By David Hennessy
Ireland’s Ambassador to the UK Dan Mulhall told those gathered in the Bentley Room in The Crown that while events he attends are diverse and he enjoys all of them that he considered the honour of addressing the Republic of Ireland Soccer Supporters Club London as a “home game” because he is one of their number.
Ambassador Dan Mulhall told The Irish World: “I was in Stuttgart in 1988, I was in Poznan in 2012, I’ve been around the place following Ireland so for me, shall we say this is a home game. I go to a lot of events, I love supporting the Irish community in Britain, I love the diversity of the Irish community from the county associations to the professional bodies to the welfare associations and the sporting bodies. I love to support London Irish, I love to go out and support London GAA and I go out to tournaments all over the place. I also love to have the chance to support Irish soccer and this supporter’s club is a great institution because what it does is it connects Irish people in Britain and people who are culturally Irish with Ireland and there are many ways of connecting people with Ireland but this is one of the ways which is most fun.
“The connection between Britain and Ireland is immense. In every walk of life, there is a link between Britain and Ireland, a positive link. There are half a million Irish people living in this country, there are many millions of Irish descent, there are hundreds if not thousands of Irish organisations here up and down the country and each of these is a link between Britain and Ireland. I really admire the supporter’s club here because they’re providing a link between Britain and Ireland in the important area of football because football is a passion for so many people. It’s great that we have an association here that brings the Irish in Britain together, congregating together around their love of football.
“The great thing about sport and football is it gives people collective experiences, it allows you to have this wonderful collective experience. I can remember being in Ireland in 1990, it was a magical time to be at home and I hope that this time in two years’ time and in four years’ time, we can have an Irish presence at a major international tournament because no country in the world in my view of the size of our country or even much bigger countries take to these international tournaments like we do. It’s astonishing.
“I was in Poznan in 2012, it wasn’t the greatest day for Irish football but it was a fantastic day for Ireland because you had so many Irish people out there behaving themselves impeccably and enjoying themselves immensely and making a huge impression on a global stage and I would love to see that happening again, which is why apart from the football and my love of football, I think it is great for the country when we can qualify for a major tournament because it gives our fans a chance to show the true Irish character when they go abroad following the country.”
The ambassador was pleased to hear the news that Dublin will host four Euro 2012 games: “To be able to host a major international sporting event, it’s a great opportunity to put Ireland and Dublin in the shop window and fair play to the FAI for having the imagination and the drive to make this happen. I think it will be a marvellous thing because we’re probably too small a country to hold an Olympic Games or a World Cup or a European Championship, this was one that was achievable and we achieved it and it’s achieving the achievable, that’s the real test of a country’s mettle in my view.”
The ambassador would also love to see a reintroduction of street football like Chief Executive John Delaney talks about: “From the age of about seven to seventeen when I left Waterford to go to college, I never missed a Waterford United home game. John talks about street football, there was a square called Newport Square around the corner from where I lived and in summer, I swear in summer every night there would be 20 or 30 people playing football from 7 o’clock in the evening until it got dark and that was the culture we had.
“It’s great that John and the FAI are giving kids a chance to play the game because I’ll tell you I played football until I was in my fifties. I played my last game of five-a-side when I was 51. No matter how much or how little skill you have, football is the kind of game you can play from a very young age to a relatively advanced age and you can always enjoy.”