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My kids are supporting England in the Euros and I need to get over it

We’ll be a house divided on Wednesday as my instinct will be to cheer the Oranje men

My kids are just supporting England in 'this' Euros. If the Irish team compete in future Euros, my boys will get behind them. Photograph: Richard Pelham/Getty Images

It started at the end of June when Scotland were cruelly knocked out of the Euros. I was expressing my dismay at our neighbour’s defeat when one of my sons said simply: “England are our neighbours too and they’re still in. We’re going for them.” Younger brother appeared to be going along with it.

There’s no arguing with geography, but the hand of history can weigh heavily, and it was a mild surprise to find out the kids haven’t inherited the ancestral prejudices.

Sure, we don’t have skin in the game, due to Ireland’s failure to qualify, but are there ever really any neutrals when it comes to football and these islands? It’s complicated.

Himself is from Cork and all about hurling, so not that concerned with other sports right now. I’m a Troubles-era Derry person. How can I put this delicately? When we were youngsters no one would have had to tell us that supporting England in a football match was “not the done thing”. It must have been unconsciously bred into us.


I’m also a sentimental Evertonian because my dad was a fan; so g’wan goalkeeper Jordan Pickford – I told you this was complicated. We both wish the England team and its supporters no ill will whatsoever. But we won’t be joining in with the kids’ celebrations if England defeat the Netherlands on Wednesday. We’ll be a house divided, as my instinct will be to cheer the Oranje men (again, complicated).

Examining my feelings around this is more than slightly embarrassing. At the risk of falling back on the “some of my best friends are English” cliche, I am truly ashamed about how uncomfortable English people watching sport in public in Ireland can be made to feel. I’m surely not part of that, am I?

I was studying in England when the wistful anthem Three Lions, with its yearning “it’s coming home” refrain was first released, and within a year a Labour landslide had swept the Tories out of power. Sound familiar? I sometimes felt conflicted during that so-called Cool Britannia period, but I’m mostly nostalgic about what was an essentially optimistic time.

I suppose our kids are too young to have learned about what we might euphemistically refer to as Ireland’s troubled history with England.

Naturally, they know and admire many of the English players, and can list a bamboozling number of statistics about them. They can give you chapter and verse about how several members of the English team could have played for Ireland through the grandparent rule but chose not to because “our team is terrible”, apparently.

Sad to say, the boys in green have brought my boys no moments of pride in their lifetime, as yet anyhow. They’ve no idea what Italia 90 meant to the country or even who Jack Charlton was. (They do know about Bobby.)

So when the newfound allegiance to England was announced at home, we just lowered our eyes and imagined it would pass. But it didn’t.

Slovakia were dispatched, and the boys were ecstatic last Saturday when England won a penalty shoot-out against Switzerland. They ran outside and immediately re-enacted the penos on the street with their friends like wee English fellas.

Of course the English are just getting on with things – expecting and dreaming – and are entirely oblivious to any Irish households that might be tying themselves up in irrational ideological knots about this matter.

The co-lyricist of that iconic Three Lions song, comedian David Baddiel, appeared at the Dalkey Book Festival last month. I was lucky enough to attend the enjoyable session at which he discussed his new memoir, and during the Q&A afterwards an audience member inevitably asked if “it” was coming home.

Comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner during the Euro 2020 match between England and Denmark in London. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Baddiel raised a laugh by good-naturedly observing that “Irish audiences are generally okay with England and English football, much more than they are with English history in general”. They were “generous about English football”, he suggested. We should be like that, but many of us aren’t.

The other night I brought the kids to our local park for our own little kickaround. My midweek mums’ soccer sessions are not doing the trick (sorry amazing coach John – it’s not you, it’s me) because they’re running rings round me now and I was thrashed 20-3.

Limping home, I conceded I was burdened down with old war wounds and grudges – old hurts – and began to think that maybe this progressive and curiously mature new generation might have the right idea after all. My kids are just supporting England in these Euros, and I need to get over it and be cool about it.

Things can only get better for Ireland, as another 90s banger that has resurfaced recently has it, and our team will compete in future Euros and my boys will get behind them. They’ve said so. For now, they’re just being good neighbours. “A new dawn has broken has it not?” as a fresh-faced victorious British Labour leader said back in 1997.

But then I heard a small, serious voice say: “I don’t have an England shirt. I want to get one.”

We’ll continue to enjoy this feast of football, but a few more years of hurt might have to pass before any lions start appearing on any chests around these parts.