Are Irish fans really "the best in the World"?
Supporters in France have been widely praised throughout Euro 201612:23 Wednesday 22 June 2016, 12:23 22 Jun 2016
We all knew it was coming. Didn't we?
The Irish fans are in France having the "craic" and are already being proclaimed as "the best fans in the World". Are they though? What makes them different to their Swedish, Belgian and Italian counterparts?
Euro 2016 is an international party taking place in one of the most cultural places in the World. Apart from a United Nations meeting or Eurovision Song Contest, you wont see many Icelandic, Albanian and Czech fans congregating in the same place.
The Irish fans are the "best in the World" because we are constantly told we are. No other reason. The Aviva Stadium rarely sells out for internationals apart from the major qualifying matches or the odd glamour friendly. That's hardly a ringing endorsement to how great we are.
Over the past week, we have regularly seen videos of fans (pints and bottles in hand) having fun and comparing themselves to the English travelling support. Our friends from across the water have taken a literal and figurative battering in Marseille and Lille over the past few days.
What is to compare with England's fans? The fact that the green army go to another country, have some fun and behave themselves? Aren't we great!
Irish fans have a history at tournaments of enjoying a few drinks, while (rightly or wrongly) the ghosts of hooliganism follows England wherever they go. That hasn't changed this month, yet we still think it should be something to be surprised at.
Michel Platini makes a presentation to the family of the late James Nolan in 2012. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan
The Irish public regularly devour what the British media are covering. As a minority of English fans have been getting themselves in trouble, the Irish mentality is to get one over on the old rival. Memes upon memes are popping up all over social media comparing the fans. Who cares?
Unlike in the 1988, 1990, 1994 or 2002, Euro 2012 saw Irish fans travel to a tournament for the first time in the internet age. We saw videos and pictures everyday of how great Poznan was. A random 30 second video is a tiny snapshot into a very long non-matchday.
The reason the vast majority of supporters have travelled to France is to see Martin O'Neill's side play three games and hopefully some more. In 2012, Michel Platini travelled to Dublin to present the Irish fans with an award over their good behaviour at the tournament.
Giovanni Trapattoni's team may have been the worst team in Poland and Ukraine, but UEFA deemed the fans, as the best around. I'm pretty sure most fans would have preferred another goals to embarrassingly celebrate than a made-up award.
While the fans have been having "the craic", there has been a sinister side to the festivities. Numerous videos appeared on Twitter before the Sweden game, with Irish fans singing the Kolo/Yaya Toure chant. Why did the fans sing it to random people on the street? I'm sure the fact they share the same skin colour as the Ivorian brothers may have had something to do with it.
The Welsh and Northern Irish fans have been widely applauded for their behaviour in France. Maybe they should be given the title that Ireland fans have given themselves? That wouldn't fit the narrative though. Martin O'Neill's side have a minute chance of winning the tournament. Many fans will want to leave with something.
As the tournament progresses, we are seeing more and more fans travelling around France and meeting more of the natives. Irish fans are bringing their own type of "wit" with them including singing the Our Father prayer to an elderly nun on a train. It was clearly pre-planned with the idea of earning their fifteen minutes of internet fame. Would they like to be in the same situation in 50 years time on the Galway-Dublin train? I somehow doubt it.
The vast majority of Irish fans are having the time of their lives in France and deservedly so. Most people left behind in the country would love to be in Lille on Wednesday to cheer on their heroes.
Ireland's fans are very popular with the locals, but it's time to end the self-congratulatory tones. It's getting nauseating.
At least we wont have to look at those flags in a few weeks time. Many will agree that that's a good thing.
Off the Ball is live from Lille tonight from 7pm with best of build-up and reaction as Ireland get set for a crucial game against Italy.
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