Monday 19 August 2019

The Joxers are already kitting out Euro '16 Hiaces

Ireland fan Adrian Quinn, from Athlone, heads for the Euro 2016 qualifier between Ireland V Bosnia & Herzigovina at Lansdowne Road
Ireland fan Adrian Quinn, from Athlone, heads for the Euro 2016 qualifier between Ireland V Bosnia & Herzigovina at Lansdowne Road

John Daly

Tuesday morning, queuing half-asleep at my local credit union as Hurricane Abigail battered the street outside, barely noticing that the place seemed more crowded than usual, I shuffled toward my turn at the counter. Recognising me, the manageress beamed a knowing smile, asking: "Would you be looking for a kitchen improvement loan as well this morning?"

I'm slow, the penny doesn't drop. "You know, for that kitchen job you plan on doing around next June? You know, with the French appliances."

Bingo, I finally get it, better late than never. The Green Army are gearing up for a long overdue adventure, and this time it's just a ferry crossing away. Best get the funds in place now. How many men have been in on this particular errand already today, I inquire. "Only six so far, but I'd say it's going to be a very busy week for home improvements," she replies with a stony face.

Up to last Monday at 9.30pm, the biggest event of 2016 would have been the Easter Rising centenary. After the football win at the Aviva, however, "all is changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born" as the legendary Green Army of Irish football supporters gird their loins, and whatever you're having yourself, for their latest sporting adventure at Euro 2016.

Like that famous football summer of '88 in Stuttgart, an event so perfectly depicted in the legendary Christy Moore song, Joxer, and thousands like him, will once again be packing the foreign phrase book and jump-leads for the van, at the head of a fleet of "Ford Transits, Hiaces, and an old Bedford from Tralee, with the engine overheating from long-hauling duty free".

After the glorious win over Bosnia-Herzegovina, a tidal wave of Emerald Isle emotion is already deep in the planning stages everywhere from Gweedore to Dungarvan. The mission? To manfully embrace La Belle France in a Celtic bear hug unlike any she's ever experienced before.

To be sure, the spirits of Sartre, Flaubert and Maupassant are no strangers to the literary bliss of Joyce, Beckett and Wilde - but finding themselves back-slapped into endless verses of La Marseillaise by Joxer, Whacker and the ghost of Jack Charlton will surely prove an unexpected addition to Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité.

This trip is about much more than just sport, as every true fan knows, footballing journeys like this have now become an expression of our identity more vital and revealing than anything Fáilte Ireland could ever dream up. If you missed Germany '88, Italia '90, USA '94 or Poland '12, the chance to be part of a unique Irish rite of passage beckons at France '16.

Unlike the trail to Poland for Euro 2012, which presented a logistical nightmare for Irish supporters, France is just a short hop across the pond.

Added to that, the intervening four years have seen an improved economy - and easier access to those user-friendly credit union home improvement loans. But transport and accommodation in France is not cheap, and especially when we could be travelling to Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, Nice, Marseille and Toulouse for matches. However, the Green Army are nothing if not inventive, and scores of Hiaces are already being kitted out with foldaway beds as a cute hedge against the inevitable inflated prices of the Gallic high season.

Of the thousands of supporters who travel to France, less than half will manage to see the matches. Undeterred, they will instead take over village squares and city quarters, love bombing all and sundry with a joie de vivre guaranteed to have locals wondering what magic swirls in those Celtic mists to produce such relentless happiness even when we lose.

"The qualification of the Irish is a godsend," declared German football magazine 11 Freunde this week. "The Boys in Green can celebrate like no other nation, always peaceful, always sympathetic and emphatic, with an infectious, childlike joy." The level of craic and general tomfoolery on display in Poland four years ago is still spoken about in tones of envy and awe amongst our EU neighbours. "There were fans from Ballyfermot, Ballybough and Ballymun," Christy sang about the magic. "On the journey of a lifetime and the craic was ninety one."

It's going to be huge.

Olé, olé, olé…….

Irish Independent

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