A lot, according to Peter McDermott, an editor at the Irish Echo. For one thing, work together. For another, don't boo against the home team. He offered these insights in person the other day, and I asked him to send me his blogpost. Besides, how could I resist posting something that combines Irishness with liberals?
[The Left] might learn a little humility and strategic good sense from the followers of a soccer team that will never win the World Cup and more often than not does not even qualify for the finals tournament. That description applies to scores of nations worldwide, but I’m mostly concerned with the team that represents the 4.5 million citizens of the Republic of Ireland. (Northern Ireland has its own team.) In that jurisdiction, soccer was traditionally a Cinderella sport – a game for urban workers in a rural-dominated country. The national games, Gaelic football and hurling, took precedence and rugby, nurtured mainly in fee-paying schools, had its base in the professional middle-classes.
Those demarcations have diminished considerably as the country has modernized. Its international soccer stars play club football in the world’s best league, the English Premiership. In rugby, which has gone professional and is big business, the South unites with the Protestant North to form one of world’s top ranked teams in international competition. Meantime, the Gaelic Athletic Association remains the largest sporting organization by far, organized down to level of every hamlet in the Republic and in the Catholic areas in Northern Ireland.
Yet in that sports-mad country, booing your own team remains taboo, even when it’s underperforming against inferior opposition. Of course, the fans will grumble and groan and occasionally target the manager, but for the most part, they pride themselves on being the 12th man (or the 16th in rugby and Gaelic sports) to the bitter end. This is not to be the case, they believe, with the Continental powers. In the run-up to a big away game against, let’s say, the French, there’s usually some discussion about the fickle nature of the opposing fans: keep it level for long enough, or score an early goal, the hopeful advice goes, and the home crowd will turn on their own team.
You might feel that I’ve gone off on something of a tangent describing an aspect of the culture of a foreign country that is roughly the equivalent in size and population to South Carolina. But this is the same foreign culture that played a leading role in building the great Democratic Party in the 20th century. The notions of party loyalty and discipline and getting out the vote (and yes, voting early and often) were underwritten by communal solidarity. Such communalism, as practiced in Chicago, Boston, Kansas City, New York, Albany, Jersey City and elsewhere provided a counterweight to Protestant individualism and was crucial in the development of the labor movement and also the idea that government has a duty to help in people’s lives.
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James Martin, S.J.