Win, lose or draw against Italy tonight in France, the Irish team and supporters have done Ireland and its image a world of good during the European championships.
The good humor and class of the Irish fans has spread throughout a tournament rife with spectator violence and fears of terrorism. When the Irish fans were pictured cleaning up after themselves, a true love of them became apparent among their French hosts.
They have even become famous stateside. NPR, on their top rated “Morning Edition” program, referred to the dreadful violence between Russian and British fans (in fairness the Russians were the aggressors) and contrasted that to the “delightful” Irish fans.Several videos of the Irish fans have gone viral, including:
One with one million hits showing the fans serenading a beautiful French woman.
One of them singing a lullaby to send a French baby to sleep. (Ever heard hundreds of Irish voices singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?)
One of them signing “Our Father” to a French nun
One of the Irish fans cleaning up the area where they'd been reveling.
And one of the Irish singing with British fans and imploring them not to riot.
A French elderly man who was helped change his flat tire by Irish fans had just two words “Vive L’Irlande” when asked for comments.
It is wonderful to see Irish celebrated in this way. The goodwill generated, not to mention the laughter and craic, is incredible as the team tours around Europe followed by their incredibly loyal fans.
Ireland’s team alas, has failed to live up to the fans’ enthusiasm as has proven the case so many times in the past. They drew with Sweden, where the fans joyously sang “Abba” songs with the Swedish supporters before the game, and mixed and mingled in total harmony. A win there would have helped them enormously as it was the easiest game in a very tough group.
Then they were dreadful against Belgium, losing 3-0 as the hapless fans looked on and on. Tonight they face the mighty Italians who are the overwhelming favorites.
Mention of Italy brings us back to Ireland’s most famous soccer victory, when they defeated Italy 1-0 in the Meadowlands at the old Giants stadium on June 19, 1994 in the World Cup, a day that will always live in the hearts of Irish soccer fans.
So an upset likely would send Ireland into the next round and keep around the fans described as “adorable” by NPR.
The Irish soccer team has become the embodiment of the Diaspora too, as many British-born players and one Irish-born son of an American born immigrant to Ireland decided to play with Ireland.
Over the years the British have become wise to the move however, with the resultant drop off in standards in the Irish team.
But Irish around the world follow them intensely. The European Championship start times mean early mornings in Australia, mid afternoons on the east coast of America and breakfast elsewhere on the globe.
The team has become the ultimate bonding experience joining Irish the world over in communion with a team that alas, is far more about lovable losers than spectacular winners.
But the Irish as underdog is when they perform best and Italy may well be in for a surprise despite their silken skills.
But there is no doubt who the winner among the fans is. Take a bow, Irish supporters.