Patriot games of two halves

September 27, 2002

Fans and athletes in Scotland and Northern Ireland are not talking the same language when it comes to national identity, according to an Ulster University academic.

Alan Bairner, professor of sports studies, who was speaking at a Queen's University, Belfast, conference organised by the Irish-Scottish Academic Initiative, said fans and players had very different attitudes, with fans accusing players who left a club of being a "Judas".

But as sport becomes more globalised, players have to take a more pragmatic view, going where the best opportunities lie. They look on sport in terms of a career and therefore do not embrace a club or national identity in the way that fans do.

"The higher the level players play at, the more their mindset changes. Their mindset is: 'What is the best opportunity to improve my career, play at a higher level and to make money?' You can then have a Protestant quite happy to play for Celtic and a Catholic quite willing to play for Rangers regardless of what the fans are saying."

Northern Ireland-born player Neil Lennon had been "demonised" by local fans for transferring to Celtic and backing the prospect of an all-Ireland national team.

There were half a dozen New Zealand players in the Scottish rugby team, Professor Bairner said. "They don't play (for Scotland) because they've been brought up on haggis and Scottish stories but because they're not good enough to play for New Zealand.

"It doesn't mean that New Zealanders who come to live in Scotland suddenly become Scottish supporters," Professor Bairner said.

"Fans and athletes generally don't understand each other in that sense. Athletes play for the best team that wants them."

* The allure of David Beckham was this week invoked by Edinburgh's Queen Margaret University College at its open day.

Clinical specialists in foot health from its podiatry department used the footballer's pre-World Cup injury to help explain their work to prospective students.

"The story of Beckham's foot" showed how podiatrists would have worked alongside physiotherapists and radiographers to return Mr Beckham to activity. It included an X-ray of a broken second metatarsal, the injury Mr Beckham suffered.

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