Jason McAteer explains why and how he picked Ireland over England

Jason McAteer explains why and how he picked Ireland over England

Former Ireland footballer Jason McAteer has explained how he ended up playing for the Republic despite being born in the UK.McAteer, who qualified for the Republic of Ireland through his grandfather from County Down, earned 52 caps between 1994 and 2004.

Debuting on March 23, 1994, in a friendly against Russia, he soon became part of Ireland's 1994 World Cup squad under manager Jack Charlton. McAteer also famously scored in a crucial 1-0 qualifying win against the Netherlands on September 1, 2001, helping Ireland towards qualification. His last game for Ireland came in 2004.

The 52-year-old was born in Birkenhead on the Wirral, but explained that he only ever wanted to play for Ireland because of the Liverpool-Irish connection between his club and Ireland.

"So I get called into the Bolton gaffer’s office after training one morning, and Jimmy Armfield’s in there. He was scouting for England," he said on the Under the Cosh podcast. 

"So he’s in there, and I’m thinking, What’s going on here? The gaffer, Bruce Rioch, says to me, "Jimmy Armfield wants you to play for England."

"When I was in the pub working in 1990, the Italia World Cup finals were on. I'm a big Liverpool fan; you had Ronnie Whelan, Ray Houghton, Steve Staunton and John Aldridge playing for Ireland.

"I’m working in the pub watching all these games, and of course Liverpool’s got a big Irish connection, so when the Ireland games were on and they were doing really well with Romania and all that, the games were massive and the pub was full.

"I was thinking, This team is brilliant; they were having a great time, and they are good footballers as well. So I’d become a big Ireland fan; I wasn’t interested in England. I was never really patriotic, being from the north of England.

Republic of Ireland vs Holland, 1/9/2001
Jason McAteer of Ireland and Marc Overmars of Holland
Mandatory Credit: ©INPHO/Andrew Paton

After being asked to play for England, "Trigger" declined the offer and set about finding out if he had a relative from Ireland so he could qualify for the Ireland team. His grandfather from Down, who emigrated to Liverpool a year previously, was the key to his Ireland switch.

"Flip forward to my career, and Jimmy Armfield says, "We’d like you to represent England; there’s a B international, and we’d like you and Alan Stubbs to play."

"So he leaves, and I say to Bruce Rioch, "I don’t want to play for England; I want to play for Ireland." "So he’s like, why? I went; they did really well in the World Cup; they’ve got loads of Liverpool players playing for them; and I’m not really arsed about England."

"I didn’t really get it. So he (Rioch) then said to me, "Is there anyone in your family who’s Irish?" I said, "I'd have to go home and ask my mom and dad."

"So I went home, and I said to my mom, "England wants me to play for them." She said, "That’s nice."

"I asked my dad if we had any Irish in the family. His granddad, apparently, was born in County Down. No one really knew. They moved to England, as the story goes."