FOR the past few weeks the Ireland-England game has been a source of constant conversation for us Irish people living over here.
Well, not the game itself. We’ve heard hardly anyone talk about that.
Instead it’s all, “Fifty-five quid a ticket!” and “Where’ll be the best place to get a pint before?” or, most regularly, “You don’t think there’ll be trouble, will there?”
Usually we tell each other: “Nah, the Met have too much experience with all that”. That, and hooliganism isn’t what it used to be, nor is the aggro between the two nations.
…But there is still a niggling wariness.
If we had to bet money, we’d say the game will pass off in a lazy post-season haze.
Though if somebody offered us attractive odds that it could all kick off and set Anglo-Irish relations back a couple of decades, well then we’d be interested.
There are far too many possible combustible variables in the mix to be entirely confident that this will be just another low-key friendly international.
Some of these include:
• There are lots of London clubs with a “No surrender” contingent, Chelsea, Millwall and West Ham being the most obvious.
• Lots of smaller clubs around the country have a number of similarly minded fans who, not blessed with an overwhelming level of intelligence, are still capable of finding their way to the capital city.
• The fact the game is in England means the usual police policy of confiscating passports of known hooligans is redundant. These top-boy-proper-naughty-geezer types don’t have to negotiate customs to get to Wembley.
• “No surrender” has had a bit of an airing at recent England games.
• Some Ireland fans might respond in kind with a few bars of any one of a number of Jungle terrace anthems from back in the day, and before we know it, we are back in the day.
• There has been varying degrees of violent conflict between England and Ireland since the late 12th century.
That last point, we believe, is the most relevant. For all of the political progress that has been made since, for example, the last time these sides played in 1995, the greater narrative is one of strife.
The historical ill-feeling between the countries is, to a large extent, the reason you can sell a lot of tickets for an unimportant match.
That is also the reason why there will be battalions of cops on duty for this match, their brief to ensure that the rivalry doesn’t manifest itself physically.
Because the last time we played, it did. And, crucially, it was the England fans who tore up half the top deck of the West Stand at Lansdowne Road and rained the debris down on the Irish support below.
If any trouble arises tonight, it is virtually unthinkable that it will be started by Ireland fans. The danger is that Ireland fans could be the target of a minority of daft, aggressive home supporters.
The threat, though, is relatively minor and should not stop fans going to watch their team in Wembley and enjoying themselves in the locality afterwards.
Genuine football people from both sides of the Irish Sea have a lot more in common than differences. The tone should not be set by the lunatic fringe. No surrender to the thugs.