More than a century after the Easter Rising, football in Ireland – like the country itself – remains divided. At the Euro 2016 finals in France, the country sent two teams – the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Both teams did well – each managed by a man called O’Neill, each resplendent in emerald green and backed by noisy, good natured supporters – but still they were as much divided as they were united.
Michael Walker’s Green Shoots examines why, almost a century after one Irish Association became two, this is still the case. It traces the overlapping stories and individuals in both associations, beginning with the tale of the boy on the front cover, Johnny Brown, a Belfast Protestant who played for Eire. Brown is the author’s great uncle.
This is only one strand of the broader story of Irish football. Green Shoots returns to the figures, often overlooked, who contributed so much to the growth of the game in Ireland and who made such an impact in England and Scotland too. Men such as William McCrum from Armagh, who invented the penalty-kick, and Billy McCracken from Belfast who changed the offside law in 1925 are brought back to life. A chronological thread leads from those men to Peter Doherty in the 1950s, George Best in the 1960s to Liam Brady in the 1980s and on to modern day players.
Blending original archival research, travel writing, and interviews with many of the game’s defining characters, Green Shoots looks at Irish football domestically and internationally. World Cups and European Championships are recalled and re-examined not just in sport-ing terms, but as defining moments in the country’s modern history.
Green Shoots is the engrossing account of the inside stories, dramas and dreams of the game in Ireland. Above all it is the definitive history of a footballing nation and its many paradoxes.
Michael Walker first arrived in the north-east of England as a student in 1984. Ten years later he returned as a football reporter for The Guardian. He has been there ever since working also for The Observer, The Independent and Daily Mail. In 2006 he was commissioned by The Irish Times to write a season-long series on Sunderland, then Irish-owned and with Roy Keane as manager. Michael is also the author of Up There: The North-East Football Boom & Bust.
Michael Walker is a freelance reporter based in the North-east. Originally from Belfast, Michael studied at Newcastle University in the mid-1980s and after spells working in London and Manchester, returned to the North-east in 1995. He has been there ever since working for the Guardian, Independent and Daily Mail, while writing a regular Saturday column for the Irish Times. One of those columns became the idea for his book Up There: The North-East, Football, Boom & Bust. His history of football in Ireland, Green Shoots, will be published by deCoubertin Books in 2017.