Ireland’s Long Struggle with Football | Rule 27 & History

Posted December 13, 2021 in More

In comparison with so many other European countries, Ireland has never really been on the football map. Why’s that? Here are some reasons and their background.


Why Football Was Rejected for so Long in Ireland

Football and Ireland? That was a difficult relationship for a long time. From Irish nationalism, Rule 27 and the hero David O’Leary at the 1990 World Cup.

“The nation holds its breath.” With these words from the Irish television commentator, David O’Leary walks the long way from the center circle to the penalty spot. He is to take the decisive penalty and shoot the Republic of Ireland to the greatest success in their football history.

However, was it all success from there on just like or do things still look rough? Let’s find out!


The First Signs of Glory

It was the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Ireland had qualified for a World Cup for the very first time – and it was to be “the greatest sporting festival this country has ever experienced”, as it says on the official website of the Irish Football Association.

The underdogs did not have it easy at the World Cup in Italy. In Group F, Egypt was again joined by the reigning European champions from the Netherlands. They were joined by their neighbors England, who finished fourth.

While England won their group and went through to the last 16, Ireland was level on points and goals with the Netherlands after three draws from three matches. The draw had to decide, Ireland was lucky and thus entered the round of 16.

And then came David O’Leary, who after a goalless 120 minutes against Romania was to convert the Irish’s last and decisive penalty. And it was actually a poorly taken penalty, half-high, off-target – but the Irish fans behind the goal erupted in unending jubilation.


Fans Book Last-Minute Flights

Many of them had not been that interested in the national team during the preliminary matches. But when the Irish qualified for the last 16, the rush for tickets was huge, with many fans booking last-minute tickets to Italy.

And back home in Ireland, the enthusiasm was also great. Irish people decorated cars and houses with flags or changed working hours so that everyone could watch the games.

During the match days, the streets were virtually empty. It didn’t really matter that Ireland lost 1-0 to host Italy in the quarter-finals. 400,000 Irish people celebrated the return of their heroes at Dublin airport and during their victory march through the city.


Rule 27

Football finally made the step to becoming the Irish national sport, after having to fight against resistance beforehand. For a long time, many Irish people resisted English sport for nationalistic reasons. This resulted in “Rule 27”. A rule that massively hampered the development of Irish football.

Rule 27, also known as the Ban Rule, was a ban enacted by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in 1905. It forbade all members of the GAA to play so-called “foreign” sports or to attend a game of such sports. “Foreign” was mainly English sports such as rugby, hockey, handball – or football. According to the official paragraph, any “imported game injurious to our national pastimes” was prohibited.


The End of the Rule

To ensure that the members adhered to “Rule 27”, the GAA sent spies to football and rugby matches. This led, for example, to Liam Brady, a former Irish footballer and coach, being expelled from school for playing for Ireland in an under-15 international football match. Or even the expulsion of President Douglas Hyde after he attended an international match in 1938.

With the 1966 World Cup in England, which was shown entirely on Irish TV, interest in football in Ireland grew. Subsequently, there was much discussion about “Rule 27” until it was finally abolished in 1971. Then David O’Leary scored – the breakthrough for football in Ireland.


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