Friday 23 March 2018

A legend remembered - Poignant tributes in Georgia are what Ireland fans are all about

John's daughter Danielle and granddaughter Lesie with the Irish team
John's daughter Danielle and granddaughter Lesie with the Irish team
Ger Keville

Ger Keville

We shared a sombre joke as we ambled up the winding stairs and took our seats onto a tiered balcony overlooking the rest of the mourners.

"The Singing Section on tour," was one hesitant comment. "Should we burst into song?"

It may sound morbid, but it's exactly as the Bear would have wanted. 

The Bear, you are probably wondering, is better known as John Dowling - a larger-than-life and endearing character who sadly lost his battle with cancer a few weeks ago.

Martin O'Neill with John's daughter Danielle and granddaughter Lesie
Martin O'Neill with John's daughter Danielle and granddaughter Lesie

He was 55 years young and had so many more international stadiums to visit, so many more badges to add to his already vastly-populated cap.

The Singing Section is block 114 in the South Stand of the Aviva Stadium, an area created by Ireland fans and the FAI when Lansdowne Road reopened in 2010 and home to John and hundreds more like him when Martin O'Neill's men grace the D4 venue.

John will be a noticeable absentee when Ireland play Serbia on Tuesday.

The Bear’s personality was infectious and he wore a constant, radiant smile that had mystical-like way of dragging you towards his company. 

When you saw him in bars all around Europe you stopped, chatted and had a beer. It is true, the best ones go before their time.

Hundreds of Ireland fans, decked out in green, gathered at the Church of the Ascension of the Lord, Balally, Sandyford, to wish him farewell. A guard of honour was formed in and out of the church as fans stood by his side one last time, poignant yet fitting scenes for a man who was an ever-present at Ireland matches, home and away, in recent times.

One close friend of John's commented that the Irish fans were "his second family" and that was evidently clear.

YouBoysInGeen shut down their website for the day of John's funeral and supporters' clubs were well represented; Davy Keogh and the Ballybrack Seagulls, Class of 88 and the Confederation of Irish Supporters Clubs. All people you only normally see at Ireland games but the Irish fan community is a special one.

In Georgia, a flag remembering John (below) will be proudly held in the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena as fans pay tribute to one of their own while the Football Association of Ireland will give the 1,000 members of the green army a remembrance keyring.

A flag remembering John Dowling

John's daughter Danielle and granddaughter Lexie are also in Tblisi with John's close friends while the FAI organised for them to meet the team and management, a classy gesture and a testament to the man himself.

Last year, Ireland fans were lauded and vilified at the same time following a series of videos that went viral in France during Euro 2016.

Some, strangely, generalised and labelled them just a bunch of pissed up, attention-seeking gombeens playing up to the leprechaun stereotype. 

Chances are there won't be too many videos of fans changing tyres or singing to nuns from Tblisi.

John's story and the goodwill that has emanated from his passing is more in line with what Ireland fans are about.

Online Editors

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