History and hatred swamp and stink Northern Irish football. The sport has long been more than a leisure activity. It has been and still is a symbol of religious culture and political allegiance in the province’s divided society. The modern game bears the scars of the distant and near past.
In Ireland, both north and south, two types of football are played; association football and the less known Gaelic football. The latter was banned under the Penal Laws (laws to repress the Catholics) in 1695 by the exclusively Protestant Irish Parliament when Ireland was under British rule.
At the same time this Protestant Irish Parliament also banned soccer on Sunday. Indeed, any sort of leisure activity was banned in Northern Ireland in the name of the Sabbath until 1st June 2008. Yet, incredible as it may seem, Linfield, the so-called Protestant club, does not permit its team to play on Sundays to this very day.
By the very mention of the word Protestant, it becomes clear that football is inherently tribal in Northern Ireland, and it is a sad fact that old hostilities die hard as we shall see in the next part of this article.