Windsor Park – changed, changed utterly?

Does the name Kenneth McCallister ring a bell for sports minister  Caral Ní Chuilin?  I suspect it might. It’s the name of the central character in Marie Jones’s play, ‘A Night in November’, which as you probably know is about that famous night in 1993 when the Republic of Ireland turned up to play Northern Ireland in Windsor Park. If the Republic won, they got the pleasure of going to the World Cup finals in the US; if Northern Ireland won, they got the pleasure of stopping the Republic from going anywhere.  In the play, the  viciousness of the bigotry  at Windsor Park that night drives McCallister, himself a Protestant unionist, to question his political and social identity. The play’s a work of fiction, based on a jagged reality which was experienced by the small number of Republic supporters who turned up at Windsor to cheer their team but ended up afraid and suddenly aware how deeply sectarian hatred here runs.

Or ran.  Because we’re told that things have changed at Windsor Park. People who attend games there – unionists  I know – assure me they have. They say the sectarian singing, all the stuff about ‘up to our knees in Fenian blood’ – is  gone. C’est fini. Windsor Park now welcomes all sections of the community.

Maybe so.  I haven’t ever been to a game in Windsor Park so I don’t know. Why haven’t I been? Because I don’t support the Northern Ireland team.  If the Windsor Park crowd have stopped singing bigoted songs I’m glad,  for their sake more than mine. If they detest those who threatened to kill Neil Lennon if he played in Windsor Park, ditto.  But I still won’t feel any magnet of attraction pulling me to Windsor Park. To attend and cheer on the Northern Ireland team would, in some odd way, be to cheer on the notion of Northern Ireland as a state, and since like most nationalists/republicans I don’t really want a Northern Ireland state,  that wouldn’t make sense.

But now Caral Ní Chuilin has said she’s going to Windsor Park for the match between Northern Ireland and the Faroe Islands. Some unionists have praised her for so doing. The DUP’s David Hildich says it’s “courageous” and “a step forward”, although he feels it’s a pity she won’t be “enjoying all of the pre-match atmosphere”.  Translation: we’re glad she’ll be turning up, but  why can’t she come and stand for ‘God Save The Queen’ as well?  Some nationalists and republicans also think well of her for reaching out to unionism, others feel it’s a step too far. But didn’t Edwin Poots attend a Gaelic match – minus, of course, ‘Amhran na bhFiann’?  There’s a balance there, you know.

But let’s imagine Windsor Park as having stopped the chanting, stopped the union flags, maybe even left out ‘God Save The Queen’ – would nationalists then flock to it? Unlikely.  Sport and national identity are closely linked here,  a fact that seems to have escaped the N Ireland manager Nigel Worthington, who seems baffled by players like Darren Gibson opting to play for the south.

But the immediate question is not one about sport or even identity : it’s about respect,  for yourself as well as others. Caral Ní Chuilin is the sports minister so it’s right that she show respect for all sports,  including those not part of her cultural background, just as Edwin Poots showed respect for Gaelic games when he, as sports minister,  attended a game.  Poots was warmly received by the Gaelic games people. Under scrutiny now is whether, fresh from a semi-frenzy over the appointment of the sports minister’s special adviser, the Windsor Park crowd can prove there’s a day-and-night difference between 2011 and 1993.

12 Responses to Windsor Park – changed, changed utterly?

  1. Anonymous July 31, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    So the entire point of this is to remind people you seen a play once?
    Also the reason Northern Ireland fans are angry at players opting to play for the Republic has nothing to do with national identity, it is because these players came through the Northern Ireland youth system and then switched countries. Or maybe a sense if national identity only kicks in at age 18?

  2. Anonymous July 31, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    I am not sure what the point of this article is – you admit that you haven’t been to Windsor Park and base your opinion on it on a play..what exactly informs your narrative apart from having a condescending attitude towards unionists and N.I supporters?

    Perhaps you should attend a Northern ireland game before commenting on it from a distance – would make for a far more engaging blog than this…

  3. Anonymous July 31, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    Republicans will never support NI, it is pointless to try to convince them to.
    Caral Ní Chuilin said in an article with the Tele she will be cheering on Italy when NI play them.
    I’m sick and tired of the abuse and bile directed towards the NI team and their fans from ”journalists”, 99% of them have never set foot in Windsor.
    We are the best fans in the world.GAWA

  4. Anonymous July 31, 2011 at 6:08 pm #

    I think it is clear to everyone reading this ‘article’ who the real bigot is.

