Arsenal In Ireland: What the Gunners Mean to the Land of Saints and Scholars
Debates have been raging on Bleacher Report for some time as to how one can support a club they may never have seen play live.
The answer is simple: there is always a connection.
In the last number of days, Arsenal's community leader Shyam Parthasarathi and I came up with the idea for a new series called Arsenal In...
Basically, the concept of the series is to have a writer from a different country each week to explain what Arsenal means to their given country, Arsenal's fanbase, ex-players, current-players etc in their said country. Essentially, what connections, if any, Arsenal Football Club has to a country.
First up, Maire Ofeire and Arsenal In Ireland.
Ireland has a long sporting tradition. From our own indigenous sports to NFL, virtually every sport is catered for in this country. After GAA (Ireland's national games of hurling, gaelic football and handball), soccer is the most widely played and supported sport in Ireland.
Sadly, the support is not for those playing League Of Ireland, it is for those stars of the Scottish Premier League and the English Premiership.
Because of the long tradition of Irish emigrants to and from the United Kingdom, English and Scottish clubs have a huge following in Ireland. Well, when I say Scottish I mean Celtic. They are far and away the best supported team in this country, followed by Manchester United and Liverpool.
Arsenal, I am proud to say, are a proud fourth. Leeds United had a huge following in this country and they still have a large fanbase although they seem to be rather closeted. A couple of Chelsea "fans" appeared after Abramovich turned up and lately Sunderland have increased their support—no surprise given the manager, chairman, and number of Irish players at the club.
Ireland, both North and South, has thirty-seven supporter clubs recognised as official by Arsenal FC.
Famous Irish Gooners include Dermot O'Leary of The X Factor (Granny rule), singer and actress Samantha Mumba, and sports broadcaster George Hamilton.
In the 1970s and 80s, Ireland had a proud tradition of players playing for the North London club.
Most famous of all was Liam "Chippy" Brady who played for the club for seven glorious years. In 1996, he returned to the club to oversee the famed youth academy.
Then there is David O'Leary who holds the Arsenal record for appearances, having donned the famous red and white shirt 772 times.
Others include Frank Stapleton (one of a few to play for both Arsenal and Manchester United), Pat Jennings, Pat Rice (Arsene Wenger's No. 2), Niall Quinn, Steve Morrow, Sammy Nelson, Eddie McGoldrick, Terry Mancini (don't ask him to sing the Irish anthem) and Jimmy Magill.
Sadly—and dare I say it—since Arsene Wenger took the hot-seat there has been little to report of on the Irish scene at Arsenal.
Those that have tried and failed to impress Le Boss are Graham Stack, Anthony Stokes, Joe O'Cearuill, Shane Tracy, Stephen O'Donnell, Sean Kelly, and Patrick Cregg.
Two Irish players currently plying their trade at the youth academy are central midfielders Cormac Hegarthy and Conor Henderson.
While the Irish men have not been able to cement a place in Arsenal's squad lately, Irish women are helping the cause of the all-conquering Arsenal Ladies Team. Four of the squad are from Ireland: Ciara Grant, Emma Byrne (GK), Niamh Fahey and Yvonne Tracy (sister of the aforementioned Shane). Byrne, Grant and Tracy were part of the side that won the quadruple in 2007.
So there you have it, the proud connections between Arsenal and Ireland.
The proudest for me has to be Liam Brady and David O'Leary. One has the sweetest left foot you'll ever see, the other has the record for appearances for North London clubs.
On a last note, when Arsenal FC changed their badge in 2002 the cannon changed from facing France to facing Ireland!! What that means, who knows?!
A good-luck wish to Arsene and Co for the rest of this season:
Go n-éirí an bóthar leat
Go raibh an ghaoth go brách ag do chúl
Go lonraí an ghrian go te ar d'aghaidh
Go dtite an bháisteach go mín ar do pháirceanna
Agus go mbuailimid le chéile arís,
Go gcoinní Dia i mbos A láimhe thú.
(May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand)
Arsenal agus Arsene go ndeo!! (Arsenal and Arsene forever)
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