Tuaisceart Éireann / Norlin Airlann / Northern Ireland
- Capital: Belfast / Béal Feirste
- Official Languages: English
- Regional Languages: Irish, Ulster-Scots
- Nicknames: Green and White Army; Norn Iron
- Association: Irish Football Association (IFA)
- FIFA Code: NIR
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Quarter Finals (1958)
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Men): Round of 16 (2016)
- Best Euros Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 20th (September 2017)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 53rd (June 2012)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 129th (September 2012)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 83rd (December 2004)
- Most Capped Player: Steven Davis – 124 caps [as of Feb 2021]
- Top Scorer: David Healy – 36 goals
Northern Ireland is the smallest (in terms of area and population) of the four countries that make up the “Home Nations“. They are also the fourth-oldest team in international football as the Irish Football Association were founded in 1880 in Belfast, with the organisation originally controlling football throughout the entire island of Ireland. However since the majority of Ireland became independent in 1921 and eventually becoming the Republic of Ireland (and controlled by the FAI), the IFA represents just the six counties of Northern Ireland. However despite their seemingly small stature, they have often punched well above their weight and have often overshadowed their larger southern neighbour in terms of international football. In addition, because of their status as one of the Home Nations, they have a permanent seat on the law-making International Football Association Board (IFAB), which gives Northern Ireland an important position within world football.
Throughout their illustrious history, they won the defunct British Home Championship on eight occasions, and have the distinction of being the last (and defending) champions of the tournament by winning the final tournament in 1984. Northern Ireland have also appeared in three World Cups, with their first coming in the 1958 World Cup (the only tournament that all four Home Nations qualified for) as they reached their best ever finish of the quarter-finals of the competition before losing to France 0-4. Despite having produced one of the greatest ever players of all time in the iconic George Best, the Green & White Army‘s best performances came in the 1980s when they qualified for two successive World Cups. In the 1982 edition, they famously shocked the hosts Spain 1-0 through a Gerry Armstrong goal to top their group, and then produced creditable group stage performaces in the 1986 World Cup against both Spain and Brazil.
Sadly the 1990s and 2000s were not great for Northern Ireland as they tumbled down the FIFA rankings and suffered some bad results, but they have since bounced back in monumental style. Under the management of Michael O’Neill, they managed to qualify for the 2016 European Championships, reaching the Round of 16 after they defeated Ukraine 2-0 in the group stage, and then just missed out on qualification to the 2018 World Cup by losing controversially 0-1 on aggregate to Switzerland. Alas the GAWA won’t be at the upcoming European Championships, again falling foul via the playoffs. After having heroically overcoming Bosnia-Herzegovina on penalties in the semi-finals, they lost in the playoff final 1-2 to Slovakia after extra time. The women’s side are also set to play in a playoff to qualify for their respective Euros in 2022. In the past few years, the performances and results of the women’s side has improved rapidly, so much so, that they have since managed to achieve a playoff berth in the upcoming Euros. Once again. Northern Ireland are punching well above their weight in international footbal, and are considered to be one of the most fiercesome teams in European football.
Talking about Northern Ireland men’s national team, who have sadly just missed out on the upcoming European Championships by losing in the playoff final, is the excellent Dr. Grant Campbell. A Scottish-based PhD graduate who writes about the Northern Irish Football League (NIFL) for @FootballCFB, and also hosts an excellent podcast ‘Campbell’s Footballs‘ where he interviews a number of people involved in football, from around the four nations and beyond. To find his social media accounts and podcast, follow the links below:
Covering the Northern Irish women’s team, a team who have rapidly improved in a short amount of time and are scheduled to play in a European Championship playoff which could potentially see them qualify for their first ever major tournament, we interviewed Josh Bunting. A Northern Irish football writer for the Islington Gazette who covers the Arsenal Women’s team, as well as being an avid fan of football from around the world. To find Josh’s social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Twitter: @Buntingfootball
Key: GC = Dr. Grant Campbell; JB = Josh Bunting
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
GC: The best player has to be David Healy, the all time record goalscorer and “Mr Northern Ireland“. He’ll eventually become Irish manager one day, in my opinion. The best manager would be Michael O’Neill. He transformed Northern Ireland’s results internationally, qualified them for tournaments, and had just been sensational.
