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How fans from both sides of border have been big winners in France thanks to their sense of fun


Infectious fun: Northern Ireland fans have been fantastic

Infectious fun: Northern Ireland fans have been fantastic

©William Cherry / Presseye

Brothers Jonny and Corry Evans

Brothers Jonny and Corry Evans

Infectious fun: Northern Ireland fans have been fantastic

It's only a game. How often we've said that over the years. The old cliched dismissal about a bunch of grown men kicking a ball around a pitch for a living. And for the privilege of doing so being paid the equivalent of a lottery win. Per week.

Then we get to the Euros and suddenly it's a complete game-changer.

Football which has so often in the past been a clash of the fans (and not in a good way) has been surprisingly, relatively free of the maggotry of past competitions. In a world of bleak headlines and in a week of especially sad ones, it has been a shining ray of light.

Football and uplifting in the same sentence. Who among us cynics would ever have imagined that?

Especially in this part of the world where it would be fair to say divided team loyalty has traditionally tended to be more tribal than elsewhere with green on green insults, sneering and sniping.

But now, it's the Euros 2016 ... and even if we're not unanimously a footballing band of brothers (there are still a few diehards locked in their small-minded blocs) a new spirit of inter-team camaraderie back here and especially over in France has engulfed us all.

The players, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland, have been magnificent. There's always something heart-warming about watching the lesser known names take centre stage to play for their country.

How amazing it must feel to pull on the shirt and run out there to that cacophony of rapture. To enter an arena where there's that once in a generation chance to engrave your name in the hearts of the fans forever.

But just as touching has been seeing some of the major stars of the game every bit as proud to play - every bit as emotional about giving it their all. The great Jonny Evans shedding tears. And being teased for doing so by his brother the great Corry Evans. Priceless.

And cheering them all on the glorious GAWA and the legions of Republic fans. Whether down at the Titanic quarter, in the local bars or on tour in France, the behaviour of all those fans has been impeccable.

The spirit of 2016? It's been joyful, exhilarating, infectious fun. It's been sport as the ultimate unifying force and football the game of two mutually supportive local sides.

The fans from here have enchanted all of Europe with their good-natured banter and big-hearted decency whether it's been serenading a pretty girl or organising a quick collection for an elderly man who had his windows broken.

Poignantly in the midst of the jubilation, as we are all too aware, there's also been tragedy. But the respect paid to lives lost from all the fans has been truly moving and for those bereaved families surely a measure of solace.

Where the two teams go from here doesn't really matter.

It's not about the winning, it's about the taking part? Actually no. It's about how you take part.

And this generation of football fans and players have risen above old pettiness and daft begrudgery and in doing so have brought honour to the game, to their respective teams and to us all.

During the tournament there have been, and will continue to be, the usual old debates and arguments. Is the time now right for one all-Ireland team? Does Northern Ireland need a new anthem?

Those are questions for a quieter day. For now the fans in the stands are singing from the same song sheet.

And it sounds sublime.

This is no way to treat an innocent man

Do we need a Cliff's Law to protect innocent people from having their reputation trashed like singer Sir Cliff Richard?

You have to have sympathy with his call for anonymity orders for others accused. But where high profile figures are concerned, the farcical ineffectiveness of "privacy injunctions" would suggest this may not work.

That said, the way Sir Cliff's case was handled is genuinely shocking. The "insufficient evidence" line from the CPS just makes it worse. The CPS needs to publicly and unequivocally say it. Sir Cliff Richard is innocent.

Forget school, the Euros are real maths test

Football can sometimes be educational.

Who knew that aside from hours of mass entertainment, a fillip for the bar trade and a feelgood boost for the entire population, the game would also encourage maths proficiency? I'm still trying to figure out how they've worked out who goes through in the third place ranking for Euro 2016.

Never mind the Footsie Index. The Footie Index is more complex by far.

And in this particular calculation about "our future in Europe" everybody is for Remain.

Belfast Telegraph