Wild Rovers bask in the limelight despite defeat to Premiership giants
THEY came with few expectations, apart from to have a good time.
In fact, for many of the hundreds of Shamrock Rovers supporters who flooded onto the lanes of Covent Garden yesterday, they had already achieved enough by coming face-to-face with Tottenham Hotspur in the latest part of their triumphant European voyage.
Planes from Dublin were filled with Hoops' fans in advance of last night's Europa League game in White Hart Lane in north London -- supporters buoyed up by a victory over Partizan Belgrade last month which gave the club a new injection of life.
"We are not expecting to win but it is a great experience. Belgrade gave them a huge shot in the arm," Ciaran Fleming, from Rhode in Co Offaly, said outside The White Lion where fans congregated yesterday afternoon.
A few hours later they were in dreamland when Stephen Rice gave Rovers a shock 1-0 lead, but just when a giant-killing shock looked on the cards, the home side hit back with three quick goals to win the tie.
Over 2,500 people bought tickets from the Tallaght-based club, while another 500 Irish people living in London joined them after buying their tickets through Spurs.
Ellen Kearns (23) and her sister Niamh (18), from Rathfarnham, Dublin, arrived early yesterday morning and returned late last night on a one-day turnaround so they could make work and school this morning.
"We are here to enjoy it. I have followed them for 21 years without anything," Ellen said.
For many who had supported the team for years, last night came as the high point in the lifetime of following Shamrock Rovers.
"We have been to Japan, we have been everywhere to support Ireland," Vincent O'Brien from Portlaoise, who is one of the clubs' 400 shareholders, said. "This is better than any Ireland game we were at because of the crowd -- everyone knows each other.
"Five years ago we were dead in the water."
Rovers quickly sold out their initial 1,800 ticket allocation from UEFA and had to go back and ask for more a number of times due to the huge interest from supporters.
Last night's match against the Premier League giants was a landmark occasion for the Dublin side -- not least because it is the first time Rovers have played a competitive match in England in 50 years.
Robbie Gaffney, a former Rovers player between 1978 and 1982 when John Giles was manager, said yesterday's event eclipsed anything he had seen as a player.
"This is unbelievable.
"This epitomises the club. I played in two European games but this is extraordinary," he said.
A spokesperson for Rovers' said there had been a large demand from fans for the tickets, as many saw London as an easy destination to get to.
However, while there was a clear interest from the Dublin side, there was less from Spurs fans who failed to fill out the stadium for the Group A game, while several of the teams' high-profile players were rested.
Among those making a few bob last night was Mario Kane, whose wife is from Dublin inner city, and who used his stadium-side stall to sell commemorative scarves at £12 each.
But the Hoops fans won't need mementos to remember this night.
A night of drama at White Hart Lane: see sport