Friday 17 November 2017

Morning after night before as fans hit road

Green Army bid au revoir to Paris after being welcomed with open arms, write Wayne O’Connor and Ralph Riegel from Euro 2016

Darren Johnston, Darren Casey, Owen Mahon and Richard James in Paris. Pic:Mark Condren
Darren Johnston, Darren Casey, Owen Mahon and Richard James in Paris. Pic:Mark Condren

Wayne O'Connor and Ralph Riegel

Voices were croaky and heads were sore, with plenty of tired and emotional fans floating around Paris.

The French capital had a collective hangover yesterday but nobody had it quite as rough as the street cleaners and local authority staff who were dispatched to get the city in order after the night before.

Eoin McCann, pictured above right with wife Roisin, holds up baby Aoife during the Ireland-Sweden game at the Stade de France
Eoin McCann, pictured above right with wife Roisin, holds up baby Aoife during the Ireland-Sweden game at the Stade de France

An official fan zone was created for supporters right in front of the Eiffel Tower but it appears the Irish have outgrown these surroundings.

Instead, they moved across the Seine river to the famous Montmartre area of the city next to the Pigalle red light district.

Justin Ryan, from Waterford, was staying in Montmartre and said the Irish have all but taken over.

"The whole atmosphere was amazing," he said. "We stayed right in the heart of the action right by the Moulin Rouge. It was turned into an unofficial fan zone by the Irish supporters.

Richard and Julia Cooke leaving Paris for the next leg of the Euros.
Pic:Mark Condren
Richard and Julia Cooke leaving Paris for the next leg of the Euros. Pic:Mark Condren

"They just seemed to let the Irish fans have the run of the place. There didn't seem to be much of a police presence there but everyone was well-behaved. There was no need for them really.

"Everyone kept it going until the small hours of the morning and the locals seemed to be happy with everyone. There was no trouble there at all."

With the Moulin Rouge as a backdrop, drink flowed freely, with street vendors carrying plastic bags filled with cans of beer priced at €2.50 each.

But an unlimited supply of low-cost booze lends to another problem - frequent toilet stops.

Patrick Neill and David Nestor from Dublin leaving Paris after the Euros. Pic:Mark Condren
Patrick Neill and David Nestor from Dublin leaving Paris after the Euros. Pic:Mark Condren

This becomes all the more problematic given there is only one public toilet on the boulevard.

"I'll be cleaning this in the morning," said one sorry-sounding soul, as he stared down a soiled-looking Rue Pierre Haret.

But it wasn't all late nights. Many fans were sick of alcohol so took time out to see the sites and tour the city.

Three Irish fans were so moved by the reception accorded the Green Army in Paris they decided to visit the Bataclan Theatre to show their personal solidarity.

Kevin Brogan, John Paul McDade and Mark Garbutt, all from Lusk in Dublin, said they wanted to do something to show their appreciation for the warmth of the welcome shown to Irish fans by ordinary Parisians.

"It is kind of eerie to come here to pay your respects, see bullet holes in the walls and realise just how many people died that night when they were only going out for a good time," Kevin said.

"The French have been unbelievably welcoming to Irish fans," John Paul said.

"They couldn't do enough to help.

"The atmosphere in Montmartre, where most of the Irish fans socialised, and in the fan zone by the Eiffel Tower, has been amazing.

Watch: Irish fans meet nun on train, immediately break into a brilliant 'Our Father' chant

Another group of Irish fans ensured one of the great catchphrases of Irish sport was revived in tribute to the late Bill O'Herlihy. The group have paraded around the City of Light with 'Okey Doke' T-shirts to commemorate the late RTE broadcaster, who became synonymous with the glory years of Irish football from Euro '88 and Italia '90 to USA '94 and Korea/Japan 2002.

The yellow T-shirts sport Bill's famous RTE catch-phrase and a special message reading: "Bill's Euro 2016 Tribute Tour."

"We just felt it was the right thing to do given that this is the first time Ireland has been to a major football championships without Bill being involved," one fan said.

"He was as much a part of the story of Irish football and the Green Army as Jack Charlton, Mick McCarthy, Giovanni Trapattoni, Martin O'Neill and the others."

Meanwhile, other weary members of the Green Army bid a sad 'au revoir' to Paris and began the 585km trek south to Bordeaux for Ireland's second Euro '16 match. More than 50,000 fans began the mass exodus from Paris by car, bus, train, motorcycle and aircraft while thousands more sadly headed home.

It was an emotional departure as Irish fans and Paris had developed a mutual love affair.

Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, paid tribute to the behaviour of Irish fans while Paris Chamber of Commerce admitted they would love if Ireland qualify from their group and secure a return to Paris for another Euro '16 game.

There were only five arrests after the Stade de France clash with Sweden on Monday night - and none involved Irish fans.

The only problems reported were a number of petty thefts involving the passports of Irish fans and valuables left in parked cars.

Irish fans admitted Bordeaux and Lille now have a lot to live up to.

'I was hoping my flight would be cancelled due to the strikes but it isn't. I'd love an excuse to stay because we've had a mega time," admitted Joey Doyle from Dublin.

Unfortunately, some Irish fans had their travel plans significantly disrupted due to a combination of security alerts and strikes across Paris.

Read more: Ryanair and Aer Lingus cancel flights as new strike 'targets' football fans

A giant protest march by French union CGT forced the closure of some railway stations and roads around Montparnasse yesterday afternoon.

There were also a number of temporary closures of metro lines due to security alerts.

Supt Gerry Delmar, who heads an eight-member Garda liaison team in France, urged Irish fans to travel with care, allow plenty of time for their journey and follow all French security instructions.

However, the greatest trek facing the Green Army will be when Ireland switches from Bordeaux to Lille for the final group clash with Italy. That will involve a mammoth 857km transfer.

Some lucky Irish fans even got to meet their heroes as they left Paris yesterday.

Owen Mahon from Deansgrange, Dublin and his friends met Ireland and Everton midfielder, James McCarthy.

Irish Independent

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