Green Shoots

Green Shoots

By Michael Walker

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The island of Ireland sent two international teams to the European Championships finals in France in 2016. The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland were both managed by a man called O'Neill — Martin and Michael — both were resplendent in emerald green and both were backed by noisy, good-natured supporters. But they were two distinct entities. Green Shoots examines why, almost a century after one Irish Association became two, this is still the case. It traces the overlapping stories and individuals in both Associations, beginning with the tale of the boy on the front cover, Johnny Brown, a Belfast Protestant who played for the Republic of Ireland in 1937, the year of the new Irish Constitution. Brown is the author's great uncle. This is only one strand of the broader story of Irish football. Green Shoots returns to figures often overlooked, who contributed so much to the growth of the game in Ireland and who made such an impact in England and Scotland too. Men such as William McCrum from Armagh, who invented the penalty-kick, and Bill McCracken from Belfast who changed the offside law in 1925 are brought back to life. A chronological thread leads from those men to Peter Doherty in the 1950s, George Best in the 1960s to Liam Brady in the 1980s and on to modern day players. Blending original archival research, travel writing, and interviews with many of the game's significant characters, Green Shoots looks at Irish football domestically and internationally. World Cups and European Championships are recalled and re-examined not just in sporting terms, but as defining moments in the country's modern history. Green Shoots is the engrossing account of the inside stories, drama and dreams of the game in Ireland, a history of a footballing nation and its many paradoxes.

Michael Walker