Miracle would be just the ticket for Irish fans
An estimated 80,000 Irish fans are massing around Bordeaux ahead of the team's game against Belgium, writes Ralph Riegel from Euro 2016
Eighty thousand Green Army fans are praying for the miracle of the 'loaves and tickets' in Bordeaux for Ireland's crunch clash today with Belgium.
With Bordeaux Girondins stadium having a capacity of just 40,000 - less than half that of Stade de France in Paris - and Ireland securing an official allocation of just over 7,000 tickets, tens of thousands of fans are bracing themselves for bitter disappointment.
Irish fans have already taken over the centre of Bordeaux with the city's Mayor Alan Juppe echoing the tributes paid to the Green Army for their good behaviour by his Paris colleague, Mayor Anne Hidalgo.
Irish and Belgian fans are singing, dancing and drinking together - with the Bordeaux fan-zone, substantially quieter than the Paris fan-zone at Champs de Mars, already predominantly green.
As in Paris, the eight-strong garda team led by Supt Gerry Delmar reported no serious incidents involving Irish fans in Bordeaux.
The estimated 80,000 Irish fans along France's Atlantic coast are spread between traditional holiday venues including Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Royan and Arcachon.
La Rochelle, in particular, has been transformed into a green zone - with the famous campsites on the Ile de Re unofficially adopting Ireland.
"It's been incredible - we have two vans, a 2003 Ford Transit and a 2001 LDV, and we arrived here via Brittany, Paris and La Rochelle," Thomas 'Tosh' Keaney from Donabate in Dublin said.
One ageing van had to have its tyres deflated just to get it out of a Paris campsite - while another was painted a strange green colour that earned it the nickname 'Creepy.'
"We're doing a bit of surfing and then heading into Bordeaux to the fan-zone.
"We're hoping to pick up tickets but everyone tells us they're like hen's teeth or selling for mad money," Keaney said.
Another ticketless fan was Paul Slaughter originally from Lucan but now living in Cork.
The father-of-four has been making the most of the tournament but admitted he is wary of returning home.
And with good reason, Paul (45) told his wife Catherine he was headed to a stag party in Galway but instead made his way to France for Euro 2016.
His wife only figured out his plan when she saw the suitcase he was packing for the "weekend trip".
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Paul said he will pay for the "white lie" but said it was "completely worth it".
"When she saw the suitcase being packed she said: 'That's a big suitcase for a weekend, isn't it?'" he said.
So I had to tell her then that I was coming over here to the Euros to bring the horse to France."
Paul is planning on travelling to all of Ireland's games in Euro 2016.
While he secured tickets to Ireland's game against Sweden he has been unable to get his hands on one for today's clash.
"I have done everything and anything to get a ticket, bar stripping naked and running up the main street.
"I have called everyone but you can't get one. They're like Willy Wonka's golden ticket."
He is planning to watch the game in the Connemara Pub tomorrow before making his way to Lille for the Italy match.
Others fans such as Stephen Bunney from Douglas in Cork are making the most of Bordeaux.
"You couldn't get a nicer place to have a European Championship match. It's a gorgeous area," he said.
Black market tickets for tonight's clash are now selling for almost €1,000 - more than eight times face value.
Irish weather has also followed the Green Army with torrential downpours in Bordeaux throughout the day.
Today's forecast also includes heavy showers - a factor that could offer the rain-acclimatised Irish team a crucial edge over Belgium.
The Irish team arrived in Bordeaux yesterday from their base at the Trianon Palace in Versailles outside Paris.
The team remain under heavy security and only move when accompanied by armed guards and police outriders.
Irish players will remain under heavy security in Bordeaux until they return to Paris later tonight.
The clash in Bordeaux with Belgium, which could decide Ireland's fate at Euro 16, has also attracted a host of familiar faces, ranging from Keith Duffy of Boyzone, Ministers Shane Ross and Finian McGrath, to comedian Karl Spain and model Claudine Keane.
It remains unclear whether Taoiseach Enda Kenny will attend the Belgian match or the final group game against Italy in Lille.
President Michael D Higgins will attend Ireland's final group game against Italy as a guest of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI).
"As a lifelong supporter of Irish football he was delighted to receive the invitation. Other commitment means he will have to miss the Belgian game. But the President hopes to be in Lille," a spokesperson said.
Bordeaux authorities have warned Irish fans attending tonight's match to allow up to three hours for transfer from the city centre to the new Girondins Stadium.
Fans will enter the stadium through three different security checks and capacity on the city's tram network will be limited given the numbers involved.
Security is also tight at the fan-zone, just off Bordeaux city centre, with no flag poles, laptops, heavy cameras or bottles allowed.
Irish pubs in Bordeaux including Molly Malone's and The Connemara were not surprisingly doing a roaring trade.
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