Football fans on song despite defeat
The people of Gdansk have a saying: “What happens here moves the world.” Well it did but not how the legions of Irish fans wanted after a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of world and European champions Spain sealed their elimination.
Instead it has been the fans’ passionate performances in the stands and town squares across Poland that have lit up one half of Euro 2012.
Despite the heavy defeat supporters outnumbering Spaniards 2-1 paid tribute in the only way they know with a rousing rendition of Fields of Athenry.
It ran from the 87th minute, through stoppage time and on for several minutes - an epic rendition by the fans.
Many of those watching the match took to Twitter to comment on the behaviour of Irish fans and 'Fields of Athenry' trended worldwide. Among those to pay tribute to the supporters were footballers Fabrice Muama and Robin Van Persie who both expressed amazement at how the fans reacted to the defeat.
Over 2 million people tuned in to watch the game on RTÉ with an average of 1.1million watching the full game.
In the stadium in Gdansk was Austin Leahy, a surgeon in Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital who has travelled all over the world watching Ireland, including USA 94 and Japan and Korea in 2002.
“I think they have been a very average team who have performed well above anyone’s expectations. The fans have been great but that team owes us nothing,” the 58-year-old said.
“We’ll be in Brazil.”
The stunning amber PGE Arena, a 44,000 capacity stadium near Gdansk’s Solidarity Square, was overrun by Irish supporters - drowning out their opponents in the group of death, or debt as it became known.
It sits in the shadow of the shipyards where Communism first cracked and played host to a footballing superpower that outclassed Ireland on the pitch but nothing comes close to the huge travelling Irish support.
Laura Carroll (26) from Navan, refused to get sucked into post match analysis with scores of fans wanting to see James McClean on early.
“Regardless of the result the craic will still go on,” she said.
The Poles have also taken Ireland to their hearts and it was seen clearly when, after 25 minutes with the green army subdued for too long, a Polish contingent behind the Spanish goal let loose with local chant Polska, Bialoczerwoni to the tune of Go West, which has been adopted by the Irish. It ignited the ground.
The draw or bust encounter with Spain had been nicely set up after Italy and Croatia earlier fought it out 1-1. What the fans had been hoping for was another Stuttgart ‘88, a France in 2009 or a rerun of the Giants Stadium, New York but hopes were dashed early on.
Ben McQuaid, from east Tyrone, with a leaf out of the Eric Cantona school of philosophy accepted Ireland were second class to the World and European champions.
“If you can’t run with the big dogs then you sit in the porch, that’s where we are,” he said.
Trudging from the stadium, a resigned Conor Gallagher, from Bohola in Co Mayo, said the team was simply not able to compete on the world stage.
“As they said before the competition we were in the group of death and look what happened,” he said.
Fans are split along the Gdansk-Gdynia metropolis by the Baltic with Sopot, where the team is based, increasingly the party destination for most.
In the plaza, actor Tony Devlin from west Belfast settled himself in for another long night of dancing, drinking and singing.
“There’s about 30,000 Irish fans in Sopot alone, and never mind the games win, lose or draw, I don’t think we’ll be going home anytime soon,” he said.
Earlier tickets changed hands in Gdansk with Spanish fans quick to cash in. Double face value was the going rate.
Meanwhile, Mr Leahy’s football mad friend Des McElroy, an orthodontist from Clontarf, celebrates his 59th birthday tomorrow, no matter the result.
“They’ve done well with the players at their disposal. But it’s a big anticlimax,” he said.
Rory Rafferty from Fermanagh had earlier in the week gatecrashed a wedding in Gdansk old town and was still smiling despite the early exit.
“We got beaten by the best team in the world, but at least we were here,” he said.