Football & Peace in Northern Ireland

Tim Wareing (Professional Football Coach) recalls his childhood in Belfast where football legends are born against a backdrop difference – but not through children’s eyes; ‘I would hear bombs going off while laying in bed which I suppose you thought nothing more of as this is just what happens when you live in Northern Ireland’. Football was played across communities throughout the World Wars and the Troubles, the history of the sport takes a course that continues today – it will always bring people together!
1914 NI-Football_300_161
Northern Ireland team which drew with Scotland 1-1 at Windsor Park, 1914, to win the British Championship. 
Q. What was your experience growing up in N Ireland [DOB – birth place and school you attended]?  Was there sectarianism? Was there mixed sport.  What was your parents experience?
I was born in Belfast, November 1978.  The troubles had started in the late 1960’s & continued until the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998.  My dad is originally from Birmingham so anyone reading this outside Northern Ireland basically only knew about us from the evening news that reported on the troubles.  This made our country look like a war zone with many not wanting to visit as they thought they would be bombed.  My dad’s family thought that!
As a child growing up I was never caught up in the troubles fortunately.  I would hear bombs going off while lying in bed which I suppose you thought nothing more of as this was just what happened when you lived in Northern Ireland.  It maybe is very nieve for me to say that considering 3,500 people were killed over the years of the troubles.  But as a child that was my memories…you felt unattached & it was just a way of life.  I was lucky that none of my family had been caught up in any of these eveil acts.
Apart from always getting used to opening your bags on every shop you went into around the City (I remember going to see Manchester United in the early 90’s & when heading into shops in Manchester I would open my bag for the security man.  They would look puzzled saying, ‘son we normally only ask you to do that on the way out if we think you have shop lifted!’) there was only one bombing that basically felt as if it happened on our doorstep.
My parents were out at a church event & I was home alone (I think I was 11 at the time).  I was watching the TV when the biggest noise I had ever experienced shook the windows & the noise…I didn’t have a clue what it was.  I thought a wardrobe had collapsed upstairs but when the noise continued you freeze wondering if the ward robe was falling down the stairs.  The noise was a 3,700 lb bomb from the IRA that destroyed forensic offices only a couple of miles away from my house.  The phone soon went & it was my mum to see if I was ok!
My parents would always protect us from the troubles.  We knew about it & would see on TV or maybe talk about it but we were always brought up to respect people.  In our household we were never told to hate catholics or protestants or anything like that.  The other bombing that sticks in my head to this day was in 1998.  I was away with my best friend in Manchester.  He originally moved from Omagh to Belfast in the early 90’s.  I am a protestant & he is a catholic but to us as kids it never made a difference.  To this day we are still best friends (he was my best man & I will be his best man next July!)
We were over for the Manchester United v Leicester City game.  It was the first home match of the Premier League season at Old Trafford & it was David Beckham’s first game after his red card for England against Argentina at the World Cup.  The script was set up for him to score a late equiliser from a free kcik that day!  It wasn’t a great result but was good to rescue a point right at the end!  When we left the ground & returned to the hotel things were coming on TV that there had been a bomb in the centre of Omagh.
This was the worst bombing in terms of life lost to civilians.  My best mate still had so many friends & family that lived in Omagh so he was really worried that they had been caught up in it.  It was terrible.  It is strange the way the mind works that you remember certain things in so much detail from so long ago.  We were making & receiving calls in the Bispham Kitchen Cafe in Blackpool.
Q. To what extent did football bring communities together?  How?  Give examples [then and now].
Back then, & to an extent, where you live generally determines whether you support Rangers or Celtic.  When I took a group of young people to Scotland they couldn’t understand that next door neighbours could support Rangers or Celtic…this was not common to them!  We organised many cross community football events to bring protestant & catholic children together.  What annoyed me about previous events was many didn’t tackle the children mixing.  It was simply a couple of catholic teams that played against a couple of protestant teams.  This didn’t get children mixing!
Tim as a budding footballer standing with the mighty Emerson
So the night before our tournament we took the teams bowling & they all mixed with each other so that when it game to the football the annumosity was taken away.
Today it is not the same.  Many people move on & see the future as a shared one.  My own team that I run probably is 50-50 or close to it in terms of protestant & catholic children…as far as I know because I simply don’t care!  Children are great & they give you a lot of laughs.  We had Dan Abrahams over recently & he happened to ask some of the teams the kids supported & the first two boys happened to say Manchester United & Celtic…then the next kid said Celtic.  So when he went to ask another he presumed & just said do you support Cetic too?  Well the reply was so funny from an 11 year old, ‘SURE I DON’T’!!!!  We all laughed.  
Q. Did you have community role models in football that used the game to bring communities together [who were they and how did they do it?
George BestGeorge Best crossed the divide.
The most famous Northern Ireland footballer was George Best & he was loved by all!
Q. How important is football to you in terms of social inclusion – are there benefits to the game – if so what are the benefits?
For me it is massive.  I run over 60 centres province wide from Toddler & Mini Soccer to my elite teams.  I also operate coach education & Lads & Dads programmes.  We have both sides of the community involved aged 2-62!
Q. Who do you feel in football has crossed the divide in N Ireland and led the way for peace?  Will football ever replicate Rugby Ireland?
I do think so.  There has been so many barriers broken down over the years.  I remember working in schools on the divide.  I was coaching children aged 7 & 8 when something fell from the sky.  I thought a bird must have dropped something out of their mouth.  But then instantly something else fell from the sky.  I soon realised it was stones being thrown over a 20 ft fence at me & the young children from the protestant school.  On the other side was a catholic area.  I said to the teacher about & they said calmly back to me not to worry but they only bring the children in when the stones turn into bricks!!!!!!
There has been some awful news & very upsetting circumstances that children have been caught up with over the years from both sides.  It is a lot better now but the Irish sense of humour will get you through anything!
Will football ever replicate Rugby Ireland…I don’t know.  It would be very difficult to as it has been something talked about for decades.  Taking the political way of thinking out of it & concentrating on the football side of things it probably wouldn’t be a bad thing as we are a small nation!
Neil Black (right) next to Christmas Truce monument. 
Q. How is N Ireland going to commemorate the 1914 Christmas Truce through football?
It is our intention to perform a minutes silence to commemorate the 1914 Christmas Truce.  I currently work with Neil Black linking kids health and development at T W Braga.  His son plays for the under 13s and through Neil’s work with Subway we hope to convey the humanitarian messages of the Christmas Truce to young minds.

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