Football

Watch: RTÉ Documentary Details A Century Of A Divided Football Nation

Watch: RTÉ Documentary Details A Century Of A Divided Football Nation

The timing couldn't be more apt.

Tomorrow evening, May 22, RTÉ will air their latest sports documentary, Division: The Irish Soccer Split - the riveting story of how a once-united all-island football team split during the War of Independence and how the rivalry between the teams has reflected the political and social turmoil on the island.

Featuring insightful interviews with players from North and South: Niall Quinn, Gerry Taggart, Alan McLoughlin, Bryan Hamilton, Don Givens, Allan Hunter, Mick Lawlor and Brian Kerr, together with expert historical commentary and a wealth of video and photographic archive this fascinating film asks what the future holds for the beautiful game on this island.

Ireland’s one unified all-island rugby team excels on the international stage while two separate football teams often flounder, the documentary explores how we got to this point and asks if there’s any way back. In this 50-minute documentary Aidan Gillen, star of 'Game of Thrones' and 'Love/Hate' - whose grandfather was a founding member of the FAI - narrates the riveting story of how football in Ireland has a history almost as fractious as the country’s own past.

Our once-united all-island team split during the War of Independence and since then rivalry between the teams has reflected the political and social turmoil on the island. Featuring insightful interviews with players from North and South - Niall Quinn, Gerry Taggart, Alan McLoughlin, Bryan Hamilton, Don Givens, Allan Hunter, Mick Lawlor and Brian Kerr, together with expert historical commentary and a wealth of video and photographic archive - this fascinating film asks what the future holds for the beautiful game on this island.

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Over evocative archive footage and photos, key contributors tell the story of the origins of football in Ireland with the foundation of the Irish Football Association in Belfast in 1880, making it the fourth oldest association in the world. The game grew quickly in the South, but political tensions infiltrated the game, leading to the split and subsequent formation of the FAI in Dublin as the War of Independence raged in 1921.

The programme reveals that neither the FAI or the IFA were partitionist – both continued to ignore the border and chose players from North and South, including legendary player Johnny Carey. Remarkably through the political upheaval of the 1920s and '30s, the two associations came achingly close to reuniting. With several attempts failing at the final hurdle, the associations then didn’t talk for two decades.

Over archive news reports detailing the start of The Troubles in the late 1960s, former Republic of Ireland manager Brian Kerr explains that despite opposition from the IFA and FAI there was a chink of hope for a united Ireland football team. A match was announced for Lansdowne Road in July 1973 – a squad of players from both sides of the divide were selected to play as 'Shamrock Rovers XI' against arguably the greatest football team of all time, then three-time World Cup winners Brazil.

Over archive footage of the match itself ex-Northern Ireland internationals Bryan Hamilton and Allan Hunter recall their memories of playing in that incredible, once-in-a-lifetime occasion that happened at a particularly tumultuous period in Irish history.

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As the Troubles raged in the 1980s the fortunes of the Northern Irish football team provided light relief in the darkest of times. Former Northern Ireland international Gerry Armstrong reveals that the team felt they’d unified the country through their success at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups. Republic of Ireland legend Niall Quinn tells us that when the Republic made their mark on international football at the 1988 European Championships they were inspired by the success of Northern Ireland.

November 17, 1993 is a date that is etched in the memories of football fans across the country. Windsor Park, Belfast played host to the crucial USA ’94 World Cup qualifier match between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Just a month before this critical football fixture the IRA bombed a fish shop on the Shankill Road, killing eight people. This was followed by the murder of eight people attending a Halloween party in a bar in Derry by Ulster loyalists.

In all, twenty-six people were the fatal victims of the Troubles in October 1993. Using archive footage of tense scenes from that extraordinary night in November in Belfast, Niall Quinn recounts how Northern Ireland manager Billy Bingham whipped the fans up into a frenzy, with taunts of ‘Trick or Treat’ in the air, while Alan McLoughlin describes what it was like to score the all-important equaliser for the Republic.

This film asks will we ever again see an all-island football team. For the sake of the beautiful game, can we overcome almost 100 years of Division?

SEE ALSO: Exciting Ireland U21 Squad Named For Toulon Tournament

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