Famous Euro 2012 flag could prove very best work of its student instigators

Tue, Jun 26, 2012, 01:00

THEIR COVER was blown two weeks ago thanks to a picture on the front page of Germany’s best-selling newspaper. But a ceremony in Dublin has now made it official.

Whatever chance there was that Angela Merkel really did think they were at work, an official dispatch will be winging its way to Berlin shortly, informing her otherwise.

As its notoriety continues to grow, the most famous flag of Euro 2012 continued its undiplomatic mission yesterday, with a visit to Merkel’s Irish embassy. It was there at the invitation of the German ambassador, Dr Eckhard Lübkemeier who, like millions of Bild readers, enjoyed the joke.

So much so that he played along when the University of Limerick students behind the slogan presented him with a spin-off T-shirt bearing the line: “Angela Merkel thinks I’m at work”.

Perhaps fearing the Irish sense of humour could cause contagion in Europe, the ambassador declined prompts from the press photographers to put it on.

Having playfully suggested raising the flag on one of the embassy’s poles, alongside the EU and German colours, he quickly resiled from that idea too – his retreat covered by one of the students, who quipped that, after the Irish team’s performances, “we’d have to fly it at half mast”.

As a sign on the building indicated, the German word for embassy is botschaft, which also means “message” or “news”. A fortnight after being well and truly botschafted by Bild, the students are still astonished at where their fame has taken them.

They were “celebrities” among fellow Irish supporters in Poland. Then they became drawn into the life of one fan in particular: Belfast boy Oscar Knox (3), who has brain cancer. The flag has since been auctioned for €15,800 (with additional contributions from underbidders) to raise funds for Oscar’s treatment.

The ripples of goodwill may spread even farther away now, as the joint successful bidders – Listowel-born businesswoman Oonagh McNerney and her brother-in-law Martin Digby – are based respectively in Barcelona and Australia.

Both also attended yesterday’s event and explained they hope to get the Spanish football team to add their signatures to those of Robbie Keane and his colleagues, which already adorn the flag. Kylie Minogue is another possible target. In the process, the flag will tour Spain and Australia before returning to Ireland and “wee Oscar”, who will be its ultimate owner.

Hiberno-German relations have, meanwhile, benefited indirectly. But the flag’s message may have been ironic in more ways than one. The students behind it are hoping for careers in business, law, accounting, and medical engineering. But the joke is they may struggle ever to do a more effective week’s work than the one they did in Poland with a throwaway line on a Tricolour.