Watching the Euros in Australia, I’ve never felt closer to home
Irish people share a knowing nod of tiredness on the bus to work in Sydney
Jonathan Drennan (left) with Ben and Caleb (2) Hewett on Coogee Beach in Sydney: ‘I am not alone in my need to watch the games live, somehow believing that my remote presence via a shaky wifi Australian connection will be the lucky charm that helps Ireland’s football teams north or south of the border to win.’
My bloodshot eyes created confusion in work, it was after all a Friday morning. My colleague asked me was I wearing a pyjama top and had I had a big night. I replied no to both, that I was in fact wearing a vintage cotton Northern Ireland football shirt and had been drinking tea all night to stay awake. Unbeknownst to the office workers on their morning commute in Sydney, Northern Ireland had registered a famous win against Ukraine at 4am.
I am not alone in my need to watch the games live, somehow believing that my remote presence via a shaky wifi Australian connection will be the lucky charm that helps Ireland’s football teams north or south of the border to win.
There are hundreds of Irish people sharing a knowing nod of tiredness as we catch the bus in the morning to work in Sydney. “You boys did well last night,” an unknown Dublin voice calls to me. “Hoping you lads can get a result against the Belgians,” I respond. We talk tactics for the rest of the journey, strangers inextricably bound by a game of football in France.
I watched the Ukraine game at the ungodly hour of 2am, sat bolt upright in bed propped up pillows wearing a commemorative t shirt Mum and Dad posted me, in the manner of Father Dougal. At 30 years old, bedtime curfews should have long since disappeared, but I receive a text from my father from Belfast, “I hope you’re asleep Jonathan”. He knows this is wishful thinking and we soon start sharing our tactical hopes pre-game. He is cautious as ever, as am I.
I sit in a state of taut tension through much of the first half, and my phone starts humming at the bottom of the bed. WhatsApp groups from various friendships stretching from Belfast to Dublin to London and back are all watching the game. There are good luck messages from the lads from university in Dublin and work friends from Londo. I appreciate it, it’s as if I am out on the pitch instead of cursing my internet connection thousands of miles from home.
Then there are the texts from friends from Belfast who are in France for the tournament. They tell me they have got on famously with the Ukrainians, but know they can’t compete with the Republic’s fans for adorability.
After countless minutes of tension, Northern Ireland open the scoring through our centre back Gareth McAuley, a man who at 36 was a latecomer to international football, who once studied to be an engineer. It typifies our haphazard team. I can’t help it, I bounce off the bed and wake up my flatmates. They are used to this routine from qualifying, even if they are Australian. I apologise and shuffle back to bed.
A text sounds from my Dad, “keep calm”. Too late unfortunately Dad. Beach Street Coogee is only too aware that Northern Ireland are playing Ukraine now at 3am.
The game ebbs and flows. We are a team completely bereft of world class technical talent, but filled with endeavour. I start sketching out tactical formations via WhatsApp to my panel of experts in London and Dublin. They are cautiously optimistic that Northern Ireland can hold on for a famous victory. Then, just when we least suspect it, Niall McGinn our winger scores the second and final goal to win the game 2-0. I tiptoe through my bedroom in exultation.
The congratulation messages come in steadily. I respond to each graciously, knowing I had absolutely nothing to do with the result.
What is that connects us so tightly to our international teams thousands of miles from home in Ireland? What possesses anyone of sane mind to stay up all night watching stuttering images on their computer? For me it is a simple case of identifying where you are from and seeing men who grew up on the same streets as you play one of the highest stages in the world. It fills me with pride to see not only the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland compete in the European Championships, but also the impact their fans are having on the streets. It gives a connection to home.
I sit alone in a cold apartment watching these games in the dead of night, but oddly I’ve never felt closer to Ireland in Australia.
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