Having taken the decision to organise tonight’s friendly against Ireland, the FA finds itself in a rather precarious position after having to issue a letter to supporters calling for calm ahead of tonight’s fixture at Wembley. The last time the two met, the match only lasted 27 minutes and in hindsight was branded a ‘bad idea’ – an understatement at the time. It is clear the FA still have reservations about this evenings match, but one can only suppose it will bring fans to Wembley for what is, after all, just a meaningless friendly…
Strictly speaking, it’s absolutely farcical that England and Ireland can’t contest a football match without being worried by the lunacy of small groups of fans, who only seem interested to goad their counterparts with deplorable chants harking back to a terrible, and largely bygone, era.
It also speaks volumes for how little the FA has done to curb this phenomenon from sections of the England fans, that in the 18 years that have gone by since the fateful last meeting in Dublin, Anglo-Irish relationships have taken giant strides, but the threat of violence or disruption still seems to linger in the eyes of the FA.
Since the Lansdowne Road riots, the Queen has visited Ireland and the England rugby team have faced Ireland at Croke Park whilst Lansdowne Road was being redeveloped and their anthem was impeccably observed.
Rugby inhabits a different universe, one that football can only aspire to but, nevertheless, the respect England players and fans received was no mean feat, for the game itself was deemed persona non grata by the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), who maintained an English sport would not be tolerated on the hollow turf that witnessed the first, tragic, Bloody Sunday in 1920.
Tonight’s fixture at Wembley does not share the same importance as that Six Nations fixture in February 2007, indeed quite opposite. A meaningless friendly, though, is exactly the sort of game which could throw fans in the spotlight, something the FA is well aware of, hence the repeated appeals to encourage fans to avoid chanting of a “religious or political perspective”.
England fans can’t all be tarnished with the same brush – even should a minority indulge in idiotic chanting tonight, the rest of Wembley is likely to be extremely well behaved – but the FA’s plea only highlights a controversy they have contributed to create.
England and Ireland were not drawn together in a qualifying group and, arguably, they do no need yet another game at the end of what, for some more than others – considering that Chelsea have played almost 70 games year and Ireland’s squad counts 14 Championship players – has been a grueling season.
Furthermore, Ireland face a World Cup qualifier on June 7 and England play Brazil at Maracana on Sunday, giving the distinct impression that tonight’s match is simply an excuse for the FA to generate income with some pricey tickets.
Football is yet to reach the relative heights Anglo-Irish relations have reached, and perhaps it never will, but organising a party where some of the guests clearly despise each other is a very dangerous exercise.
As awfully overused as it might be, the “better safe than sorry” cliche’ is also undeniably true and, not for the first time, the FA should have known better but money, again, talks.
Do you think there is any threat of trouble ahead of tonight’s game? Or have the FA made a rod for their own back trouble or not? We want your views so have your say below or get involved on our Facebook page or Twitter feed.