Thursday 27 October 2016

How the fans - and the French - gave a glorious two-fingered salute to the terrorists in Euro 2016

Published 13/07/2016 | 02:30

Irish and French fans in Lyon before Ireland’s Euro 2016 clash with France. Photo: Mark Condren
Irish and French fans in Lyon before Ireland’s Euro 2016 clash with France. Photo: Mark Condren

So, as the dust settles from Euro 2016, there are several things we can take away from the events in France. On a footballing note, this was a rather odd tournament. There were no stand-out teams this year and whether that signals a general decline in the standard of European football or simply indicates that the gap between the powerhouses and the minnows has now narrowed remains to be seen.

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We can look back at our performances with a reasonable degree of satisfaction and a fair amount of relief - the ghosts of Gdansk from four years ago have finally been exorcised.

We were all just happy to get out of the group this year, and it would have been a disaster if we hadn't.

But even though we can have no complaints about being knocked out by the eventual finalists, that doesn't mean the players and management team won't be kicking themselves and setting a higher objective the next time we qualify.

But above all else, this will be remembered as the tournament that was played under the shadow of the gun and the bomb.

There were genuine fears that a post-Bataclan, post-Saint Denis France would be a cold place to hold such a massive event.

The idea of hosting a nationwide championship that would attract hundreds of thousands of fans - most of them merrily drunk - in a country that was being held to ransom by Islamic terrorists was a daunting one just a month ago.

Yet contrary to all expectations, and with the hardly shocking exception of the behaviour of the Russian and English fans, this was a tournament that will be remembered for the boisterous but good-natured fans and, in a most unexpected twist, the light touch of the cops, who seemed happy to get into the mood.

Euro 2016 was a triumph for the French - and a victory for Western values.

When François Hollande spoke after the Bataclan massacre, he was refreshingly direct: "What the terrorists want is to scare us and fill us with dread. There is indeed reason to be afraid. There is dread, but in the face of this dread, there is a nation that knows how to defend itself, that knows how to mobilise its forces and, once again, will defeat the terrorists."

Hollande hit the essential crux of the matter - the goal of terrorism, any form of terrorism, is to spread dread and fear.

But more importantly, the success of the last month was about giving a two-fingered salute to the joyless, flaccid, stunted ideology whose explicit aim is to overturn Western enlightenment and return Europe to the Dark Ages.

After every terrorist attack, we're urged to carry on as normal, to show that we won't be cowed. What is usually just a reflexive platitude was gloriously brought to life here - because this was the first time we can say that the terrorists lost.

Not just because they failed to kill anyone or to incinerate half a stadium, but because so many, many people had a great time - drinking, laughing, carousing, indulging and doing all of the things that enrage the average Islamist nut.

It's easy to slag off the French for being the proverbial cheese-eating surrender monkeys, but it's a true testament to their courage that they didn't simply turn the country into a police state a month ago.

That would have been the easy option. Limiting large crowds, turning entire areas into no-go zones and restricting freedom of movement while using deliberately heavy-handed police tactics - these were all worries before the first ball was kicked. But in the end, the opposite seemed to be the case.

The French police are hardly a bunch renowned for their sense of humour and sweet nature, yet the sight of the usually rather terrifying gendarmerie singing along with Irish fans was certainly not what people expected.

What we have witnessed was the sight of an ideology being defeated. They like to boast that they love death more than we love life, but here was life being lived to the fullest and what was so inspiring about the way things were handled was that the terrorists became a background noise rather than the main event.

The best form of contempt is indifference and while the authorities were cracking down on suspects and raiding houses, people were able to get on with the far more important business of having a good time.

The idea that simply enjoying yourself is an act of defiance shows how deeply burrowed into our psyche terrorism has become. But that's the world we live in, and what could have been a blood-drenched few weeks has instead provided memories of a far more positive nature.

The old canard that they only have to be lucky once was exposed here - they didn't even manage that.

Instead, while the purists didn't get the festival of football they were hoping for on the pitch, the European Championships ultimately became a celebration of life and a rejection of the fear and caution the savages behind these attacks would have us feel.

Vive la France.

Irish Independent

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