What do you mean, who are Belfast United FC?
You know, the promotion chasing FA Cup giantkillers. Well they are in some parrallel universe dreamt up by Belfast Telegraph columnist Gail Walker in her latest column this week.
You see, according to her, Belfast isn’t a proper city because we don’t have a football team in the English League.
Football is a subject that you don’t have to follow to be an expert. Columnists queue up to tell us how spoilt, overpaid footballers are eroding Britain’s moral fibre, in an article filed and stored away, for an appropriate opportunity to publish.
Northern Ireland, of course, isn’t immune to this, as people who don’t watch or follow the game are quick to tell us what we are doing wrong, and demonise us for following the game we love.
As bad as the Northern Ireland media can be at it, the English media can be just as bad, as recent stories in The Guardian and website “Who Ate All The Pies?” have proved.
Protestants. Tick. Catholics. Tick. Bombs. Tick. Shootings. Tick. Sex it up. Tick. File, then sit back smugly at your literary genius.
What about Northern Ireland’s youngsters being tapped up by the FAI, or Irish League teams having to play rearranged games and cup replays on Monday nights because UEFA won’t allow games on European nights?
Not sexy enough, needs more bombings and shootings.
It’s almost as if journalists do word association before writing their stories. “Ahhh Northern Ireland, the troubles. That was really shitty to watch on TV, but bloody great to sex up a story”
The most shocking thing about “The Water Crisis” wasn’t the hardship suffered, or the incompetence of NI Water, it was the fact that a story from Northern Ireland that doesn’t include a bombing or a shooting made the UK national weather.
Gail Walker has displayed form in terms expert opinions on football. In 2008, after an incident in Belfast City Centre got blamed on football fans, she stormed in to the debate crying that the 2008 Irish Cup Final must be cancelled because of this.
She even managed to namecheck Newry Town. It’s a pity nobody bothered to tell her that Newry Town changed their name to Newry City in 2004.
Seemingly, this utopian vision of Belfast United FC popped into her head upon hearing the news of government money being given to the three main sports to improve their facilities.
Instead of local football using the money to better itself, it should use the money to just rip up it’s history and start again, because that is the answer to everything isn’t it, rebranding?
“Look around you” she cries, “men and women wearing Liverpool, Man United, Rangers and Celtic tops whilst listening to Five Live and Talksport”
Perhaps if she ever ventured around Belfast, she would notice that people wear Linfield and Glentoran tops as well.
In fact, you can walk into JJB or Athletic Stores and purchase a Linfield or Glentoran top. You can’t miss them, they’re hung up on the wall alongside those of the big English and European sides.
Our local sides can hold their own in the shirt purchasing sales. Getting people through the turnstiles however, is an entirely different issue.
“There’s something profoundly wrong when this level of passion doesn’t get it’s proper expression – a football team of it’s own to support. It’s just weird” she argues, obviously ignoring the fact that we have our own clubs in this city, for this footballing passion to get an outlet for expression.
In Gail Walker’s world, if the middle-classes look down on it or sneer at it, then it doesn’t exist.
According to her, “We have much in common with the cities and towns of Northern England, which provide the backbone to League One and League Two in England”, which might come as a shock to supporters of clubs such as Brighton, Southampton, Charlton, Bristol Rovers and Oxford, who participate in these two leagues, and most definately don’t come from “Ooop narf”
Before adding “Why can’t we be part of the fun?”
Does it really need spelling out? Possibly, we can’t be “Part of the fun” because we are not in England.
If the FA won’t allow established big names like Rangers and Celtic into their league, what chance does a newly formed franchise team like Belfast United have?
Never mind the issue that they have to start at the very bottom. Not League Two, but the very bottom of the English football pyramid. Let’s be honest, the Northern Ireland footballing public are not going to rush out in their droves to watch a team playing in the Evo Stick League.
Does she seriously believe that Belfast United would be fast-tracked into the football league? Does she believe a chairman of a club relegated or denied promotion to accomodate this team will shrug “Ah well, if it stops the Paddies from beating the shit out of each other ……”?
Gail Walker then uses her knowledge of Northern Ireland’s business community to suggest that there may be a successful businessman mad enough to fund this venture.
