Fan spends €400,000 to watch Ireland team
IT'S not cheap being a super-fan. One of Ireland's greatest football supporters has devoted a staggering €400,000-plus to following the Green Army across the globe over four decades.
Retired Garda Jim Ryan (59) -- who doesn't drink, smoke or gamble -- said that despite the huge cost, he wouldn't swap his lifetime of sporting memories for anything.
Those memories include being present to cheer Ray Houghton's winning header against England at the Euro '88 finals in Germany -- and seeing the debuts of Irish legends David O'Leary, Paul McGrath, Roy Keane and Robbie Keane.
"It was like your first kiss -- you never, ever forget it," he said yesterday as he prepared to follow the team once again.
Jim -- who served as a garda in Cavan, Dublin and Cork -- boasts a passionate obsession with the Republic's football team that dates back 40 years. He said he had his tickets for Poland/Ukraine 2012 booked even before Ireland clinched qualification.
He has missed just a single Irish competitive away fixture in 37 years -- and is a veteran of Germany '88, Italy '90 and USA '94 and Japan/Korea 2002.
Next week, he jets out to Poland for the Green Army's Euro 2012 odyssey -- and, ever the optimist, has paid for tickets for the quarter-finals, semi-finals and even the final itself.
His Polish budget -- which could extend to €4,000 -- is carefully planned to even cope with staying on to see Ireland being crowned European champions.
"You never know -- Greece won it against all the odds in 2004, so it could be Ireland's turn," he said yesterday.
Jim has attended a staggering 120 away fixtures and has only missed one competitive match since 1975 -- the clash with Russia in Moscow last September.
"I made up my mind I just didn't want to go -- I'd been to Russia for matches several times. I didn't like the atmosphere and, while nothing ever happened to me, I know a few Irish fans who got beaten up."
Jim reckons that the total mileage he clocked up over the years following the Green Army would probably equate to a trip to the Moon.
He admits he has spent around €400,000 when travel, hotels, meals, jerseys, souvenirs and excursions are taken into account.
"But you keep the memories long after you've forgotten the cost -- some people spend a lot more sitting in the pub over their lives," he said.
The price tag would be far higher had Jim not kept the costs down by booking early, avoiding ticket touts and, if necessary, staying outside the host cities where prices inevitably are inflated.
"When I was working, the key was being organised. You had to book the time off months in advance once you knew the fixture list."
His first away international was against England in 1976 and the memory is still vivid.
"David O'Leary was only a youngster at Arsenal and he made his debut and delivered a massive tackle on Kevin Keegan, who was a superstar at the time."
He said his favourite overseas experience was being one of only 150 Irish fans in Tehran for a play-off match which saw Ireland qualify for the 2002 World Cup.
"When you hear 90,000 Iranian fans chanting from the Koran it makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck."
His favourite venue was the Faroe Islands -- and he even stayed with former manager Brian Kerr when he travelled there.
And his favourite Irish goal was Ronnie Whelan's "screamer" against Russia in Euro '88.
"I know it was later described as a 'shinner' and that he didn't really intend to hit it like that but it was a brilliant goal and an absolutely fantastic day."
Jim's lore of football tales even prompted him to write a book entitled 'A Sporting Beat'.
Regardless of the outcome, this month's trip to Poland and Ukraine won't be the final chapter for this most devoted of Green Army foot soldiers.
"I've already got tickets organised for Kazakhstan for Ireland's first (World Cup) away qualifying match on September 7 -- I'm really looking forward to it," he said.
Polish prime minister Donald Tusk writes for the Irish Independent