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Thursday 18 Jan 2024
NI’s contribution to England’s top tier in spotlight

Northern Ireland players past and present feature in a new BBC series which explores the impact that players and managers from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland have had on English football. 

Pitch Invasion: How the Scottish and Irish Changed Football focuses on the talents from Scotland and the island of Ireland that left a legacy on the English game from the 1960s right up until the start of the Premier League.

The three-part series was produced by Belfast-based TV company DoubleBand Films, which has a 30-year track record for making factual programmes and feature-length documentaries with distinctive storytelling.

Brian Henry Martin, Director of DoubleBand, explained: “I was lucky to grow up in a golden age of watching football, when it seemed every top team in England, whether it be Liverpool, Manchester United or Arsenal, were filled with Scottish and Irish players.

“Revisiting the rich archive and classic matches from the 1970s and 1980s shows what an amazing time it was. It was great to interview some of the top players of the past like Martin O'Neill and Graeme Souness to discover how their skill, passion and determination took them to the very top of the game. 

“And it was also illuminating to talk to the players of today like Jonny Evans at Manchester United and John McGinn at Aston Villa, who both recognise that they stand on the shoulders of the giants from Northern Ireland and Scotland who went before them.”  

The series is being aired on BBC iPlayer, BBC One Northern Ireland and BBC Scotland, starting on BBC Scotland on Sunday (21 January) at 9pm and on BBC One Northern Ireland next Tuesday at 10.40pm.

And all three episodes will be available on BBC iPlayer from this Sunday (21 January).

The makers of the series point out that George Best, Kenny Dalglish, Martin O’Neill, Bill Shankly, Alex Ferguson, Liam Brady, Matt Busby and Roy Keane are among the icons and legends of English football’s top tier who were pivotal in making the league’s big name clubs some of the most successful across England and Europe.

They note that includes the Manchester United team built by Busby in the 1960s after the Munich air disaster and Liverpool’s dominant dynasty spearheaded by fellow Scot Shankly.

The series features contributions from superstars of the era including former Northern Ireland captain Martin O’Neill, Norman Whiteside, Graeme Souness, George Graham, John Aldridge, Charlie Nicholas and Niall Quinn.

Football fans can savour archive footage of these legends of the game with each episode focusing on a particular forte: Genius, Guts and Glory.

There are also insights from the current crop of players and managers into their careers at the top level. These include Northern Ireland players Jonny Evans and Josh Magennis along with Scottish trio John McGinn, David Moyes and Rachel Corsie.

Jonny Evans told the series makers: “A lot of English players have unbelievable massive clubs all on their doorstep. And for us it’s a bit different. You’ve got to have a certain determination to prove yourself. You’ve got to be better than the English players, put it that way.”

Narrated by Rhona Cameron, the series also features well-known faces from the world of sport and entertainment recalling their memories and analysing what was a golden era for their homegrown players, including Northern Ireland comedian Patrick Kielty, Amy Irons, Chick Young, Sanjeev Kohli and Ardal O’Hanlon.