Northern Ireland will follow Iceland’s lead out of football wastelands

The refrain that there should be an “all-Ireland” team every time Northern Ireland lose is familiar and yet, like so many familiar refrains, nonsense. Northern Ireland is in fact the smallest team to have advanced at a World Cup, and has done so not once but twice (in entirely separate generations). 1.8 million people isn’t many to choose from, but the evidence clearly shows it has been enough in the past to reach the knock-out stages of the World Cup, and so obviously it could be so again.

In fact, it is the usual thing of taking a problem and applying a completely ludicrous simplistic solution, and then repeating ad nauseum (a bit like the way England’s misfortunes are always blamed, completely contrary to the evidence, on foreigners in the Premier League). This may make us feel good, but it doesn’t actually get us anywhere!

Proof comes from our near neighbours to the north, Iceland, who with a population of 328,000 (roughly the same as Belfast City Council alone), has reached the European Play-offs to qualify for Brazil 2014. Getting to within a single tie of a World Cup for such a small country is unheard of, and yet few who saw its team perform during the group would deny the team thoroughly deserved its second place. This should beg an obvious question to the IFA and to Northern Ireland fans – how?

Positive Mental Attitude, that’s one thing. A foreign coach with a record of past qualification (Swede Lars Lagerback) is another (what was that about foreigners?!)

Icelandic journalist Vidir Sigurdson really lets us in on the secret, however: he talks in The Guardian of the overhauling of Iceland’s infrastructure from 2000, which saw a range of artificial pitches built across Iceland and an emphasis put on small-sided games to improve the technique of young players. Alongside this, there was also a drive to increase the number of homegrown Uefa-qualified coaches, which has also borne fruit.

So there you go, Crusaders was closest!

In all seriousness, over at Social Club NI they give us the good news is that the IFA has recognised this, even if only recently. Artificial pitches are the way forward and it is quite possible the professional game will be played entirely on them by the middle of the century. As for youth football, it should all be 5-a-side or 7-a-side (which does mean overhauling facilities to enable this) – there is simply no point in an 11-a-side match where one team just barges the other out of the way and there is no skill remotely involved. Good coaching is also essential.

It can be done, and the evidence is it will take 12 years. So we’ll just miss Qatar, which may not be such a bad thing…

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10 thoughts on “Northern Ireland will follow Iceland’s lead out of football wastelands

  1. Nice to see some optimism and I sincerely hope you’re correct (not too bothered about missing Qatar though, was in Doha in July, was like standin’ in a massive hair-dryer, near fainted).

    Do you really consider us a nation of 1.8 million though when it comes to football?

    We’ve had X amount head down south, and a fair whack of the population follows the Republic.

    GSTQ, the fleg and Windsor are three obstacles to greater involvement for people of a Catholic background (the majority population of a sporting age) and the main reasons for not addressing these topics are pretty much along the lines of “from ma cold dead hands…”.

    We’ll just be helping to train some of the stars of the Republic’s footballing future.

    Sorry, I hope i’m wrong but till those issues are resolved then it’s hard to see how we can maximise our potential of 1.8 million people (more like 900 000 ish)

    • Most Northerners, regardless of background, play for NI. It’s a vast exaggeration to suggest all Catholics play for the Republic.

      That said, of course you are right that Windsor Park will never be “hallowed turf” to a boy from the Bogside and GSTQ will never rouse a lad from Lenadoon. There are obvious changes which, if we were serious about a Northern Ireland of 1.8 million, we would make.

      There I am less optimistic. Your own post re Uniomist blinkers re flags is a classic case as to why!

      As ever, so goes society so goes football.

  2. Chris Roche says:

    Mulroney says: Another deluded dispatch from Reichsmarschall von Parsley’s Fuhrerbunker as the Green Army hoists the Tricolour on the shattered dome of the Reichstag Building and Hitler’s ashes spit angry sparks over his petrol-doused blackened corpse in the Chancellery garden as exploding shells fall like rain on the ruins of Berlin even as squadrons of Sinn Fein planes drop leaflets from the sky advising the defeated bug-eyed zealots to lay down their arms and accept the unshakable will of the Democracies. “Ve vill sweep the Hibernian hordes into the sea! Our secret veapons bases in Iceland vill vipe the vicked enemies of Fleg Fascism off the face of the Vorld!”
    Anticipating the usual guffy retort about wee norniron’s contribution to the war effort, I would remind Mr Clutching-at-Straws Parsley that the Irish have won 200 hundred Victoria Crosses since the medal’s inception during the Crimean War, and all 200 have been won by Catholics from the southern part of our 32-county nation; not a single Union Fleg kissing Pullie has ever had the balls (nice soccer allusion, don’t you think) to win oul Queen Victoria’s bronze VC!

    • James Campbell says:

      Chris, that is a nonsense, as alittle bit of research would have shown. First one I looked up was Eric Bell, then David Bell, Lord Beresford, Edward Bingham, – and that’s just the B’s. You do your cause no credit.

  3. James Campbell says:

    I think the last Irish VC was awarded to Jim Maginnis from Belfast who was treated with its usual generosity of spirit by the City Corporation. I think it took 50 years and a lot of external lobbying before his achievement was acknowledged.

