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On a wing and a prayer ... all roads lead to Poland


Former Ireland stars John Aldridge and
Ray Houghton fuel up fans Ed Hyland, left,
and Liam Leonard

Former Ireland stars John Aldridge and Ray Houghton fuel up fans Ed Hyland, left, and Liam Leonard

Daniel has his van
attended to by models Lynn Kelly and Nadia

Daniel has his van attended to by models Lynn Kelly and Nadia Forde


Former Ireland stars John Aldridge and Ray Houghton fuel up fans Ed Hyland, left, and Liam Leonard

THE Euro 2012 convoy to Poland has assembled -- and some of it is being held together by a wing and a prayer.

Judging by the condition of some of the bangers about to leave Ireland, they won't all be coming back.

Dozens of camper vans, converted buses and even a caravan welded to a Ford Transit stopped traffic yesterday, ahead of their 2,000km drive to Poznan for Ireland's opening game against Croatia in the Euro 2012 football championships.

Decorated with tricolours, Trapattoni masks and hasty paint jobs, the vehicles queued outside a filling station on Dublin's Usher's Quay. There was free petrol on offer and this lot will need every drop they can get.

Fans who plan to drive to Poland were invited to arrive at the station at 9am for up to €100 of free fuel.

Half an hour later a considerable queue stretched down the quay. By the end of the day the company had given out nearly €10,000 worth to more than 90 fans.

On the pumps were two of the stars of the Jack Charlton glory years, Ray Houghton and John Aldridge.

Now that the Irish fans are back on the road, Mr Aldridge reflected on the summer of 1988, the only other time the Republic of Ireland have qualified for the European Championships.

"The last game we played was against Holland, we got knocked out and went out and had a great night with some of the fans," the former striker remembered.

"Some of the fans lost their way, they couldn't get back to wherever they were staying and there were six of them.

"I woke up the next morning and they were sleeping on the floor and the couch in our room, and with me and Ray on either side in the bed. That's the way it was," he said.


Fan Daniel Lambert (28), meanwhile, was dishing out some advice.

"You have to go slower or it will come back out," the student from Glasnevin explained to a pump attendant who was caught by some petrol as it splashed back from the tank of his 1974 Bedford camper van.

Now in its fifth decade, there was no telling how many miles were up on its clock.

"It goes around after 99 and so who knows what it has now, it could be 195,000, it could be 295,000."

With its creaking doors and battered body work, the van had clearly seen better days, but maybe none more colourful. Pictures of Che Guevara and Bob Marley decorated the exterior, a Palestinian flag and a banner declaring 'Free Tibet' were stuck to the windows.

Below the furry dice on the dashboard were a tricolour and a banner belonging to Daniel's other team, Bohemians.

"I have a good one here for you," the student said stepping out of the van.

"It was on a farm for the last six months while I got it fixed and a bird had made its nest under the bonnet."

Sure enough, nestled next to the radiator was a perfectly formed bird's nest containing two tiny unhatched eggs. Mr Lambert has no plans to disturb it -- but the mother has long flown the nest.

"It's been all over Ireland," he said of the van, "but it's never been out of the country.

"I don't think it likes the sun and if it rains we might have a problem," the masters student of international conflict resolution said.

He has a thesis to finish six weeks after his return from Poland but conceded that he might be coming home on the plane.

"It mightn't come back in fairness. There's another van with us carrying spare parts," Mr Lambert said.

There were no such worries for Justin O'Keeffe whose €125,000 German camper van was carefully manoeuvred into place by his wife Marie.

"She's had her truck licence longer than me, she ticked all the boxes years ago while I had to go and do all the exams," the garda from Whitehall explained.

Marie won't be coming on the trip to Poland in the luxurious 11-D reg "home on wheels".

Instead Mr O'Keeffe is bringing three prison officer friends from Mountjoy, a useful team in the unlikely event that trouble breaks out.

"We're all set. I'm really looking forward to Poland, Poznan is a great city.

"The Polish are great, they're really going to welcome the Irish. It was €2 for a pint when I was there six weeks ago but the bartender told me he couldn't guarantee that when we get back over."

Irish Independent