Tuesday 23 January 2018

Craic troops in green conquer Europe with an awesome show of farce

Republic of Ireland supporters get a warm welcome from police ahead of a Euro 2016 Group E match in France. Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland supporters get a warm welcome from police ahead of a Euro 2016 Group E match in France. Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

Tommy Conlon: The Couch

The last time we saw a crowd of football fans tidying the gaff after a night of partying was 14 years ago. It was a Friday night in downtown Seoul during the 2002 World Cup. South Korea were playing Portugal in the final group game. A win would guarantee them passage into the last 16.

Tens of thousands of local supporters had assembled outdoors to watch the match on giant screens. Virtually every one of them was wearing a red T-shirt. It was the largest gathering of people I have ever seen at a single sports event.

They went berserk when the mighty Ji-sung Park, later of Manchester United, scored in the 70th minute. South Korea won 1-0. At the final whistle this sea of humanity erupted into a maelstrom of celebration. It became a riotous carnival of joy. The streets could barely contain the cascading rivers of delirious Koreans.

Seated outside one bar was a group of five or six male fans. They hailed me over, insisted I join them, and plied me with beer and food. At some stage a fleet of municipal garbage trucks arrived in convoy. The workmen fanned out with their brushes and shovels. This was an unremarkable sight until we saw what happened next. Hundreds of the celebrating fans began helping them. They picked up by hand whatever litter they could find and deposited it in the trucks. They did it automatically, conscientiously, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do.

It was a sight to behold. If the post-match celebrations were an exuberant demonstration of national pride, this was in many ways a much more impressive display of civic responsibility. And inevitably the envious thought occurred that you'd never see the Irish doing the like of this.

But lo and behold, there was Paddy in France last week and what was he doing? Well blow me down if he wasn't picking up the detritus he'd discarded on the streets of Paris and Bordeaux and putting it into refuse sacks for safe keeping. It had to be seen to be believed, so thankfully it was all over YouTube.

You could've knocked me down with a feather duster. There he was, in his cups, gathering up the bottles and the ould tin cans and, for good measure, singing while he went about his work too. 'Clean up for the boys in green,' he chanted as the bottles clinked in the bags.

We all know that in sport if you stand still you get left behind. This was the moment we realised that the boys in green, off the field at least, had taken their performance to a new standard. It's a competitive business these days, being popular on the big stage; there are no easy games at this level any more. So the heirs to Jackie's Army haven't rested on their laurels; the pursuit of excellence has continued; they have put in the hard yards.

Our lads hit the ground running as soon as they landed in Paris. They knew that social media has become a game-changer - and they raised their game accordingly. Soon we were seeing them singing ABBA songs with the Swedish fans on the streets outside the Moulin Rouge.

Then, in an uncanny echo of that night in Seoul in 2002, they serenaded a Parisian garbage truck as it arrived for a clean-up operation. This was frankly a more mundane exhibition of Paddy's liking for the bit of irony: the city's refuse hadn't been collected for weeks because of industrial unrest - hence the jeers and cheers when said truck eventually materialised. Anyway, a Norwegian journalist was sufficiently tickled to post some footage on Twitter - which meant we already had points on the board in the race for best in show.

Many other stories of good deeds and happy vibes emerged over the following days. Soon the reviews were pouring in. "Irish fans have already won the Euro 2016," declared Buzzfeed France.

Another French website paid homage, describing them as "festifs, joyeux et drôles". If the French aren't careful, their own word for genial good cheer, bonhomie, may be consigned to obscurity by the ongoing international invasion of that relentless contagion known as the craic.

Does it matter that we're conforming to just about every stereotype as we go about this project of colonisation by charm: the drinking, the singing and the general Paddywhackery of it all? The official narrative is that we're a high-tech highly-educated society nowadays. But at every international tournament we seem to end up back in Darby O'Gill mode.

There seems to be an element of ostentation in these displays, of 'virtue signalling' in front of the eyes of the world. Meanwhile, back at home we don't see anyone picking up litter off the streets. More to the point, it's only two months since a few fans of Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians clashed at Dalymount Park. These aspiring hooligans have been knocking around the domestic league for years. It is conceivable that some of these knuckleheads are out in France singing and cheering with the rest. If so, the power of the crowd is keeping them in their place.

In fairness these are minor objections. It is always hard to tell whether the rest of the football universe is laughing with us, or at us, but maybe it doesn't matter as long as they're laughing at all.

Sunday Indo Sport

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