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Football in Northern Ireland: a torn country, a torn team


The German national team plays in the European Championship qualification in Northern Ireland. There, the conflict between Catholics and Protestants has also influenced football for many years. This still works today.

There is not much left of the glory of what was once the most successful Northern Ireland club. Where once the Belfast Celtic FC once played, today stands a large shopping center. Sandwiched between the supermarket chains of Iceland and B & M is the small "Belfast Celtic Museum", reminiscent of the great time of the association in the Catholic West of the city. The shop window displays some old black-and-white photographs, some of the trophies won by the club, and two, three yellowed newspaper clippings can be seen. And of course, the green and white striped jersey, the FC Celtic from Glasgow modeled after.

The story of fame and fall of Belfast Celtic FC is the history of Northern Ireland, the tornness of this land. It is the story of hatred and enmity between Catholics and Protestants, between those loyal to Ireland and those who belong to the United Kingdom. A story that also touches the Northern Ireland national football team - until today.

From the shopping center to Windsor Park, the stadium where the Northern Ireland national team will play their European Championship qualifier on Monday night against Germany (20.45 RTL, Liveticker SPIEGEL), it's about a 20-minute walk. 20 minutes, crossing an invisible border. Go down Donegall Road, then turn off onto Donegall Avenue, past Pembroke Street and Kitchener Drive, and the further you go, the more Union Jack flags are planted in the front yard. On the houses, inscriptions unequivocally announce where you are: "Loyalist Village," Windsor Park is a stronghold of Protestants, loyalists, those who firmly stand by the British kings and categorically reject the Irish nationalism of Catholics.

Ideologically charged derby

At Windsor Park, not only the national team, but also FC Linfield, is regarded as a loyalist club. The Belfast derbies between Linfield and Celtic were ideologically charged, Catholics against Protestants, Irish versus Unionists, and before World War II, both clubs vied to be number one in the city. Enmity escalated on Boxing Day 1948 at Windsor Park, as both teams went out with brutality.

John Sibley / REUTERS

Northern Ireland football hero George Best on a mural in Belfast

When a Linfield player was fractured in a duel, spectators rushed after Celtic attacker Jimmy Jones after the final whistle, beating him to the point that he, too, broke his leg. The club leadership of Celtic then decided to a radical cut. They completely withdrew the club from the game operation. A whereabouts in the league players and supporters unreasonable. Since 1949, for now 70 years, there is no more the top club Belfast Celtic. Only in the museum.

The Northern Ireland conflict, he has repeatedly influenced football in the country, burdened. Until the 1990s, Linfield FC was banned from Catholic players, and the national team was a refuge for Protestants just through its venue, Windsor Park. Sports historian Dietrich Schulze-Marmeling, who has devoted himself extensively to the subject of football in Northern Ireland, writes, "International matches have become exclusively Protestant gatherings and protests of Protestant loyalty."

Although there have been some Catholic players in the Northern Ireland team in the past: goalie legend Pat Jennings, 1982 FIFA World Cup winner Donaghy or Irish national coach Martin O'Neill. But they were the exceptions. Instead, Northern Irish footballers who grew up in Catholic Belfast repeatedly opted to run aground for the Republic of Ireland. The Northern Irish have the option to play for the South as well, and they have been perceived. James McClean, Shane Duffy and Eunan O'Kane are Northern Irish but currently playing for the Republic.

Atmosphere at Windsor Park calms down

The deterring example of Neil Lennon will have encouraged her. The international was not only Catholic, he also played for the Unionists hated club FC Celtic in Glasgow. The Glasgow rivalry between Catholic FC Celtic and the Protestant Rangers was and is being passionately accompanied and continued in Northern Ireland, and Linfield FC plays in Rangers club colors. Lennon received death threats and resigned with tears from the national team. The whole thing was not sometime in the sixties, but in 2002. The "Guardian" wrote over his then text to: "The Great divide". The big gap.


Neil Lennon as Celtic coach in front of a Rangers flag

Today, the national team is overseen by Michael O'Neill, a Catholic. Under him, increasingly Catholic players decided to run aground for the Northern Irish: Shane Ferguson, Conor McLaughlin or Niall McGinn. This is also a result of the increased efforts of the IFA association, which sought to calm the conflict with campaigns such as "Football for All", in its own best interests: to stop losing its talents to the Republic. This is now showing success, and the atmosphere in Windsor Park has calmed down significantly in recent years.

Which does not mean that the age-old conflict does not continue to boil below the surface. In the mall's sports shop, where formerly the Catholic Belfast Celtic FC celebrated its successes, football jerseys are also available for purchase: those of the Irish national team and those of Celtic Glasgow.

Source: spiegel

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