Rice saga sees our rejection and their casual entitlement

YOUNG LION: Declan Rice gets stuck in during England training at St George’s Park. It is quite possible Rice will win a World Cup with England so we really need to get over this, says Tommy Martin. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA.

As the future relationship of Ireland and Britain is battled over in the fraught anterooms of Westminster and Brussels, this week also saw an escalation in the real Anglo-Irish conflict of our time.

This, of course, is the ongoing struggle to shove as many Irish pop-culture references as possible into mainstream British light-entertainment.

While Eamonn Andrews and Terry Wogan are the movement’s spiritual forefathers, Father Ted can be said to have radicalised the current generation.

Since then the successes of Graham Norton, Westlife, and Derry Girls have counted as major propaganda coups; but this week’s great TV moment — Steve Coogan, playing an Alan Partridge lookalike farmer from the west of Ireland, singing ‘Come Out Ye Black and Tans’ ON PEAK-TIME BBC ONE!!! – can only be described as a ‘spectacular’.

Coogan — Irish himself, don’t you know? — delivered a Padraig Pearse moment in the national cause of ‘getting quintessentially Irish stuff on big-time British telly’ and my how we savoured our triumph in our social media safe houses.

It should be noted that this conflict, unlike the less savoury one with guns and bombs and stuff, is taking place entirely inside our heads.

One big difference between the operations of Irish nationalism’s showbiz wing and those of its paramilitary predecessor is that the British remain blissfully unaware of what is going on.

To them, our great cultural triumphs are stripped of national significance. So Middle England chuckled along on Monday night to a classic moment of Partridge awkwardness, not bothered about the Wolfe Tones back catalogue receiving a primetime airing.

Similarly, Mrs Brown’s Boys is just bawdy Carry On japery.

Norton, like Wogan before him, merely a reassuringly classless, twinkly-eyed, chat show quip merchant.

The British really don’t care about us anywhere near as much we care about them, as the fraught anterooms of Westminster and Brussels continue to demonstrate. We find this blinkered ignorance astonishing given, you know, the past and everything.

The fact that we are desperate for them to notice us and that they, without malice, have casually dragged ‘the Irish Question’ on to the dustbin icon of their collective psyches antagonises us even more. It may even explain why successive generations of young Irish men enlist in the UK-bound boyband battalions of Louis Walsh.

And so we come to Declan Rice. Where for us the Rice saga speaks of painful rejection, to them it is about casual entitlement. It is not even a saga at all. As soon as they noticed the player around whom we had hoped to build the future of Irish football, they had him.

From our vantage point Rice’s resistance to their advances was about as stubborn as that of a tin of peas on a supermarket shelf.

This was enraging to many in Ireland, given how we had coveted the tin of peas, how we had praised the tin of peas, how the tin of peas had said it was not going into any other trolley no matter what happened. And now — no peas!

But we do the same to others, some protested, and isn’t the lad entitled to do what’s best for him? And, you know, he is English after all! And anyway, when you boil everything down (I’m not talking about peas anymore, by the way) our outrage amounts to nothing more than angry people shouting at a teenager.

Still, when Rice pitched up at training with England this week, let’s be honest, it hurt. He looked so damned happy. Which, given his last experience of international football was wiping Roy Keane’s spittle off his forehead, is probably not surprising.

If he makes his England debut against the Czech Republic tomorrow night, it will be one day less than a year since he did the same for Ireland, winning the first of his three senior caps in a man-of-the-match display against Turkey. And just to show how little Ireland registers in the default English mind, he has already largely forgotten about us.

“I think everyone knows my situation with the Republic of Ireland,” he told the FA’s YouTube channel.

I’ve obviously played there in the youth set-up but I had to make a decision that was best for me.

Wait, what about the three caps? The three caps? Eight hundred years? Doesn’t any of this mean anything to you people?

Drag, bin, drop.

Maybe Declan Rice will be a watershed for us. It is quite possible that he will win the World Cup with England, so we really need to get over this. The England football set up right now is a photo-negative of their governmental and societal shit-show. It is multi-cultural, progressive, and humble at a time when the rest of their national life is setting fire to those things.

They won the under-20 World Cup in 2017, as well as the under-17 World and European titles. Their young players are coveted by foreign clubs, with south London boroughs scoured by talent scouts as if they were the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

All four of their Champions League representatives have reached the quarter-finals, which says nothing in and of itself until you realise nine of their regular starting 11 play for those clubs. Their national training centre at St George’s Park is so highly regarded that it emerged this week the Germans are planning to visit. THE GERMANS!

So, like with Brexit, we must prepare ourselves for the imminent glory of the Three Lions, with Rice front and centre, and all that might entail. “I’ve just got to look forward now and forget about the past,” Rice said this week, and perhaps we too would be happier if we were as blithely indifferent to them as they are to us.

After all, as Alan would say, der’s more to Ireland dan dis.

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