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Alex Lynch writes about the controversy surrounding James McCarthy and his decision to represent Ireland internationally.


If you ever visit the Irish National Team’s website, you’ll notice one peculiar element to the FAI’s online shop. One entire section of the store is dedicated to Everton FC shirts and gear. Despite being an English club, Irish football fans follow Everton closely and have a fondness towards the club. This is because of the Irish players at Everton now and in the past, and Ireland’s connection to the city of Liverpool. Seamus Coleman, Darron Gibson, and formerly Aidan McGeady are some of the notable Irish stars who have played for Everton. But the most notorious Irishman at the Merseyside club is none other than rising star James McCarthy. This is because of the fact that he wasn’t born in Ireland, but their next door neighbors Scotland.

History, Controversy, and Heroism

How and why James McCarthy is an Irishman born in Scotland is a story that goes back hundreds of years. During the infamous famine period in Ireland in the 1800’s, besides immigrating to the United States, the Irish went across the North Channel and into Scotland(and Liverpool but that’s another conversation), and particularly Glasgow. The Irish population in Scotland and most notably Glasgow began to soar as a result. Irish people were pouring into Scotland at the time, and this wasn’t without its fair share of criticism.The introduction of the Irish in Scotland led to an obvious religious divide and a political divide as well. The formation of Scotland’s biggest Football club Celtic FC was because of the Irishmen that came to Scotland at the time. The founders of the club were all, as you would expect, Irish.

James McCarthy 2016

This also can explain the rivalry between Celtic and Rangers, that would soon begin to form. Glasgow became divided, with Irish communities scattered around the famous Scottish city. These communities were living lives very similar to the ones that they had in Ireland, with hard work and Irish values. The Irish never have assimilated into Scottish culture, which explains why the divide between the two groups was and to some extent still is very clear.

Ultimately, the Irish stayed in Scotland long past the famine period, and they still inhabit Glasgow and support Celtic to this day. The fact that the Irish are still around in Scotland is something that wasn’t expected at the time of their arrival, as many Scots expected them to go back to Ireland when the resources were available. However, that never happened, and the Irish still inhabit Scotland up to this day. That is something that doesn’t resonate well with every Scot, and many Scots still have something against the Irishmen because of their religious differences. The divide is still there, as well as the connection to Ireland for the Glasgow born Irishmen, such as James McCarthy.

A descendant of the Irish migrants McCarthy was born in Glasgow, to a family in Scotland that kept most of their Irish traditions from the past. They lived in the Irish section of Glasgow and grew up as most Irish kids would with Irish meals and of course football being his only true sport. There is always pressure on the young Irishmen to feel loyal to Scotland, and many people in his situation feel loyal to Scotland after all of these years. But McCarthy stuck to his roots and he felt like an Irishman and was loyal to Ireland. As a result of this loyalty, he chose Ireland as the country that he would represent internationally at a very early age. At first, most fans didn’t make a big deal out of it because no one knew who he was, but when he rose to prominence with Hamilton Academical and then Wigan Athletic, his decision became a controversial one. When he joined Everton, most fans already knew about his story because of all the reaction that it stirred. The controversy that he caused in Scotland didn’t stop McCarthy from becoming a fixture in the Everton first team. But the better his reputation got, the more controversial his decision became.

The non-Irish Scots thought that he should represent Scotland because he was born and raised there. Because of his decision to represent Ireland he has faced ramifications for quite a long time. The Scots see him as a traitor to Scotland, because the country that provided for him during his youth was the one that he quickly turned his back on. Not everyone in Scotland feels this way, but McCarthy, since his early days at Hamilton was met with boos and slurs in SPFL games. And when Ireland and Scotland faced off in an intense Euro qualifier in this past year, the Scots’ animosity towards McCarthy was made very clear. Despite the fact that McCarthy was out with injury, he was still booed when arriving at Celtic Park, and later when his name was announced as an injured player. The reaction he got from the Irish and Scottish supporters in the match represented everything that is so controversial about McCarthy.

Due to the lack of tickets available for traveling Irish support, the section meant for the Scots was (ironically enough) filled with Irish supporters. While the people in the stands got along very well, and appeared to have a good time, the players’ and pundits’ attitude towards the Glasgow born James McCarthy couldn’t have been any different. Irish teammate Shay Given was on his side, calling the Scots who were upset with him “hypocritical”, because Steven Naismith chose to play for Wales, aside from English born Scots like Matt Ritchie opting to play for Scotland. Given was also upset for fans and former players for “targeting” McCarthy and the other Irishman born in Scotland Aiden McGeady, as he felt that they should respect McCarthy’s decision. The game felt like an Old Firm derby with the atmosphere, which means that the Scots were bound to fight back. Before the game, former Scotland defender Gordon McQueen made controversial remarks about McCarthy playing for Ireland. He was quoted as saying “ I hate that”and “what’s that all about?”, referring to McCarthy playing for Ireland. And he said that “I hope they get a horrible reception because they deserve it”, when asked about McCarthy and McGeady playing in Glasgow. The comments made by McQueen were controversial and they don’t represent the views of most Scots. He was called a hypocrite by Given and others, as well as being called oblivious. The opinions that Given and McQueen have are the same as many of the supporters at the match. That’s why a combination of booing and cheering was heard in none other than Celtic park when McCarthy and McGeady were announced to the crowd.

A similar reaction could be heard when the team met in Dublin, albeit with more cheering for McCarthy, but the same talking points nonetheless. This fall, the triumph of the Irish National Team justified McCarthy’s international choice. Ireland finished third in the group and they qualified for the European Championships. In that same group, the Scots finished in fourth, and missed out on yet another major tournament. McCarthy has shown the ability to dominate in the green shirt of Ireland, with two man of the match showings in the 2014 world cup qualifying. His struggles to remain fit during international breaks have halted his progress as an Ireland player, but at 24 years old, and an established member of Martin O’Neill’s side, he has the chance to become an Irish hero. With the potential that he his displayed for Ireland ever since his debut in 2010, McCarthy can be the heir to Robbie Keane and establish himself as an Irish legend. Those players don’t come around for a country of Ireland’s size very often, which makes McCarthy the most likely to become an Irish hero.

Since the Irish immigrated from Ireland and into Glasgow during the 1800’s, controversy has surrounded their every move. The creation of Celtic, and the everlasting presence of Irish supporters of the club display that the Irish still haven’t left Glasgow. And one of the Glasgow born Irishmen is Everton’s own James McCarthy. He is controversial in Scotland because of his decision to represent Ireland, and he’s received criticism from Scots such as McQueen since his Hamilton days. The Irish think of him in a different light than the Scots do, and with the potential that he has, along with what he has done for Ireland, McCarthy can become an Irish hero. If McCarthy ever achieves that type of status among Irish Football fans, then the choice he made at a young age will be even more controversial. But no matter the controversy, McCarthy will always wear the green of Ireland, because that is the country that he has always felt like he was a part of.


Written by Alex Lynch

Alex Lynch

Alex Lynch

Alex Lynch is an avid Arsenal supporter for many years and is interested in football culture and tactics from across the world. His main focus is on the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga.
Alex Lynch

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