Ireland has a new set of world champions – the incredible army of fans who support the national soccer team.
Last night the fans stole the show as Ireland’s footballers took on the mighty Spain – winners of the World Cup and arguably the greatest team of all time. Ireland, by contrast, were a team of honest journeyman – ready to run and die for the cause but lacking the quality of the Spanish masters.
The game went much as everyone expected. Ireland were outclassed and outplayed, losing the game 4-0. But that wasn’t the real story of the night. For the true significance of the evening we have to look beyond the pitch to the terraces where the Irish fans were winning a much bigger prize; the hearts and minds of people all across the world.
Football fans in most countries are a fickle bunch. When their team is losing they tend to scoff and jeer. Not the Irish. As their team were being outplayed on the pitch, the Irish fans raised their voices and began to sing their hearts out. Every time their team conceded another goal, the fans sang a little louder.
Their chosen song was the Fields of Athenry – a story from the Great Famine about much greater hardship than could ever be found on a football field. On and on they sang until something wonderful happened…they became the story of the night. They outshone their team and they even outshone the brilliant Spanish team.
As the match came to its predictable conclusion, most people’s attention had turned to this amazing group of fans on the terraces. German television was so impressed that the commentators stopped talking about the match so viewers could listen to the Irish fans uninterrupted.
Twitter and Facebook were buzzing with people all over the world praising the tremendous spirit and sportsmanship of the Irish fans. A Polish fan spoke for millions when he wrote on YouTube: “I am from Poland and however Ireland may not be the best football team – Irish fans are truly unbeatable! I have already heard hundreds of stories about jokes, gags, songs and fun made by Irish fans here in Poland. You are best! Thank You and salut to Ireland! Éirinn go Brách!”
I’ve been a football fan for more than 40 years and I’ve never seen anything like it.
The fans sang, and they smiled and they joked and they kept on cheering. There was no trouble, no anger, no jeering – just a joy at being there and a sense of pride that at least their team had given everything on the pitch and could have done no more.
Not only that, but it a world where fans of different of different teams have to be segregated to avoid trouble, we saw pictures of the Irish and Spanish fans laughing and singing together without a care in the world.
It was truly uplifting. People from all over Europe looked on and wished their fans could be the same.
Last night I felt proud to be Irish. It was partly pride in the team who gave everything they had, but most of it was pride in my countrymen who showed the world how true fans could and should behave when supporting their country.
Thank you Irish soccer fans.