Rio Ferdinand: Football can repair Ireland's ‘north-south divide’

"We're trying to use football to build bridges between communities".
Robert Kindregan
Robert Kindregan

20.59 27 Mar 2024

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Rio Ferdinand: Football can re...

Rio Ferdinand: Football can repair Ireland's ‘north-south divide’

Robert Kindregan
Robert Kindregan

20.59 27 Mar 2024

Share this article

Football can help repair the ‘north-south divide’ in Ireland, according to Rio Ferdinand.

The Manchester United and England football legend helped run a cross-border charity football match at The Showgrounds in County Sligo today alongside Westlife’s Shane Filan.

The match featured young children, aged between 16 and 18, who are involved with community projects in Northern Ireland and southern border counties.


On The Hard Shoulder today, reporter Josh Crosbie said the project was facilitated by the International Fund for Ireland who have been bringing peace and recreation projects to Northern Ireland since 1986.

Bridging divides

Chair of the fund, Paddy Harte, told him the aim of the match was to “connect people”.

“We also want to try and bridge divides,” he said.

“A lot of the time with young people we are building confidence, building their trust, as it's often lacking in post-conflict environments and we want those connections to become sustainable relationships."

Rio Ferdinand: Football can repair ‘north-south divide’ in Ireland Josh Crosbie and Rio Ferdinand chatting at The Showgrounds.

Rio Ferdinand said football is an effective way of bringing people together.

“We have problems in England but here you have the added layer of the north-south divide,” he said.

"To come over here and help with the local authorities and see if there is a way to start conversations and bridge the gap through football with the [Rio Ferdinand] foundation is great.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to come here and make an impact.”

'Common passion'

Rio said football is “a common passion” shared the world over.

“We all have our own teams and we can talk to anyone in the world about football and have a laugh,” he said.

"We’re trying to use that to build bridges between communities – it’s important and it works.”


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Shane Filan said it was a great event for him as a Sligo Rovers and Manchester United fan.

“This is a charity helping children to come together which is amazing,” he said.

“It gives kids opportunity which is an amazing thing and it’s nice to be involved and support it here in my home town.

“Rio being here is incredible, it’s amazing for Sligo.

“The kids are so excited to see him here, they're excited to play the game and there’s a real buzz around here.”

United Ireland

Minister of State Dara Calleary said these projects are effective in bringing people from across the border together.

“I’m a Republican and very proud to be,” he said.

“I always want to see a United Ireland but it’s important to unite people as well as geography, we have to work on that.

“Initiatives like this show that people working together and coming together are the things we build.

“If we build those links and connections - then you can talk about polls.”

The International Fund for Ireland is currently supporting 20 projects in the southern border counties and 81 in Northern Ireland.

Main image: Rio Ferdinand and Shane Filan pictured alongside Gardai at The Showgrounds in County Sligo today. Image: Josh Crosbie/ Newstalk

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Border Poll Cross-border Dara Calleary England Ireland Fund Josh Crosbie Manchester United Republican Rio Ferdinand Shane Filan Sligo Rovers The Hard Shoulder United Ireland Westlife

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