Foreigners and locals

Both Eoin Morgan and Boyd Rankin (below), who turn out for England are from Ireland!-AP Both Eoin Morgan and Boyd Rankin (below), who turn out for England are from Ireland!

Around about that time England seemed to have no borders, they recruited players from South Africa for their cricket team as if they were trying to compensate for that country’s absence from international sport, and it made uncomfortable lives for the cricketers never mind the talkers. Now it is a big issue within football, but for a different reason, writes Ted Corbett.

It was fine — in my opinion — when the England cricket team was strengthened by the occasional Indian batsman or a guy called Billy Murdoch could play for both England and Australia.

If you will excuse the — non-racial, I say — pun, it added a little colour among all those pale white faces and spade-shaped beards and it gave the likes of me something to write about.

Times have changed and if you have noticed there are a lot of people who claim that the changing times don’t make a scrap of difference and that all international cricketers, footballers, tennis players and the rest ought to be born in the country they represent.

As I say times have changed, the world has shrunk thanks to jet travel, cars and high speed trains making it possible to eat lunch in one country and partake of dinner in another without getting a major case of indigestion.

It’s not just cricket although that has raised me to a state in which I have talked non-stop for the last 25 years. Around about that time England seemed to have no borders, they recruited players from South Africa as if they were trying to compensate for that country’s absence from international sport, and it made uncomfortable lives for the cricketers never mind the talkers.

Now it is a big issue within football, but for a different reason.

The English Premier League is often described by those who make their living close to its centre as the “finest League in the world” and this may be true although Englishmen are apt to over-state the quality of, for instance, our police force, our justice system and our Parliament.

Nonetheless it is a very fine league and maintained at that level by clubs — enriched by TV cash and sponsor’s largesse — who responded to their every need by buying in players from abroad. Many of those foreign players are worth watching and English fans have had their pleasure enhanced by watching forwards like the magical goal scorer Ronaldo and highly motivated Cantona with Manchester United, the giant goalkeeper Cech at Chelsea and, oh, at least 1,000 others.

Not, of course, that there is anything unusual about foreigners in my country. My mother-in-law has just been treated for an eye condition by a West African doctor and is looked after at home by a Polish carer. Every town centre has a Polish food shop, Romanians, Albanians and Bulgarians are waiting to settle here in their thousands, so we read, and we have relied on Irishmen to dig roads, build canals and write books, plays and verse and sing to us for hundreds of years.

Sadly, there is a negative side to the invasion by these Argentinian, Brazilian, French, Dutch and Belgian footballers. It means fewer young English players are able to force their way into Premier League sides and that is weakening the England side who are at this moment not certain to qualify for next year’s World Cup.

AP

The truth is that we cannot have a strong club structure — and our teams constantly excel in European competitions — and a powerful national team although as things are at this moment it appears the German football sides have the secret of that dual triumph.

The situation was best expressed when England’s top cricketers beat Ireland in Dublin as a preliminary to their one-day series against Australia. England were led by Eoin Morgan, an Irishman by birth who now plays for Middlesex and their most successful bowler was Boyd Rankin, another lad exported from Ireland to England.

Ed Joyce, who left Ireland to play for Middlesex and England, found he could not gain a regular place in either team and returned to play for Ireland.

The whole scenario is a huge mix-up; or the sort of thing that happens when the joke Irishman is involved. The joke Irishman is supposed to say things like “I’d hate to be with you when you’re by yourself”; every nation has a joke figure and we happen to have lighted on the Irish whose love of a witty remark is to be found most commonly in Liverpool where every man considers himself to be a comic. Sometimes it’s true too.

Of course, every Premier League, Test authority and sports specialist has a solution. Some want a limit on the number of players who can be signed by counties or Premier clubs; some want a limit on the number of foreign players in any given side.

As that match in Ireland was taking place the new chairman of the Football Association, Greg Dyke, was asking for an all-out effort from football so that England could win the World Cup in 2022.

Surely it is not as easy as all that; a couple of brave sentences rarely solve a problem. Not, that is, unless the rules are relaxed so that an England team can consist of anyone who has played in the Football League. That would cause an outcry from every nation in the rest of the world.

It is not the only contradiction in sport. The Americans have a world baseball event in which only American teams can take part.

That is an Irish state of affairs if ever there was one but it does not mean we should allow our own strange situation to continue. Given the speed with which the world is changing that may be Mission Impossible.