Londonderry priest proud to give his backing to England at World Cup
England are riding high after winning their first ever World Cup penalty shoot-out, and ardent Three Lions fans have been cropping up across Northern Ireland.
Even the Londonderry-based Catholic priest Fr Michael Canny, who is from the Irish Republic, is lending his support to “our closest neighbours” in their pursuit of World Cup glory.
Despite hailing from Co Donegal and supporting, first and foremost, the Republic of Ireland, Fr Canny isn’t too shy about lending his support to Gareth Southgate’s plucky young team.
“Since there’s no Irish team in it, no Scotland, and no Wales, I would always give my support to our nearest neighbours,” the Liverpool-supporting clergyman said.
“We watch them every weekend (during English Premier League matches), so why not watch and support them during the World Cup?
“I have no problem supporting our closest neighbours. I hope they do well.”
David Dougherty, chairman of the Londonderry Northern Ireland Supporters Club, expressed a similar view.
“I got Colombia in the sweepstake and I still wanted England to win,” he said.
“It’s the Home Nations, of course I’m going to support them. I hope they go on and win it. It would be the same if Scotland or Wales were in the World Cup.”
Mr Dougherty added: “It baffles me if there’s people out there who don’t want them to do well.”
While support for England amongst Northern Ireland fans has sometimes been mixed, the more humble attitude adopted by their likeable manager Southgate and his spirited young team has made it easier for many.
Southgate has adopted a more realistic attitude when it comes to the prospect of repeating the glory of 1966.
Without trotting out the well-worn cliché that his players must ‘take each game as it comes’, he has been keen to keep expectations in check.
“I can see everybody is more excited but we have to think separately, otherwise we just get carried away on the wave of emotion,” he said ahead of their last-16 win over Colombia on Tuesday night in Russia.
Neither Southgate, nor his players, appear to be guilty of the arrogance that has sometimes been associated with England in previous World Cups.
Someone who most definitely isn’t giving England his backing merely by virtue of any other team’s absence is Brian Bell, who is in his 80s and lives in Co Londonderry.
While he has lived most of his life in Northern Ireland, where he has three children, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, Brian was born in Liverpool and hasn’t lost his love for England.
His wife, however, doesn’t share his love of football and enjoys full control over their widescreen television.
Mr Bell was, as usual, relegated to the kitchen to watch his beloved Three Lions knock out Colombia.
“I enjoyed the match but I thought the referee spoiled it a bit,” he said.
“One of the Colombians headbutted Jordan Henderson in the chin and he didn’t even get a red card,” he said. “They (Colombia) were a bit dirty.”
While delighted with the win, he isn’t too hopeful that England can go all the way.
“I think Sweden are going to beat ‘em,” he said.
Another person getting caught up in the excitement was BBC radio presenter Stephen Nolan.
Nolan, who is on holidays, sparked a lively discussion on social media website Twitter with the words: “Incredible what football and sport does. I’m proud to be British today.”
While some of the replies were in good spirit, including more than a few pointing out that ‘Britain’ wasn’t playing against Colombia, many were unkind, to say the least.
Such was the backlash to his profession of fandom that the radio presenter felt compelled to clarify his views.
He tweeted: “Of course I’m proud to be British.
“That wouldn’t stop me supporting the ROI team if they were in the World Cup. I consider myself to be British, but yes – I have a strong affinity to all things Irish and Northern Irish.”
He added: “People need to grow up and realise the world is different now.”