Tuesday 21 November 2017

Teachers didn't want me to play soccer... it was a very British game - Giles

John Giles in the colours of Leeds United
John Giles in the colours of Leeds United
Melanie Finn

Melanie Finn

John Giles said that he considered himself "less than Irish" growing up because of his passion for playing soccer.

The former Irish international (76) said that soccer was regarded as a "very British game" when he grew up in the 1940s and he was looked down on by some of his teachers.

"We went to school in the 1940s and this wasn't that long after the War of Independence. There was an anti-soccer feeling. There's no doubt about that so there would have been a divide between the Gaelic and the soccer people," he said.

He said that he couldn't understand as a child how educated men could be so "bitter" in the post-Civil War era.

Giles in 1959 during his time at Manchester United Photo: Independent Newspapers
Giles in 1959 during his time at Manchester United Photo: Independent Newspapers

"I didn't consider myself Irish really going to school. I considered myself less than Irish because of the influence of lay teachers and Christian Brothers.

"Nearly all the Christian Brothers were very anti-soccer and I was known as a soccer guy.

"I got a bit of a hard time over that, as a soccer guy," said the former RTÉ pundit.

He said that once a Christian Brother "dragged me over in front of another class and said, 'You think you're going to go to England and play football over there.' It was just totally mean."

John Giles visiting Old Trafford for the documentary. Photo: RTÉ
John Giles visiting Old Trafford for the documentary. Photo: RTÉ

Originally from Ormond Square in Dublin's Smithfield, Giles grew up in "very poor times" and soccer became his salvation from a very early age.

But the midfielder, once voted Ireland's greatest-ever player, said he never wanted to become a celebrity in the football world.

"I never wanted to be a star. I wanted to be a great player and there's a difference. I knew early on that I had a gift to play football, to control it and pass the ball," he said.

He's best remembered for his time at Leeds United, where he played alongside Jack Charlton, while he also played for Manchester United and West Brom.

During his illustrious career, he won 59 caps for Ireland before retiring at the age of 39. He was player-manager of Ireland between 1973 and 1980.

He has opened up about his colourful life for a documentary 'Giles', by Loosehorse, that airs tonight at 9.35pm on RTÉ One.

Irish Independent

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