Singing fans limber up for last big performance


EURO 2012 ROAD TRIP DAYS 12-13:WITH FIRST place in Group C all but assured, Irish fans are bracing themselves for one last big performance in Poznan tonight. A draw against the Italians should be enough to confirm the team in green as the outstanding supporters in the group, if not the tournament. But even after comprehensively out-singing the Croatians and then trouncing Spain, there can be no room for complacency.

Thus it’s expected to be a largely unchanged line-up that takes to the stands of the Stadion Miejski at 8.45pm local time. Tactics, however, are a different matter. A more defensive approach is likely here, with the Fields of Athenry predicted to feature much earlier than usual. Whereas You’ll Never Beat the Irish will almost certainly not be making an appearance, except in ironic form.

In fact, that particular chant may have been fatally damaged by the events of last Thursday, when it was strangled in the throats of the fans who unwisely launched into it moments before Fernando Torres’s opening goal.

Roy Keane will be delighted to know that it hasn’t been sung since, except with a slight lyrical change – ie “You’ll never beat the Spanish”, which could be heard regularly in the streets of Gdansk over the weekend.

In a similar vein, other standard chants have been adapted to reduced circumstances. The one that used to begin: “We’re gonna win the cup”, for example, was downgraded several notches after the Spain match to become a comparison between Ireland’s fate and that of another team that had lost its first two games.

The result (which involved some poetic licence) went as follows: “The Dutch are worse than us/The Dutch are worse than us/We know you don’t believe us/We know you don’t believe us/But the Dutch are worse than us.” This newly dark sense of humour extended to the guestbook at the Solidarity Museum in Gdansk shipyards on Saturday. Among the messages about worker unity and the triumph of the people was one from “Seanie Fitzpatrick. Ex-CEO Anglo Irish Bank. Having a good time 16/6/12!”

It was almost plausible, until you read the next message: “Mick Wallace, Wexford, Ireland. On the run from the tax man! 16/6/12.”

Most of the actual Irish fans present had cleared out of Gdansk by last night, having made as big an impression there as in Poznan. In a cafe near the main campsite in Solidarity Place yesterday, I watched a man with a midlands accent take his leave of the proprietress. It was almost operatic.

He hugged her, presented her with an Irish shirt, hugged her again, assured her that he was leaving a bit of his heart in Gdansk, and left with her wistful smile following him out the door. Like many green-shirted fans here, he could invoice the Department of Foreign Affairs for freelance ambassadorial work.

But even as we left Gdansk, many people weren’t quite ready to see Poznan again yet. Maybe the pain of the opening match, when our hopes were still high, was too raw. In any case, the popular compromise was Torun: one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Poland and the birthplace of Copernicus, the man who first developed a heliocentric model of astronomy.

Perhaps inspired by his precedent, fans who had gathered there last night were working a new model of Irish team support whereby the players are no longer the centre of the universe. It’s not just about them any more. And maybe one of the reasons many of us were holding back from a swift return to Poznan is that we need to focus: free from the distractions caused by the team.

Sure we appreciate them. They remain an important part of the Irish supporters’ set up – a kind-of 12th man, if you like. We’re always conscious of what they’re doing on the pitch, however painful it is to watch. But we have a big game ourselves tonight. Having done so well so far, we don’t want to ruin it now.

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