For Northern Ireland fans in Lyon, it’s more Beckett than Bloom

Forget Joyce. As NI face Ukraine, Beckett’s maxim ‘try again, fail again, fail better’ applies


Two great rivers, the Rhône and the Saône, converge in Lyon, where thousands of Irish fans also have converged in the hope of a Bloomsday victory over Ukraine today.

One of those is Stephen Ferris, the retired Ireland rugby flanker, who was yesterday enjoying a beer close to the fan zone at Place Bellecour. With friends from his home village of Maghaberry in Co Antrim, he was knocking mighty fun from the antics and camaraderie of the still pumped-up fans.

His view was the same as the general opinion of Northern Ireland supporters that while they faced a class team in their defeat to Poland, they played far below their potential.

“The fans don’t really care if they get beaten 2-1 or 3-2 or whatever, but go out and have a go, and you never know what might happen. That’s what the fans want,” he said.

There’s a James Joyce pub in Lyon in the beautiful old quarter of the city. But it hasn’t been a magnet for the Northern supporters, just possibly because it was closed for part of the day.

For many of these fans there is still thirsty daytime work to be done to prime the body before they set out for the 59,000-seater Parc Olympique Lyonnais this afternoon.

But for the injuries that dogged his career, Ferris almost certainly would have been part of the Ireland rugby team that scalped South Africa last weekend. “They showed character and spirit and hopefully the Northern Ireland lads can take a bit out of that.”

The Northern supporters are conscious of their underdog status but still they travel in hope. The hundreds gathered at Place Bellecour were in great cheer yesterday.

All out

Among them was a group from the loyalist Sandy Row and Donegall Road in south Belfast. Two of them, Michael Surgeon and Norman Martin, said Northern Ireland must “go all out”.

Norman pointed out that Northern Ireland can wear the underdog tag quite well. He was in Spain for the World Cup in 1982 when they had a famous victory over the hosts to get them through to the second round stage.

June 16th is a famous day in Irish literary history but, in truth, Joyce and Bloomsday don’t feature too heavily in the thoughts of the Northern supporters. The fact that the game against Ukraine is on the anniversary of the day that Joyce set Ulysses wouldn’t impress them particularly, notwithstanding that they are enjoying their own odyssey.

That’s because they’d be more Sam Beckett types.

Today they want Michael O’Neill’s team to subscribe to his maxim: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Or not fail at all.