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Anger of the terraces not always what it's painted

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Alan McLoughlin scores for the Republic of Ireland in the Windsor Park cauldron of 1993. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Alan McLoughlin scores for the Republic of Ireland in the Windsor Park cauldron of 1993. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Alan McLoughlin scores for the Republic of Ireland in the Windsor Park cauldron of 1993. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

For all the hatred splashing around south Belfast on his greatest night in football, Alan McLoughlin believes it paled in comparison to the vitriol he encountered after joining Portsmouth from Southampton.

The darkest of it came from his own supporters, declaring him a 'Scummer' for making that underwhelming 17-mile switch. This found expression in an unrelenting din of abuse, over-riding anything he did on the pitch. It was, he recalls, "worse" than what he encountered at Windsor Park in November of '93.

"Because, as I saw it, it was a footballing hatred rather than an ethnic/sectarian hatred" he writes in his autobiography, 'A Different Shade of Green'.

McLoughlin played impressively through the worst of it, the noise eventually sedated by nothing more profound it seemed than some kind of group fatigue.

Which begs a simple question: is it really feasible that a successful professional footballer could be put off his game by boos? Or, if so, how on earth did he ever become successful in the first place?

Funny, this week's focus on Scottish antipathy towards Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy carried gentle echoes of a now forgotten sub-plot to the '87 game at Hampden.

On the night before that victory, Owen Coyle made his international debut for Ireland's U-21s in Edinburgh. Coyle, too, was a Glasgow child, a Celtic fanatic reared in the Gorbals by Irish parents.

Yet, summer holidays would be spent in Gweedore and it was quite common for the Coyles to communicate over dinner as gaeilge.

His inclusion in Maurice Setters' team now drew withering commentary from a Scottish media conditioned to believe that someone born, reared and gainfully employed (he played with Dumbarton at the time) in Scotland ought really have a pretty uncomplicated sense of identity.

Coyle politely begged to differ. When Setters confirmed that he would be in the team at Easter Road, he reflected that it was "a great thrill for me and my parents".

And Coyle scored the opening goal that night too, albeit the Scots rallied to win 4-1.

But identity is a flexible concept. We can fool ourselves into believing it has clear-cut definition, but the truth is it's little easier to define than a trick of the light. Andy Townsend proved himself a fine Irish captain at US 94, yet admitted to team-mates that he'd actually wanted England to beat Jack Charlton's men in Stuttgart six years earlier.

Townsend qualified to play for Ireland through an Irish granny. In other words, he would have been one of the people Billy Bingham taunted as "mercenaries" before that infamous game at Windsor Park in '93.

Yet, nobody ran further or tackled harder in a green shirt than Townsend during 70 international appearances.

Maybe Bexleyheath never quite left his accent, but Townsend competed like a man who understood what McLoughlin so beautifully refers to as "the uplifting, addictive abnormality of Jack Charlton's Irish squad".

Perhaps that was simply a reflection of professional conscience, the mark of someone programmed to play in a particular way.

But there does seem something crabby and mean-spirited about an attitude discernible on this side of the Irish Sea these days towards Townsend, not to mention the sniping encountered by Mark Lawrenson, scorer of that Hampden goal.

Both are high-profile TV pundits, both innately English in sound and outlook.

Lawrenson may have even committed the cardinal sin of addressing the England national team as "we" in the past, an aberration duly noted by those who regard Irishness as a condition of Aryan-style purity.

Charlton came to be regarded as some kind of national treasure here, but it took qualification for Euro 88 - a gift delivered by a Scottish boot, remember - for it to happen.

For his first game as Ireland boss, a banner reading 'Go Home Union Jack' was visible on the old Lansdowne terrace.

Nine years later, Combat 18 thugs were calling this England World Cup winner "Judas" as he tried to stop them dismantling the crumbling West Stand.

McLoughlin captures that paradox brilliantly in his book.

Treachery

The same Combat 18 people delivered a letter to Fratton Park soon after that riot, warning him to "expect trouble" on account of his "treachery" in playing for Ireland.

This for the son of a Galway man and Limerick woman whose Manchester upbringing had always been resolutely Irish.

On police advice, McLoughlin spent the next few months checking under his car for a bomb.

Of course, the '93 game in Belfast that Bingham's words trip-wired with such ugliness delivered McLoughlin's greatest moment in football, the equalising goal that sent Ireland to US 94.

He writes of the venomous contradictions on show that night, of people "simultaneously yelling 'English bastard' and 'Fenian scum' at me."

Mad, illogical fury.

Much of the same noise could be heard in Glasgow last night. It signified little enough, beyond a people's right to shout.

 

Relentless Cody will never be sated

In August 2004, this column wrote of Brian Cody "you get the impression that we'll all be in our dotage by the time his true place in the pantheon of hurling managers is really understood."

A decade later, we're still guessing. Kilkenny lost that year's All-Ireland final heavily to Cork and when Galway then blew past them with a riot of goals in the '05 semi-final, there were more than a few writing epitaphs for the era of Cody's Kilkenny.

Since then, they've won seven out of nine All-Irelands, which amounts to more than two out of every three. Actually, by that arithmetic, there's a 77.77pc chance that Kilkenny will win the Liam MacCarthy Cup again in 2015.

Little wonder the rest of hurling swallows hard every November as Cody's ratification for another season gets rubber-stamped.

The man will outlast us all.

Irish Independent