20,000 Irish fans have swept overseas to Poland and the Ukraine to support their team in the European soccer championships.
By train, plane and car they flooded across Europe all week like the swallows of Capistrano returning to their natural habitat.
They have been joined by Irish from all over the Diaspora returning to cheer on their Boys in Green in Europe’s most important soccer tournament.
It is deja vu all over again for a new generation of Irish soccer fans in Ireland and abroad. Back in the 1980s, a previous Irish economic depression was lifted in part by a national outpouring of pride and joy in the success of the Irish soccer team, especially in a famous victory over England in those same European championships.
When Ireland defeated England 1-0 in 1988 in Germany, Ireland danced and so did their emigrant children all over the world. In that pre-Internet time I remember watching the game in an Irish pub in Astoria. After Ireland won, we poured out onto the streets on a Sunday morning, confusing the hell out of local residents who had no idea what was going on.
Ironically, the team was managed by an Englishman, Jack Charlton, who remains one of the most popular figures in Irish sporting history.
In 1994, the Irish overseas army marched on America and New York in particular, or should I say New Jersey.
That was when, on a white hot June day the Irish soccer team defeated the mighty Italians 1-0 at Giants Stadium in what may well be the most famous victory in Irish sport.
While Americans can tell you where they were when the ice hockey team defeated the Russians in 1980, the Irish sports fan can do the same for Giants Stadium.
Luckily, I was only a few hundred feet away in the stands, as Ray Houghton --again an Englishman of Irish origin---turned and scooped a long range lob over the Italian goalkeeper’s head to give Ireland a famous victory.
There has been a lull and a drought for many years but now the Boys in Green are back in this major tournament in Europe.
Once again the emigrant clan from all over Europe have gathered while millions back home and around the world will be glued to TV screens when Ireland kicks off against Croatia today.
This time around there is an Italian manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, who is quickly achieving Charlton-like status all across Ireland.
Win or lose, the Irish team will do the country proud and lift spirits at a time when it has never been so badly needed.
So go on you Boys in Green and give us something to cheer for!