JB: This is a really hard question. In my opinion, it would be Rachel Furness [currently at Liverpool] as she’s been there when the going was tough and is now getting the rewards for it. Alfie Wylie would be the best manager. He was there for so many years but Kenny Shiels created history by getting the team to the 2022 European Championships playoffs, which is an incredible achievement. Furness is a top class talent and a professional, and that’s why for me she’s the greatest ever player as she has scored some vital goals in the process.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
JB: I think you have to say Ashley Hutton [defender at Linfield] and Julie Nelson [playing at Crusaders Strikers] at the back as they’ve been there through thick and thin, and have won over 100 caps each, so that shows just how vital they’ve been to the team. Two legends of the Northern Irish game and for me they would be cult heroes due their services.
GC: Kyle Lafferty and Josh Magennis. Lafferty [a well-travelled forward who was most recently at Italian club Reggina] is a cult hero in the sense that he always turns up, puts in a shift and perhaps sometimes gets unwarranted stick. Magennis [a forward at Hull City] is the same.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Northern Ireland currently?
GC: Either the captain, the Rangers midfielder Steven Davis or Leicester City’s centre-back Jonny Evans. Davis and Evans are just stalwarts in the NI team. They very rarely have a bad game and are always showing real professionalism and experience.
JB: There’s a lot of good talent in the country; Chloe McCarron, Simone Magill, Kirsty and Caitlin McGuinness, but for me it’s Furness she has everything in her locker. A real goalscoring threat and is a leader that gives everything in a game, so for me right now, she’s the real catalyst for Northern Ireland and is the key player in the team in my opinion.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
JB: The best it’s ever been without a doubt! To secure a playoff spot for Euro 2022 was something Northern Ireland could only have dreamt off a few years ago, but now it’s a reality and shows just how far the country has come. It’s in a really good place right now and it has a top manager that will develop it even further. Playing England in a friendly later on this month says just how far they have come.
GC: 6/10. It’s been a tough job for Ian Baraclough since taking over from O’Neill in September 2020, but he still has work to do, that’s for sure.
Q. Are there any Northern Irish players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
GC: Ethan Galbraith at U21 level [19 year old midfielder currently at Manchester United] and Paul O’Neill [21 year old forward at Cliftonville]. They are both different class. Also Eoin Toal [21 year old defender at Derry City] in at the back.
JB: For me, it’s Chloe McCarron [23 year old midfielder currently at Birmingham City]. I think she’s an outstanding young talent, her vision is excellent and her passing range is very good. In addition, Caitlin McGuinness [18 year old Sion Swifts striker] is a big talent and I think Casey Howe [18 year old Linfield forward] is a massive talent for the future.
Q. Looking at Northern Ireland’s long international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
JB: It has to be the 5-1 win over the Faroe Islands in December to qualify for the Euro 2022 playoffs – an absolutely incredible achievement for such a small country. That was the best night in Northern Irish women’s football by quite some way.
GC: Either Ukraine 0-2 Northern Ireland in the group stage of Euro 2016, or beating England 1-0 in a 2006 World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park. NI’s 3-2 victory over Spain in the qualifiers of the 2008 European Championships [which Spain would eventually win] also goes in there.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
GC: Both games versus Armenia in the Euro 2004 qualifying [losing 0-1 both home and away, and finishing bottom of the group].
JB: Not really no. Northern Ireland are growing and growing, and all we can do is look to the future as that’s the most important thing now.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Northern Irish national team?
JB: The best part is the sheer joy and emotion of supporting the team when you score a goal, nothing beats it! The worst part is losing but that’s all part of football. Hopefully COVID goes soon and the fans can get to attend the playoff in April.
GC: The best thing is the PASSIONATE fans who love their nation whether they win, lose or draw.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
GC: The GAWA songs seem to be popular.
JB: Just the traditional Green and White Army chant.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
JB: I actually really like the current one to be honest, and also liked the blue away shirt from a couple of years ago.
GC: The shirts from the early 2000s were good, but I would go for the Euro 2016 shirt.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Northern Irish national team?
GC: To be competitive and maybe qualify for the 2024 European Championships.
JB: To qualify for a major tournament without a doubt. It’s my dream to see them compete on the main stage.
A massive thank you to both Dr. Grant and Josh for answering our questions on the Green and White Army. Remember you can find their social media accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.
If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.