INPHO/Donall Farmer
mind the gap

Letter from London: No political football as Irish fans feel at home

After all the hype, it was all about the game for the supporters in north London last night.

A SHANE LONG’s thunderous header rippled Joe Hart’s net, a charge of energy also rippled around the Wembley stands.

For just a moment, with the striker joyously looking to the heavens, it did seem like we were maybe on the verge of something special; an end result that might transcend the general ennui of a friendly international.

Of course, it couldn’t last.

England were a little too good, the season a little too long, the stakes a little too low.

As often as James McCarthy flattened Frank Lampard or Seamus Coleman blocked down an effort with his chest, it was always going to be difficult for Ireland’s full-blooded approach to bridge the quality gap. By the half-hour, the England number-eight had stole around the Irish defence to hit the equaliser.

He couldn’t, however, add any more and the respectability of the draw reflected the night as a whole.

If it didn’t end up the historic win that it might have been, it was a surprisingly enjoyable occasion. That is all the more positive given the potential for political problems that had been predicted beforehand.

There were, admittedly, a few boos when James McClean came on as consequence of his comments about the Poppy back in November. There were also reports of a few chants of ‘No Surrender’ on the tube on the way to the Wembley.

Far more reflective of the occasion in general, though, were the rest of the people on the underground. There were huge number of English accents with Irish jerseys, illustrating the deep — and ongoing — migration to the city. Despite the large number of supporters travelling from Ireland, that partly explained how the ‘away side’ dominated the stadium. It was the Irish fans that sang the loudest and also cheered the loudest.

Mercifully, there was no discernible booing of either national anthem, with chants like ‘you’re supposed to be at home’ instead showing a more playful, healthier rivalry. It was something Robbie Keane referred to before the game and, as one of the Irish migrants to have most immersed himself in London, he is well placed to discuss.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t always well placed on the pitch.

New era

If this game finally moved this very fixture on from the past after 18 years of looking back to 1995 and so much more, it also emphasised the progression of the team. A line hasn’t so much been drawn since Euro 2012 but definitively crossed. That side’s cycle is over. The likes of McCarthy, Coleman and Long are the team’s new core. They matched England respectably here.

Afterwards, Giovanni Trapattoni reflected on how his young side has matured and how games against this calibre of opposition will only further develop them. That was put into a rather interesting context by Roy Hodgson after the game as he said that England’s 4-4-2 was like Borussia Dortmund’s and that Brazil — England’s next opponents — play a “slightly different style of football”.

It wasn’t, of course, as clumsy as he intended but it did bring a few laughs in the press room.

It fit the mood of the night.

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