Irish national team ply their trade in the top tier of English football. The likes Seamus Coleman and Shane Long have been very successful Premier League players and now play consistently for established teams in Everton and Southampton respectively. We can’t ignore the fact that English football has played a major part in developing our national players. All but three of the latest Republic of Ireland squad currently play in England. Jonathon Hayes plays in Scotland while Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle play in America.
The idea of going to our local Irish club on a regular basis is a habit that should be encouraged. It is important for us to give our own league more support. However, those that make the trip overseas should not be treated with the disdain they often are. We should not be restricted by what country we are from. If Irish fans were donning the Union Jack while singing ‘God save the Queen’ or bowing down to a statue of Oliver Cromwell that there would be reason to be concerned but choosing to support a football team that isn’t Irish should not be treated in the same vain.