If you have 45 minutes going spare today, be sure to have a listen to Stan Collymore's latest episode of his podcast The Last Word, where he sits down with former Republic of Ireland captain, Andy Townsend.
Townsend is a perfect example of why national identity is not a simple black and white issue. Born to English parents, Townsend was a proud Londoner but one who had a deep respect for his Irish grandmother.
Was he bleeding green and singing rebel songs every night? No, but when Jack Charlton came calling it was an offer he could not refuse. Townsend explains to Collymore:
In 1988 when I was at Norwich it was Jack who first came to me. Jack said "Listen, you're absolutely ideal for what I need...
I hadn't been going over to Ireland morning, noon and night as a kid, I was a south London boy but I was very aware of my family history.
His grandmother had emigrated to London and married an Englishman. She had hoped to live a happily married life but as Townsend details, all did not go to plan.
"He [Townsend's grandfather] scarpered. He cleared off and he left my nan in a very difficult scenario with four kids. Coming from Ireland, we're talking around war time here. Not an easy period."
Her fortitude was something that had touched Townsend and, coupled with the prospect of playing with an extremely talented Irish squad, left him in no doubt when Charlton asked him to pledge his allegiance.
Of course I was genuinely excited about that [playing with great players] but I had that little story simmering along in the background that also meant a lot and in many ways it was the icing on the cake for me, to actually know that I wanted to do this.
Townsend would go on to become part of the greatest period in Irish football history, earning 70 caps and captaining the team in USA 94.
When chatting to Collymore he delves into a time that he clearly adored. Townsend relages him with stories of what it was like to play under Jack, why it was so different to the England set-up and how dedicated the Irish fans became.
"We knew we were on the cusp of something, something very good. And it became such an amazing experience. The support sends shivers down my spine now when I think about it, when I think about what went on in 1990."
Ireland fans!! ☘️
Superb interview, with Andy Townsend, Irish skipper in 94, and who’s played in Ireland’s two of three World Cups to date.
Today’s Last Word 🙌🏽
Here, he dares anyone to challenge the Irish diasporas Irishness...☘️
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— Stan Collymore (@StanCollymore) October 15, 2019
In terms of animosity towards him as an English born player, Townsend can almost count on one hand the amount of times he was confronted but when it did happen it left a scar.
In ten years I think you can count five or six times that I had someone throw that [being English] back at me. A fan, not a player. It hurt, I would immediately jump on the front foot and tell them where to go and if they kept on then I would have been prepared to really properly stand my ground...
I used to sting because I knew how much I had given in order to be there every time, to play every game. I was the Irish captain for many many years. The responsibility of taking on that and then when someone turns around and throws you dog's abuse, it does hurt.
However, those occasions were few and far between, and Townsend knows he has nothing to apologise for: "There is no way anybody can ever point their finger at me, being from south London, and say 'You didn't pull your weight.'"
I'm very lucky to have been part of an incredible chapter in Irish sporting history. And whenever I'm over in Dublin it's lovely. I get very well received. I don't get as many free drinks as I used to now that I'm older but we get so well received.
And people still talk about us, Stan. They still talk about us with a passion. I think the Irish fans have got a unique love for their team, whether they win, lose or draw.
I love these interviews because players are straight, honest, shackles off.
A really interesting Andy Townsend interview today, give it a listen, fascinating insight into that Ireland team of 1990/94 and the characters from Brady to Keane.
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— Stan Collymore (@StanCollymore) October 14, 2019
The majority of the podcast centres around Townsend's international career and includes some other great little tidbits. There's his brilliant description of the night Jack made him his new captain:
"He's come up to me in the warm-up. Mick's knackered now. Paul doesn't want it. You'll have to be captain."
There's also his perspective on his favourite moment in his football career, the penalty shoot-out against Romania in Italia 90.
As the third penalty taker, Townsend describes how he felt walking up to take the shot, the ecstacy of winning the shoot-out and the story of his parents watching at home:
My mum's ran up the garden. She can't handle it. My dad was shouting down the garden to her that I'd scored.
To this day, even though he lives in England, Townsend still has an affinity to the Irish team and its supporters:
They've got a love of the shirt, they've got a love of supporting their country and I think once you've played, once you've worn that green shirt, I don't think it can ever leave you.
When I turn up at the stadium now I still get goosebumps. I still get that feeling when I hear the roar go up just after kick-off. And if they win I still get that warm feeling that takes me back 30 years to when I was playing.
The whole podcast is well worth listening to, either by searching 'The Last Word' on any podcast app or you can watch the video of the interview below.