If there is, i’ll get in touch with him to secure a grant for chocolate teapots.
Belfast United won’t be able to challenge Arsenal, United or Liverpool, but Gillingham or Rochdale shouldn’t hold too many fears apparantly.
That’s it then. We should set up a football team with the sole ambition of being better than Rochdale and Gillingham. Don’t set your ambitions too high.
I’m sure there’s a mad businessman out there willing to pour money into a football club which aspires to be better than Gillingham and Rochdale out of the goodness of his heart.
She then goes on to re-emphasise her point that Belfast isn’t a football city. Perhaps if she ventures to Northern Ireland’s match against Slovenia, or Linfield’s triple-header v Glentoran in April, or even the match at Seaview next week, she will see that Belfast is very much a football city.
Belfast can host big sporting events apparantly, using the Belfast Harlequins as an example of a recent success story.
Really? If you asked anyone to name a Rugby team in Belfast, every respondant would say “Ulster”
“Football plays a huge part in how a city sees itself, and as a city, we needs something to rally around” she says. On this theory, London isn’t a proper football city because there isn’t a London United FC.
She then goes on to say suggest that Belfast people don’t feel any allegiance to their local area than their home city. That is not a Belfast phenomenon, that is something that applies to every city in the UK, in fact, even the world.
If someone asked me wherabouts in Northern Ireland i’m from, the reply would be “Belfast”, it wouldn’t even be “South Belfast”, it would be “Ormeau Road”
Ask someone from Manchester the same question, and you would get responses such as “Didsbury”, “Salford” and “Chatterton” before people would say Manchester.
“But not one team speaks for Belfast” she argues, obviously neglecting that major UK cities such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham have more than one football club.
“There’s no obvious reason to say that supporting an Irish League club won’t stop you from supporting Belfast United” – Yes there is, it’s blatantly obvious. If you can’t work it out, you clearly don’t understand football.
She then argues that “We always want to show our talents on the biggest possible arena”
Shouldbody should point out that there is a team based in Belfast, which takes on foreign opposition on a competitive basis, it’s called the Northern Ireland football team.
Even a select few of our own Irish League clubs take on foreign opposition in UEFA competitions.
The utopian notion that “We can all get behind this” then gets a mention, as always gets mentioned when the idea of an All Ireland football team pops up on a slow news day.
Seemingly, we are at our most united and peace loving when we are taking on the world and beating them, before using Jack Charlton’s Republic Of Ireland team as an example of this.
Really? She really is living in a delusional world if she thinks everybody in Northern Ireland was cheering on the Repblic of Ireland team in 1990 and 1994, or joining on the grief bandwagon after Thierry Henry’s handball.
“We have some great indivudual sportsmen and women” namechecking George Best and Eddie Irvine, who participate in team sports before adding “But isn’t there something magical about team games” implying that only team sports matter, and are better than every other sport.
“Just imagine what this city would be like on big match days, promotion encounters, relegation battles and FA Cup ties against giants”
Streets covered in litter and people openly drinking and urinating after drinking too much, much like Saturday at 3am in Botanic, or the streets surrounding a football ground on matchday in England.
Or maybe this utopian football team turns us all into a well behaved society that doesn’t litter, only drinks in designated areas and holds it in if we need a pee.
“The fact that we don’t have a Belfast team says a lot about ourselves”
The fact that Gail Walker doesn’t acknowledge that Belfast has many football teams says a lot about her ignorance.
“We may go through the motions, but we’re not a ‘real’ city like Sheffield, Bradford, Nottingham or Bolton”
It seems bizarre to do an article about how Belfast needs it’s own football team to represent everyone in the city, and then using two cities (Sheffield and Nottingham) which have two senior football teams, representing different parts of that city as something to aspire to.
Will either of them cities be hosting the MTV Awards this year?
Will any of them cities be hosting International Football this year?
Will any of them cities be hosting European Rugby this year?
Will any of them cities be hosting events like Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival or Belfast Fashion Week?
Instead of complaining about who we aren’t, and what we don’t have, why not be proud of who we are, and what we do have?
It might not be perfect, but I enjoy living in Belfast. There are many things which will improve Belfast, a plastic soul-less franchised football club with no history isn’t one of them.