Irish football has featured prominently on the RTÉ News bulletins over recent months but tonight if fits into the documentary slot after the Nine O’Clock bulletin with the mad story of an Irish selection drawn from St Patricks Athletic and Bohemians who made a trip to play Libya the year before Italia ’90.
In February of 1989, both teams had been knocked out of the FAI Cup and had a couple of quiet weekends ahead of them. Until that was a set of events that catapulted them onto the front pages and heading to Tripoli.
They were off to Libya as a combined Irish selection under the stewardship of Brian Kerr and Billy Young, travelling on the basis of boosting trade links between the two countries but Libya at the time was a pariah state.
In the words of Eamon McCann, Colonel Gaddafi was considered ‘the Devil himself’ by Western governments and media outlets throughout the 1980s.
There was context to this view, Gaddafi being a sponsor in finance and arms to anti-state agents such as the Provisional IRA and Palestinian Resistance groups had earned himself the ire of Ronald Reagan’s United States and Margaret Thatcher’s Britain.
Just two months previously in December 1988, Gaddafi’s agents had been blamed for the Lockerbie bombing which downed a trans-continental flight over the Scottish town killing all 243 passengers onboard and 11 on the ground.
While the world baulked at the Libyan regime the cafe’s of Tripoli and Benghazi at times throughout the ’80s echoed to the sound of Irish accents as Beef barons and Government Trade delegations traversed between Dublin and Tripoli concluding massive deals that would be subject to Tribunal as the ’90s began to see Ireland move away from the hair-shirt politics of the past.
On a more subterranean level the Gaddafi regime in the wake of the IRA/INLA Hunger Strikes of 1981 re-established old links with the Provisionals that would see them send in excess of $40 million worth of arms to the IRA from Tripoli docks to various drop off points across Ireland.
Into this tense atmosphere land the Bohs and St.Pats players. Are they a front for a trade deal? Are they masquerading as Jack Charlton’s Irish squad? Are they wanted?
We will find out tonight when ‘In League With Gaddafi’ airs on RTÉ 1 at 9.35 pm. It promises to be some story.
Image credit: RTÉ