Tuesday 15 January 2019

Stag or Drag: Some Thoughts on the Rice Conundrum

Ireland or England? For most occupants of the Islands of Britain and Ireland that question is a no brainer. Born of Irish emigrants, I grew up in Essex until I was ten and then made the move back to the Emerald Isle. Yes, I supported England as a kid and Ireland as an adult, the apparent contradiction of which has never really troubled me. It may seem strange to some, but you can have an allegiance to both while also being 100% committed to either.

Add in the club piece and suddenly the Irish perspective on football gets weird - rabid Irish fans of Man United can cheer with venom against those same players when they turn out for England! Personally, I don't think that I could ever cheer against a Hammer, no matter what country they might be playing for. And therein lies a key point, For many serious football fans the International thing is just a sideshow, a mere titillation that keeps us amused during every second Summer recess. Matches in which our greatest concern is that our star players don 't pick up an injury.

Yes, I am still aggrieved about Dean Ashton's career ending injury whilst on duty with England and yes, I did tremble with sadness when he scored that delightful overhead kick goal in Mark Noble's testimonial - reminding us of the tremendous talent that we were denied. And while we are on the subject, Diafra Sakho was a thorough menace to opposition defences until that controversial international break with Senegal in which he aggravated a back injury and was never the same again.

In short, Club football is where it is at and in reality neither Ireland nor England are likely to win anything of significance during the next decade. If you accept that, then its a question of where the better deal lies for those of mixed allegiance - the FAI are an amateurish outfit, prone to bad preparation and a variety of other gaffes, but ultimately the Boys in Green stick together, no big notions, no superstars, no media humiliations after poor results. Declan will know that from his time through the underage system and in the three friendlies he has appeared in to date.

In contrast, non-English observers watch with awe as the circus around each tournament unfolds. Initially inflated as major prospects, inevitably the nastier element starts to creep in and by the end of most tournaments the England squad need to go into hiding to escape the vitriol from the tabloid media. Gareth Southgate has escaped that so far, but would anyone bet that the European championships don't bring a fall from grace with all the associated unpleasantness, so much of which seems unnecessarily personal and often plain vicious.

As an Irish hammer I'd love to see Declan opt for Ireland, partly because of a sense of patriotism and the sense of hope that a player of his tremendous ability would bring to a team that at present is short on talent but big in heart. In addition, as a Hammer you want him to be happy and to dodge the bullet that is being an English international caught in the eye of the tabloids.

Maybe the final word on the matter should go to Jason McAteer who, when asked about what it was like returning to Liverpool after international duty explained that Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman would return from England duty usually quite sedate, sometimes crestfallen. In comparison, McAteer described usually feeling fully refreshed and ready for club action after what he described as 'like going on a stag weekend'!

No brainer then, I guess!

BTW Happy 20th Birthday Declan and Thank you for Saturday - we got to witness the loudest and most sustained moment of Hammers joy since the move to Stratford. Every man and his dog could sense that something really significant had just occurred and we loved it! 


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