Monday, 13 June 2016

EURO 2016: The luck of the Irish?

The UEFA EURO 2016 tournament has now kicked off in France.  Unusually, three UK home nations (and members of the International Football Association Board) have qualified for the finals this time - England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.  Even more unusually, perhaps, both teams from Ireland have qualified, as the Republic of Ireland are also in the finals, starting their campaign later on today against Sweden.  The issue of split football associations interests us here at soccer-mad-boffins, as it represents exceptions to usual the FIFA rule that one 'nation' must only be represented by one FA.  Apart from Ireland, splits were most common when nations were partitioned during the Cold War - North and South Korea, and China and Taiwan being prominent examples, along with East and West Germany, who famously met in Hamburg during the 1974 World Cup.  In the only finals appearance to date of two teams from partitioned countries, the East won 1-0, but the West would go on to win the competition.

Ireland's split was intriguing because the Northern Irish FA still calls itself the Irish Football Association, and both it and the Football Association of Ireland, formed just before partition in 1921 both fielded teams under the name 'Ireland' until the late 1940s.  Both teams still play in green, can call up players from both sides of the border (though they often play in English football), and are managed by an M. O' Neil; indeed both might legitimately represent Irish hopes of tournament success.  Any sense of animosity now seems to have subsided as both sets of fans were pictured partying together in Paris.  There is the possibility of Northern Ireland and the Republic meeting later in the tournament, perhaps in the Quarter Finals if both teams win their groups and the following second round matches although this now looks unlikely as Northern Ireland lost their opening match to Poland 1-0.  Any such meeting would only be the second between two partitioned nations in a major finals to our knowledge.  Helpfully, BBC Northern Ireland have produced a short video to encourage further confusion between the two teams, which is probably best viewed after a pint or two of McGrath's Irish Black Stout!

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