What Can Liberals Learn from Irish Soccer Fans?

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.

Read the rest on ArtistsILove.com

James Martin, S.J.


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John McGuinness
9 years ago
I suppose the fundamental question is what "your team" or "the home team" is.
The unchallenged assumption is that this is your political party, or coalition.
Why isn't it the Body of Christ?
John McGuinness
9 years ago
This is precisely the wrong advice for Catholics of either political persuasion.
I think a lot of the problems we have had in the past 30 years, including our embrace of abortion, our pursuing wars of aggression, and our embrace of torture, could have been avoided if Catholics regarded their political engagements a bit *less* like being loyal fans of a sports team, and more a a transactional alliance.
John McGuinness
9 years ago
One more note - if the home team has the opportunity to do something like increase access to health care, and they fail to do so because they could not countenance not including coverage of abortion, then I think some booing might be in order.
9 years ago
The problem with liberalism or socialism is that it eventually runs into reality.  Liberalism has noble objectives but they are contrary to human nature.  Just rooting for the home team to succeed will only make the problems arise sooner under liberalism rather than later.  That is because it is a failed philosophy and adopting its ideas quickly will lead to problems quickly.  We are witnessing that right now.
The challenge of government or society over the millenniums has been how to organize humans to maximize their well being.  So cheering for a philosophy that works will make positive things happen faster but cheering for one that constantly fails, will just cause systemic problems quickly.  
9 years ago
I've been praying that the Holy Sprit would raise up amoung us a voice similar to the ailing Andrew Greeley with a similarly clear view of how Democratic politics could benefit from going back to its immigrant roots.  Looks like She has answered my prayer in the person of Peter McDermott!


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