WELL IT’S OVER over and I’m finally back home, a little bruised and very tired from the whole experience.
As I said in an earlier column when you’re at a tournament, although you’re actually there in the country, in the city, in the stadium, you are in many ways more detached from the experience as a whole than if you are watching it from back home.
When you’re at home for a tournament Ireland are participating in, the whole country immerses itself in the competition for the fortnight (or however long Ireland remain in it). There’s no escape from it; newspapers, television, radio, online, everyone you meet, and of course not just football people but everyone now has an opinion and their tuppence worth to throw in on the fortunes of the national side.
To come back home and have a read through the newspapers and watch some recorded television analysis from the last few days is to find a totally different mood from what we experienced out in Poland.While the travelling support were desperately disappointed with the onfield performances and results, particularly from the first two games, the general consensus is that we were there to do what supporters should do and that is to support your team through thick and thin and this tournament was very much wafer-thin.
Sure, fans would have a grumble about team selection and tactics in the bars afterwards and over breakfast the next morning but the need for the fans to put their best foot forward the rest of the time meant we’d sing and cheer our way through the day. We weren’t happy about or accepting the desperately poor showings on the pitch, we were just trying to represent our little country in our own little way.
In Poland we had the bars and the day-long adventures to help us vent, and be distracted from, our frustrations; back home the conversations at the water-coolers and the canteens only added to the annoyance and frustration at the team’s showing. So it is easy to see how the furore over Roy Keane’s comments developed and how he became the target of so many people desperate to vent their anger on somebody.
While anyone who will sit down and rationally sift through his initial comments about the Irish performance would have to admit he may have had a valid point about our sometimes settling for mediocrity, the clumsiness of his delivery smothered the clarity of his point.
To appear to have a go at the fans for supporting their team meant he lost the PR battle immediately and led to the abusive chants he received from the Green Army in Poland. His second round of comments when he attacked individual players and appeared to be looking for a row were just a bit demented.
However, to now be back in Ireland and have seen several media outlets, including one prominent national Sunday newspaper, have a sustained pop at the travelling Irish fans over their supposedly boorish behaviour and their embracing of ‘eejitry’; well ask the people of Gdansk, the people of Poznan and the media outlets from around the world what they think of the Irish fans and you’ll get a completely different answer.
If you gave us an option of being great on the pitch or great off it we’d take getting some decent results 100 times out of every 100. Only the players and the management can control that so we’ll do our bit to make sure people like us off it.
Now, this was supposed to be a highlights reel of the fans’ experience in Poland but I first felt compelled to explain the mood and behaviour of the Green Army!
Now that’s done, here’s my highlights;
- Best Moment: well there was almost nothing on the pitch so, with my apologies to Keano, it will have to be the singing of The Fields of Athenry at the end of the Spain game
- Best Chant: many to choose from but for me it has to be this Stephen Ireland chant: “Alive alive-o-oh, alive alive-o-oh, Stephen Ireland’s two grannies are alive alive-oh”.
- Best Costume: with honourable mentions to the four lads done up as John Delaney and the lad who was head to toe, including boots, ball and wig, as Packie Bonner, it has to be the two guys who came in the Bosco outfits
- Best Flag: huge respect to the many, many different flags which showed no shortage of wit and imagination but it’s a tie-up between the flag which read “The Power of Potatoes” with pictures of the two Keanes, McGrath, Brady and Giles on it, and the Bishop Brennan one with the slogan ‘They’re even coming from Gdansk to see the film”!
- Best day: anyone who was there for the afternoon of mayhem and craic in the pouring of rain before the Spain game in Gdansk will never forget it.
- Best hosts: they were our only hosts but I can’t fail to thank the Polish people for their wonderful hospitality, their great humour and their overwhelming friendliness.
Well folks that’s enough from me, it’s time to sign off from my columns, put my snaps away into a drawer and get back to normal life. The results and performances aside, it was an unforgettable 10 days or so, with memories and experiences that will stay with me forever.
Sadly it looks like one member of the Green Army didn’t make it home; RIP James Nolan, all our thoughts and our prayers are with your family.