Sport Soccer

Wednesday 23 October 2019

Steven Reid: I'm so jealous of lucky boys in green – this game is right up there with anything in your career

Steven Reid

I'M jealous, I have to be honest. England at Wembley? Outside of a major tournament and a big play-off game, that's got to be up there in terms of what an Irish player can aspire to in a green jersey. The boys who are involved tonight are lucky guys.

When the big international matches come around, I get this nagging feeling inside that I could have done a bit more with my international career.

They're always the same thoughts – the frustration that I was just starting to really settle into the squad when the worst of my injuries struck.

Sometimes I wonder what could have been and a game like this one really brings it back. Talking to Shane Long over the last few weeks at West Brom and seeing his desperation to be a part of it, intensified that feeling.

For the lads like me, who grew up in England, it will mean as much as does to the Irish boys, trust me. I'm not going to lie: when I was younger, I lined out for England at junior level and supported the national team, even if my Irish heritage ensured I also wanted the Boys in Green to do well, and I followed Jack Charlton's team in major tournaments.

Even now, I still like to see the teams from my part of the world do well – England, Scotland and Wales too, because I know the guys and find myself rooting for them.

But once you're welcomed into the Irish set-up, everything else becomes secondary. You immediately become embedded – there's no vibes towards a new face with a different accent – and I'm aware that lads like Sean St Ledger and Simon Cox have really tapped into that.

My friends that were in the English set-up were envious. They haven't always had that spirit, that togetherness. I came back from the World Cup in 2002 with stories about celebrating with fans after games, taking part in a sing-song, and they couldn't believe we had that freedom to mingle.

Yet, what it also instilled into us, was an awareness of what the games meant to our supporters; you sensed then what an amazing thing it would be to represent them against England.

It's a fixture that taps into our underdog spirit. The English lads are higher profile and there'll be that desire to try and take them down a notch. So, there will be a real spice, a spark that you don't usually get from matches at this time of year.

Still, while it's a massive game for Ireland, I don't expect England to be shy either. From working under Roy Hodgson, I know that the biggest attributes he looks for in a player are reliability and consistency.

If someone lets him down tonight, in a feverish atmosphere, then it'll plant doubts in his head about whether he can trust them for the long run and a road which they expect will end in Brazil for next year's World Cup. Should they take the foot off the pedal, they will be punished, and I would be surprised if they allowed that to happen.

I had the pleasure of lining out at Wembley once, the 'old Wembley' as people like to remind me. The occasion was with Millwall in the Auto Windscreens Shield final in 1999, a battle we lost to Wigan.

Not the most glamorous game in the world, perhaps, but so many footballers never even get the chance to taste a game at the stadium. Wigan have moved on a bit since then and, for James McCarthy, it will be his third Wembley outing in a short space of time.

It's been a strange few weeks for him, with the FA Cup win followed by relegation, and, with Roberto Martinez departing, there's another incentive tonight on top of the sheer magnitude of the game.

The directors' box will be stuffed with scouts from the top clubs, and this is one Irish international that everyone in English football will see, unlike so many of our other matches.

For the lads who might need a move this summer, there is no better chance to prove that you can mix it with the best.

The absence of Anthony Pilkington is the major disappointment. I was looking forward to his integration into Giovanni Trapattoni's plans.

We know what the other players can do and I wouldn't envisage radical experimentation once the game is under way.

With the noise from the crowd – and the tackles sure to be flying in – I doubt that Trapattoni will be overdoing the substitutions if the game is tightly poised going into the second half.

There are no points at stake, but it's impossible to put a price on the pride. I wish I was there – I really do.

Irish Independent

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