  4. boondock says:

    Ok where to start with this. First of all off the top of my head Trinidad got to a world cup and Im almost certain they are a smaller country than N.Ireland so Im sure there are others too. Im not trying to have a go but using populations figures regarding performance is meaningless, Uruguay has a population of 3 million yet has qualified 11 times and won the thing twice! As for Iceland they are there because the draw was extremely kind to them their group contained Switzerland, Slovenia, Norway, Cyprus and Albania not one of those teams is any good so more luck than positive attitude to be honest. If N.Ireland got a simialr draw then they would have a chance. Lets not forget they should have qualified a few years back under Sanchez until he ditched the team and then the team choked against a couple of minnows.
    Northern Irelands other problem is the attitude of a number of the current players first of all they seem to raise their game against the better teams but then against the whipping boys they go to sleep also every time there is a friendly just see how many of these committed players cry off injured. Why is that happening????
    An all Ireland team isnt nonsense it makes sense and works well in pretty much every other sport on this island however I agree that it is unlikely to happen any time soon.
    AmG is right that Northern Ireland must become a welcolme place for all if N.Ireland is to get to the top again and 3 simple issues would go along way flag (not again), anthem and venue, unfortunately the IFA refuse to do anything and the fact that Windsor is to be redeveloped has pretty much shot that chance down for a generation or 2.
    Granted not every catholic plays for the Republic but in the past players didnt have or didnt know they had a choice (Jennings, ONeil, Donaghy, Armstrong etc). The IFA kind of scored an own goal when they tried to block a couple of players from playing for the Republic, the court of arbitration for sports and FIFA sided with the FAI and suddenly the grey area became perfectly clear that someone from Northern Ireland could actually play for either team. The better players have made that switch (Gibson, McLean,Wilson etc ). No harm to the likes of McGinn, Ferguson, Clingan, McCourt etc but they just wouldnt get near the Rep team so have made the sensible decision to play for N.Ireland to try and further their careers. Unfortunately things wont change until the IFA wake up!

    • Thanks for joining us – a great rant!

      The only thing I would say is that it is unfair to pin all the blame on the IFA. *Society* dictates, with its sectarian poison, that we should never give an inch – even when it’s in our own interests. There’s only so much the IFA can do about that on its own.

      PS: I wrote “advanced *at*”, not “advanced to”. It is correct that Trinidad and Tobago has a smaller population than NI (although, frankly, they also have a much easier qualification route).

      • boondock says:

        Glad you liked it.
        As a child I used to follow Northern Ireland then as a teenager due to the success under Charlton I started following the Republic but I still wanted Northern Ireland to do well, these days Im rapidly losing interest in both teams and I lay the blame directly at the incompetent suits in Dublin and Belfast.
        I admit it maybe asking alot for the IFA to sort out all the countries problems but there are definitely things they can do. If we look at the 3 issues I mentioned.
        1. The flag
        In fairness I think their hands are tied on this issue until Stormont agrees to a new flag which wont happen soon if at all. In the past they did play under the flag of St Patrick which might be a good option to become more neutral
        2. The anthem
        This is such a simple thing to do, danny boy like it or not being the obvious choice. I believe the IFA refuse to budge because they are afraid of upsetting the more extreme element among the supporters. Thankfully this part of the GAWA is becoming less and less so why try and appease a small number and prevent marketing the team to a much wider audience is beyond me. Gerry Armstrong carried out some research on the subjuect and reported back to the suits that an anthem change would make no difference -@#$%&? Who was he asking? There are several ex-players who have gone on record saying that they felt uncomfortable about it, Paul McVeigh blogged about it several times.
        3. The Venue
        This is another issue handled really badly. The IFA have been given funding for a once in a lifetime development opportunity and they have failed to grasp that opportunity. Without even going into detail about the dodgy deal with Linfield the money should have been used to build a new ground in a neutral area, why this isnt being done is anyones guess.
        I could go on but Ill stop ranting for now. The only bit of good news is that the next Euros is 24 teams so that considerably increases the chances of qualifying

      • I fiercely support the NI team, but agree with you on all three points 100%. Since I do fiercely support it, it makes it all the more frustrating.

        A new flag isn’t difficult really – I myself have advocated a mid-blue diagonal cross on green.

        A new anthem isn’t either – Danny Boy maybe, although I’ve always thought a variation on “The Town I Remember Well” (the verse about “a bright brand new day”) may be better, and easier to sing!

        A new stadium – well, like you say, the chance was there. I myself can’t warm to Windsor Park – a particular club I don’t support plays there for a start – so why on earth would any even half-Nationalist?! I wish them well with the “Stadium for All” re-development, but I just can’t imagine it’ll move us more than a few percentage points in the right direction even if all goes well.

        In fairness, I think the IFA was for the new stadium and there are progressive voices in there who would definitely support the other two. As ever, however, promoting, delivering and managing change are no easy tasks.

  5. Exactly Boondock!

    3 obstacles and a potential greater sporting future.

    Sounds very similar to a recent rant I had regarding the GAA too…

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