Tuesday 6 December 2016

'What the hell is going on?' - Bemused Irish fan gets armed escort after hitching lift with 'VIP'

Cathal McMahon

Published 19/06/2016 | 13:14

One Irish fan was given a ministerial escort into Bordeaux ahead of Ireland's clash with Belgium.

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The supporter, from Co Derry, ended up sitting beside Super Junior Minister Finian McGrath on the flight over from Dublin on Friday.

The man, known only as Gary from Limavady, didn't recognise the politician and the pair had a lengthy conversation about football.

As they were nearing their arrival time the man turned around to Minister McGrath and asked how he was getting into the city.

Speaking to Independent.ie Mr McGrath explained what happened next: “I told this lad from Limavaddy that there might be someone picking me up, thinking that there could be a taxi waiting.

“I said, I'd see if I could slip him in. Then, as we were coming out of the airplane I see that the red carpet has been rolled out and there is a soldier there saluting me."

Super Junior Minister Finian McGrath and Irish Ambassador to France Geraldine Byrne Nason at the temporary Irish Consulate in Bordeaux
Super Junior Minister Finian McGrath and Irish Ambassador to France Geraldine Byrne Nason at the temporary Irish Consulate in Bordeaux

The Independent TD, who was only recently appointed to cabinet for the first time, said: “That's never happened to me before. Gary stood back and said 'what the hell is going on here?'

“It gets better. Your man [the soldier] welcomes me and we walk over to this lovely car and there's two motorbike riders. So Gary is sitting in the back of the car going in to meet the guys in the pub.

“I can imagine how he felt going in and telling them the story. They'd never believe him, I'm guessing.”

The Super Junior Minister with Responsibility for Disabilities was in Bordeaux for Ireland's disappointing loss to Belgium.

He spent a night with the fans around the city.

“I saw it first hand. I spent seven hours walking the squares and walking the bars and having a drink in different places and I saw them in action.

“I thought initially that some of the reports about them initially were a bit exaggerated.

“But it was absolutely a great atmosphere. A great interaction with the local community, a great interaction with the police.

“I was in loads of photos with the gendarme and Irish fans.

“The Irish fans are absolutely and unbelievably well behaved. To me it was like a fleadh concert or a concert that is going well.”

He added: “At the same time there should be good behaviour, there should never be an excuse for anti-social behaviour. There should never be an excuse for what happened between sections of the Russian and English support.”

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