THE World Cup is here again. And Ireland aren’t in it – again.
So that must mean it’s time for a peculiar crowd to emerge from the shadows. They’re a motley crew of killjoys, some Irish-born, others Irish-descended, bound by a shared hatred of all things English.
As pubs around England fill with Asian and African families proudly cheering on their country of residence, this Irish group will be hoping for quite the opposite.
They will be praying that Luis Suarez – the avowed cheater who single-handedly (no pun intended) ruined the 2010 tournament – is fit enough to send Steven Gerard and his men packing at the first hurdle.
Even better, they think, if the Uruguayan does so by deploying those cheating appendages in the style of another South American striker’s infamous ‘Hand of God’.
They are the ‘Anyone But England’ brigade and I find them pathetic.
You might think that harsh, but I'll tell you why I find this group so tragic.
The 'Anyone But England' brigade made up more than half of the 40 people who spoke to The Irish Post this week, most of whom were second or third generation Irish.
To be sure that’s no academic study. But their comments were telling of a malignant hatred that has been passed down the generations in some families
“I don’t even like England winning the toss,” said one second generation Irishman from Luton.
Another, a second generation Irish woman who grew up in the shadow of Wembley Stadium, said: “I will only support the teams playing against England. I would love to see the English lose at their national sport. I have no loyalty to England.”
The Anyone But England crowd’s favourite memories of England’s World Cup exploits were predictable. They included Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ and the scenes of a teary Paul Gascoigne as he was ruled him out of a final England would never reach.
Asked why they won’t be supporting England in Brazil this summer, many said simply that “it just wouldn’t feel right”.
Others conjured images of St-George-cross-clad skinheads singing ‘No Surrender’ to explain why they hold their home country in such contempt.
One London-born man with roots in Mayo and Westmeath needed a list to make his point.
“What they've done to Ireland down the centuries, what their fans did at Lansdowne Road in 1995, my Irish passport, the thought of not being able to look my dad in the eye and two grandfathers turning in their graves.”
There’s a great story about inferiority complexes that explains why such antipathy seems so pathetic.
The tale – which may or may not be true – goes like this: New Zealand was building a tower in the 1990s and it had to be a big one. The aim was to outdo their antipodean rivals, Australia, by erecting a structure that surpassed the 309m Sydney Tower.
But when the last slab was put in place on Auckland’s shiny Sky Tower, its government backers learned to their disgust that their creation came up short, at less than 300m.
That just wasn’t good enough. So what did they do? They stuck a giant needle on top of the building to take it to its current height of 328m. And then they unveiled it, proudly, as the tallest building in Australia and New Zealand.
But what did Aussies tell journalists when asked what they thought about being second to their nearest neighbours in the tall building stakes?
Something like: “Mate, I didn’t even know they had a tower. We don’t hear about them in the news here. But they can build it as tall as they want, they’ll always be our little brothers!”
To me, the Anyone But England brigade looks much the same as the New Zealanders in this story – except worse.
To say the least, they will be shaking their heads when Michael D Higgins, their proclaimed President, fulfils his promise to raise a glass to England this week.
They also clearly think he was wrong to talk of a “new era of friendship” between Britain and Ireland during his State visit.
Yet what is striking is that this era started many years ago for English people. I’ve never known an English person who begrudged Ireland success in the same way.
On the contrary, my English friends roar on Ireland unless it’s England they’re playing.
That’s why they are like the Australians in the Sky Tower story.
To them, Ireland is a harmless footnote in their history and public life, gladly cheered on as a benign and happy friend and not significant enough to be despised.
Meanwhile, “the old enemy” retains its huge importance in Ireland. You just have to open a newspaper or sit in a history class to see that.
England is ever-present in Irish broadsheets, if not in the main news section then right up the front of world news.
By contrast, you would be hard-pressed to find any domestic Irish news in English papers – ever.
It’s the same with history.
If you were educated in England and had no reason to believe otherwise, you would think England and Ireland had never disagreed about a thing. The Troubles and the creation of the Irish State aren’t even mentioned.
Ireland might as well be Sicily as far as English history textbooks are concerned.
But across the Irish Sea, history might as well be re-named “the history of Ireland’s fight with England”.
That’s all understandable, given Ireland’s relative youth as a nation.
But those Irish people who continue to view England as an enemy today are trapped in a past that England has forgotten or never paid much attention to anyway.
Meanwhile, those second and third generation Irish who feel the same look like they are clinging to the past for the sake of their identity. Their loathing of England reveals how insecure they really are of their Irishness.
And further, such vitriol only highlights England’s status as Ireland’s stronger sibling. Far from affirming Ireland’s strength, the Anyone But England brigade make their homeland look like a little brother.
Really, it's quite tragic. I for one will be hoping England do well in Brazil and beat Italy on Saturday.