Europe’s legacy of sport­ing jewels

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - 60 YEARS OF EUROPEAN UNION - Michael Moyni­han

In the best tra­di­tions of Monty Python re­gard­ing another pan-Euro­pean bu­reau­cracy, the ques­tion might well be asked in a sport­ing con­text: What has the EU ever done for us? Quite a lot, as it hap­pens. Go back a few years when ev­ery­one in the pub on a Fri­day night was telling you that prop­erty in Bul­garia was a steal and so on, the must-at­tend games for many peo­ple in the coun­try were the Mun­ster rugby games some­where in south­ern France/north­ern Spain, when the prover­bial Red Army would de­camp from Shan­non, Cork and Dublin air­ports at all hours — fetch­ing up in Bil­bao and Toulouse to cut a swathe through the lo­cal hostel­ries be­fore . . .

Hold on a sec­ond. First of all, the rea­son you were able to sim­ply hop on a plane from Ire­land and pitch up in (rel­a­tively) ob­scure pro­vin­cial con­ti­nen­tal ci­ties has a good deal to do with the grad­ual de­vel­op­ment of the Euro­pean project over re­cent decades.

Loose pass­port con­trols and a com­mon cur­rency are the most ob­vi­ous mark­ers of how this fa­cil­i­ta­tion played out; shared employment law and the ease with with cross-con­ti­nen­tal sport­ing com­pe­ti­tions could be cre­ated are the less ob­vi­ous ones.

If you go back to the 1950s, when the fore­run­ner of the EU’s fore­run­ner, the Euro­pean Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity, was formed, Ger­many and France were its main drivers. The Euro­pean Coal and Steel Com­mu­nity was founded in 1952, and within three years of its for­ma­tion a for­mal Euro­pean soc­cer com­pe­ti­tion was in place, the Euro­pean Cup.

(As a gen­eral in­di­ca­tion of its chances of suc­cess, you need only con­sider that English clubs were not al­lowed to en­ter by the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion in Eng­land, show­ing that a bone­headed ig­no­rance of the pos­i­tives in Euro­pean mem­ber­ship is not con­fined to Nigel Farage et al).

The great irony is that it was on Bri­tish soil that that com­pe­ti­tion served up the kind of sem­i­nal con­test that se­cured its le­git­i­macy for gen­er­a­tions to come — the fa­mous Real Madrid ver­sus Ein­tra­cht Frank­furt fi­nal of 1960, played in Glas­gow be­fore 135,000 spec­ta­tors; one of them, Alex Ferguson, would still namecheck that game decades later as an ex­am­ple of how the game should be played.

That in it­self shows how sport be­came a Euro­peanis­ing in­flu­ence. For all that Eng­land wanted to be sep­a­rate, it couldn’t stand apart from the de­vel­op­ments in the most pop­u­lar sport on the con­ti­nent, and it’s hardly ac­ci­den­tal that mem­ber­ship of the old EEC be­came a po­lit­i­cal im­per­a­tive as Europe be­came less re­mote through sport, if noth­ing else.

Fast for­ward to the past cou­ple of decades of club rugby ac­tion, the Ir­ish prov­inces’ fa­mous odysseys around Europe, and the mes­sage is slightly more nu­anced.

Go­ing to watch games in places like Cler­mont and San Se­bas­tian has strength­ened Ir­ish peo­ple’s sense of Euro­pean­ness im­mea­sur­ably: Paris and Rome have fig­ured in many a wed­ding/ro­man­tic break, and Spain is a peren­nial favourite for hol­i­days, but get­ting to the less fa­mous ci­ties and towns has hugely re­in­forced a com­mon bond be­tween Ir­ish peo­ple and their con­ti­nen­tal coun­ter­parts. Get­ting to know your way through the pin­txo joints of the the old town in San Se­bas­tian or head­ing to the club­house in Biar­ritz for some fish stew has done more for the Euro­pean project than a thou­sand dusty pol­icy pa­pers.

As for the GAA, it has ben­e­fited enor­mously from EU free­dom of move­ment, with ev­ery colony of Ir­ish peo­ple in Europe es­tab­lish­ing a GAA club as a so­cial cen­tre as soon as is hu­manly pos­si­ble: the ex­is­tence of GAA clubs from Stock­holm to Gali­cia, and all places in be­tween, would have been im­pos­si­ble had Ire­land not joined the EU, and is a fair in­di­ca­tor of how even smallscale in­dige­nous pas­times can spread across the Union as both a marker of home and a wider out­look.

For GAA fans closer to home, there is also the con­so­la­tion that EU mem­ber­ship serves to keep their beloved games vol­un­teer­based.

Cast your mind back over twenty years to the fa­mous Jean-Marc Bos­man case, which in­volved a Bel­gian foot­baller su­ing for re­straint of trade when he was re­fused a trans­fer.

The Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice found in his favour, which led to pro­fes­sional play­ers ben­e­fit­ing greatly — they could wait un­til their con­tracts ex­pired and move to a new club, while their old club would get no trans­fer fee, which ob­vi­ously im­proved their bar­gain­ing power im­mensely.

The gen­eral prin­ci­ple un­der­ly­ing the Bos­man rul­ing re­lated to the right of work­ers to free move­ment within the Euro­pean Union. The sig­nif­i­cance for fans of Gaelic foot­ball and hurl­ing is the be­lief that if pro­fes­sion­al­ism were in­tro­duced at in­ter­county level for Gaelic games, then the free move­ment prin­ci­ple as ap­plied to paid play­ers would re­sult in the quick de­struc­tion of the in­ter-county sys­tem, as only the hand­ful of coun­ties able to af­ford high wages would soon hoover up the best play­ers.

The EU: serv­ing the GAA, just like ev­ery­one else.

Photo: Key­stone/Getty Images

May 18, 1960: Loy, the Ein­tra­cht goal keeper is un­able to pre­vent Di Ste­fano of Real Madrid scor­ing his team’s first goal dur­ing the Euro­pean Cup Fi­nal at Ham­p­den Park, Glas­gow. Real Madrid won 7-3. Among the fans that day was one Alex Ferguson, who...

Martin McClean ( Am­s­ter­dam, black/red) claims the ball from Stock­holm ( blue) in the 2013 Euro­pean GAA Fi­nals, Athlone.

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