4-0 down and with a few minutes left , the stadium in Gdansk is filled with the sound of 25,000 Irish fans singing ‘The Fields of Athenry’ with the Spanish fans clapping in rhythm. The World Champions coach, Vincente del Bosque, said afterwards: “I thought (with) that the Irish fans and players showed us what the game is really about.”
Meanwhile, Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger, working as a French TV pundit, asked the commentators to stop talking so that viewers could hear the Irish singing. You can listen and watch and listen to the fans and see why it was such a special moment.
Irish manager, Trapattoni, applauded the world champion’s silky football skills by saying they played “like an orchestra” . He went on to say that “They (the fans) cheered us through the most difficult part of the game and I am really thankful for that.” Irish players talked about their disappointment of losing heavily but also their amazement and appreciation of the fans who supported them to the bitter end.
Irish fans have ‘previous form’ whether singing, baying as sheep or showing silent respect as recorded brilliantly by Kiwi writer, Martin Moodie, who in 2008 was taken aback by the respectful silence which Munster rugby fans gave to the All Blacks goal kicker – ‘you could hear a dog bark in a distant street’ he said.
Or in Milan, during World Cup 1990, when thousands of Irish football fans, waiting in the mid-morning heat hoping to buy unexpected quarter final tickets (against Italy) – were penned inside large steel fencing and surrounded by police with dogs, batons, guns and tear gas. One fan made a sheep noise. “Baaaghhh”. A police dog reacted and barked viciously. Another fan went “baaaghhh”, followed by a few dozen more, then a hundred . The dogs went crazy. Police nervously tried to control the dogs. Several thousand penned fans were “baaaghhing” and the dogs were going ballistic. Finally the police captain saw the funny side and ordered his men to take the dogs away, realising the harmless good humour of thousands of Irish fans pretending to be sheep penned in.
The ‘Angela Merkel Thinks We’re Working’ flag says it all. Despite very tough economic times, austerity measures, the brotherhood of football knows no bounds nor does its humour!
Brazilian fans like to dance as do African fans, not to mention West Indian fans who create a cricket carnival atmosphere, and Dubai’s Al Nasr fans, as I discovered, like to sing (one song went on for 18 minutes!), While Scottish fans (notably ‘Ally’s Army”) were welcomed everywhere - in fact some went to Argentina in 1978 and never came back , the locals loved them so much – several Scottish fans stayed, settled down and never looked back!
It seems all of these fans have fun, celebrate sport and perpetuate the brotherhood of sport. Long may it continue. We salute great sportsmanship from great fans.