  5. Anonymous July 31, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

    You wrote: “a fact that seems to have escaped the N Ireland manager Nigel Worthington, who seems baffled by players like Darren Gibson opting to play for the south”.

    It´s probably just your ignorance but many of the players that have defected to the ROI team have represented Northern Ireland at all youth levels. It is rumoured that Newcastle United´s young full back Shane Ferguson is also about to defect to the ROI even though he has represented NI at senior level. So quite clearly the players don´t have a problem representing NI. Gibson himself said he would feel comfortable representing either Irish association.

    Playing for Northern Ireland doesn´t make you any less Irish. The fact I support Northern Ireland also doesn´t make me any less Irish. Irishness by definition is far broader than you would like to think Jude.

  6. Anonymous July 31, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

    Another pseudo-intellectual “blogger” who writes about something they know nothing about. If you are going to comment on something then at least have the courage to get off your backside, climb down from the Ivory Tower and go to Windsor Park before you spout this sort of nonsense…the play was bloody rubbish anyway!

    M Dickson.

  7. patiodev August 3, 2011 at 12:42 am #

    Firstly I note that most comments are anonymous, why?
    Secondly, the comments are typical off others I’ve read on the subject of international football on the island of Ireland. People blame the media, blame the players etc.
    I recently attended a game at the Aviva Stadium, Northern Ireland vs Scotland at the behest of my partner. During the introductions I heard the odd boo and shout off ‘fenian’ as certain players names were called out. As I stood there as a Catholic I couldn’t help but think if one of my relatives had been playing soccer at junior international level I may advise them to change associations. Yes, these shout were in a minority but each time I’ve queried this on forums rather than recognizing this may be problematic for catholic players and offering constructive support I’m accused on being agenda laden and being sectarian myself.

  8. Anonymous August 7, 2011 at 12:54 am #

    Jude…If you dont like the whole concept of Northern Ireland then just ignore it. Your opinion has no constructive value

    As for Patiodev….what a skewed view you have. The events at the Aviva were not normal for NI games, largely because an unregulated rabble was able to attend. That said, I was also at that game and didn’t hear any such “fenian” remarks….and you are bing extremely disingenuous to suggest that this is in some way normal. I sit in the most “rowdy” part of Windsor Park and NO ONE desribes our players as “Fenians”! Outrageous!


  9. Anonymous August 8, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    Ballysillancfc, at no time did I claim sectarian behaviour to be normal nor the norm, if you read my post ‘I heard the ‘ODD’ boo….’ In no way did I describe this behaviour as belonging to the majority of the crowd, but I heard what I heard.

    You accuse me off being skewed, and go on to claim that NOONE at Windsor park is sectarian; are you the thought police? It’s a large claim to make.
    Now to be ‘constructive’, by claiming criticism is skewed, destructive etc. maybe you like the IFA should listen and take on board what people have to say, maybe then players won’t jump associations. When NI fans ask why players leave, they might not like the answer but it doesn’t make the answer any less valid.
    You asked Jude to be constructive, I was pointing out that it may be constructive of the IFA to listen and take concerns raised as real.

  10. Anonymous October 14, 2011 at 11:58 am #

    I was there the night Anton Rogan was booed onto the pitch by his own fans, truly disgusting treatment of a man who still says if he had to do it again he would play for N.I.I put up with the bigotry all around me as I wanted to see top flight football but eventually I could stand it no longer. People can talk to they are blue in the face that Windsor has changed, I,ll never believe it. N.I. is a unionist team and a unionist entity and unionism remains the same. I wonder how their new found “tolerance” would stand up to 1000 away fans from the republic in their midst? I suspect not very well at all.As for the specious argument about the IFA wasting money on youth develop only to see “their” players play for the same nation who provide them with their passports I do not see too many tears being shed for the English FA who have provided shed loads of players to N.I.
    Windsor? I went many times but was left in no doubt that I was not one of them or indeed welcome, these days I,m happy when they lose.

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