COMMENT: Time to dispel the myth that Ireland fans are the best in the world
There was a touching moment in Paris involving fans from this island during Euro 2016.
A young boy had become separated from his father. Amidst thousands of boisterous football fans and the beer following, one can only imagine it was a harrowing experience for the chap.
But, as happens so often, football fans united in a brilliant show of togetherness.
The boy was welcomed by one group and placed on a vantage point while the crowd began to chant ‘Steve, Steve, Here Is Your son’, followed by ‘Stand Up, If You Lost Your Son’, while the crowd lowered themselves to their knees.
Humour and humanity rolled into one beautiful moment that culminated in one happy boy being reunited with his relieved father.
The fans in question were from Northern Ireland and Wales and the incident happed before their last 16 match while tens of thousands of supporters from both countries mixed freely together.
A party atmosphere. No trouble. No medals.
There is a medal for Ireland fans, however.
Fans from this side of the border can, no doubt, wear a broad smile today. Their impeccable behaviour and endearing charm has once again been recognised.
Tens of thousands travelled, we sang our hearts out – even in defeat – and there was no reported trouble. As a well-travelled Ireland fan, I can say I am proud of our fans in France, just like I was in Macedonia, Scotland, Austria, Germany, Cyprus and many other nations where we have represented the country with pride. This is nothing new.
But the sceptic in me must ask – why has the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, written to President of Ireland Michael D Higgins to tell him Ireland fans will be awarded a medal? Who will receive the medal?
One can only assume it will be a well publicised event that will be reported in many countries with plenty of back slapping for the people of Ireland and France.
Are Northern Ireland getting one also? Wales? Iceland? Surely Iceland will receive recognition for the greatest-ever show of travelling support since laces were sown into a piece of leather?
Over one tenth of their population travelled to France. Over one tenth!
And their support? Just have a listen to the Icelandic ‘War Chant’ and reception they gave their players following their momentous victory over sorry England in the video below.
As of right now, there are no reports of medals for anyone except Ireland fans. We clearly have more worldwide viral videos than any other nation who graced the green fields of France so, in theory, maybe our badge of honour will generate more publicity for the Mayor’s office in Paris?
Or maybe I am just getting old and cynical.
Pictures popped up on my Facebook timeline recently of a good bunch of hardcore Ireland fans all decked out in suits at the wedding of two of their fellow supporters who met in Poland. United in football and now sharing a couple’s most special of days. It’s just a small example of how profound it can be supporting Ireland. Cities around the world are visited and long-term friendships are formed. Yes, being an Ireland fan is a unique, beautiful experience.
But as Ireland fans, we can only speak for ourselves.
It’s time to dispel the now worldwide notion that Ireland have the greatest fans in the world (Granted, we can't stop the high praise that we are afforded from other parts of the world). We don’t. No one does.
What, exactly, is the barometer for the best fans in the world anyway?.
Talk to a Shamrock Rovers fan and he/she will tell you that the Hoops are the best supporters in the League Ireland. You will be met with a similar narrative off Bohs fans. Or Derry or Finn Harps.
Liverpool fans will claim the crown in England, Manchester United fans will differ.
Ireland can rightly claim that our supporters are a jovial, thoughtful bunch on our travels who support the team with real passion inside the stadiums. Many other nations can claim the same.
Supporting Ireland is more than creating viral videos in squares, on trains or in airports.
Prominent Independent News and Media columnist Billy Keane wrote last week about his experience at the Ireland Belgium match in Bordeaux.
“The tram to the game was so overcrowded as to be dangerous,” he wrote.
“A young French girl had a panic attack but the Irish fans saved the day. She was pulled to safety and minded by two Irish supporters.”
It's akin to many other tales through the years.
No cameras, no viral video. Just sincerity and no medal can replace that.