Belfast Telegraph

Pity about the football, but at least Irish won friends at Euros

By Robert McNeil

Ireland’s fans have rightly won many plaudits for their passion and good behaviour at the Euro 2012 footer tournament in yonder Polandshire.

Indeed, the people of Poznan put on a special celebration for them and the local tourist chief ululated: “The world can now see Poznan, and all thanks to Ireland.”

Irish fans spent an estimated €24m (£19.3m) in the city, €23.9m of it on beverages of a stimulating nature. These helped fuel the tonsils for the spine-chilling version of The Fields of Athenry sung for the last seven minutes of the game against Spain.

All good. All colourful. All moving. More than that, it’s great that football fans can make friends rather than enemies when waddling forth to foreign climes.

But you must admit former player Roy Keane has a point: it isn’t about the singing. It’s about the football.

You know, the huffing and sometimes puffing taking place on the pitch. Tell me about it. Not the huffing and puffing. I hung up my five-a-side wellies years ago. No, I mean supporting a team better known for their fans than their footer.

That’s been the situation with Scotland for years. The Tartan Army are a great bunch of lads and lasses, turning up in entertaining habiliments for games the side never wins.

Well, that’s not quite true. Like the Republic’s team, they’ve had their moments, beating France and all sorts, but over the piece they’re rotten and always fall at the vital hurdle. The heroic defeat has become the country’s footballing leitmotif, parallelling much of her history.

Followers of Glasgow Celtic will also be familiar with the phenomenon of a fantastic support earning plaudits from all and sundry, while the team crashes out in the early stages, at least in Europe.

In the domestic league, they get their kicks tanking St Johnstone and Aberdeen. But it’s Buckfast compared to the sophisticated wines of Europe.

In a sense, there’s no helping it. You could argue that Scotland and Ireland should be better at footer. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. But it is what it is, and at least the fans make the most of it and give a good account of themselves.

That’s still not the be-all and end-all, though. Commentators bang on at the start of games about who has the biggest support and who’s making the most noise. Who cares?

At the end of another tanking, interviewers ask managers or players: “But what about the supporters, eh, eh?” Our supporters are better than theirs. Wow, put out more flags.

Going to the football today reminds me of the situation with writers. Writers used to be able just to write stuff and collect cheques.

Now they’re expected to make speeches and otherwise entertain the lieges. It’s a whole new job description, no longer for the shy and sensitive who traditionally came up with the goods.

At the footer now, you’re expected to sing and sometimes even dance. You can’t just sit and ponder quietly the tactical subtlety of booting the ball skywards, as your hesitating tongue fearfully probes the indeterminate grey matter of a pie still surprisingly legal under European Union regulations.

The Republic’s performance at Euro 2012 was simultaneously a triumph and a disaster. Triumph for the fans, disaster for the team. Thankfully, at the end of the wotsname, it’s only a game.

Belfast Telegraph


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