- Irish Soccer Migrants: A Social and Cultural History by Conor Curran
The story of migration is synonymous with Irish history, as multiple generations have left the island in search of stability and opportunity in England, Scotland, North America, and beyond. Conor Curran’s work Irish Soccer Migrants: A Social and Cultural History places the experiences of young Irish athletes into this larger narrative of immigration and diaspora. While star players such as Roy Keane, Niall Quinn, and Shay Given have highlighted the ability of Irish players abroad, Curran posits that the experiences of lesser-known players places them within a more typical experience of other Irish migrants who work professionally abroad. While the focus on soccer crafts a narrative around sports history, this work is best understood through the lens of diasporic studies, along with the social and cultural history of domestic Ireland and Irish migrant populations.
To this end, Curran has engaged significantly with oral histories and data in an effort to understand both the personal and general experiences of players through the Irish youth system and the Irish professional leagues and to their eventual opportunities in British professional leagues. The author has interviewed players from every decade between 1945 and 2000, from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. These interviews with players sought to understand their development, recruitment to play overseas, their adjustment to playing overseas, the choice of clubs they would play for, their playing experience, relationships with managers, and their eventual retirement from the game. These oral histories, originally collected in a FIFA-sponsored study, are the backbone of Irish Soccer Migrants.
In a complementary role to the use of oral histories, Curran has employed data to examine the experience of Irish players. The use of data is meant to cohobate the experiences of players as well as to tell the rest of the story of the legions of players not interviewed by Curran. To this effect, the use of data is successful, but the data’s lack of fluid readability is a challenging exception in what is otherwise a well-written work. While this is one slight weakness in an otherwise very solid volume of research, it is also difficult to imagine not providing this wealth of information. By engaging the demographics and geography of Irish soccer, Curran has crafted an important work on Irish soccer history at home and abroad.
Irish Soccer Migrants is divided into chapters that trace the stages of player’s careers. After a thoughtful introduction, an opening chapter provides geographic and demographic context in an effort to understand the backgrounds from which these players have emerged. After chapters discussing development within Ireland at the schoolboy level and the recruitment and movement process, the work finds considerable voice with a chapter describing playing experiences. Additional chapters provide insight into the various places Irish footballers play, how they navigate their postplaying careers, and understanding the general decline of Irish-born players in the English Premiere League.
Of particular interest to American readers, Curran has devoted significant sections of this work to Irish players in North America. Looking at the involvement of players in [End Page 117] the American Soccer League (ASL), the North American Soccer League (NASL), and Major League Soccer (MLS), the author provides a unique view of the domestic game through the experiences of Irish migrants. This element of Curran’s research provides an outsider’s view of American soccer and would be useful to any researcher of these leagues. The author’s research into the ASL, a league made up predominantly of immigrants in the early twentieth century, is exceptional. Providing these stories and a view from retirement highlights important elements of a league that occupies a significant but obscure part of American soccer history.
Curran has produced a notable book of significant strength. By adding athletes to the larger account of the Irish diaspora as well as a social and cultural understanding of how their experiences were relatable to other migrants, Curran has made important intersectional engagements. The oral...