Frank McNally: Fields of Athenry chime with Marseillaise
Not even heavy security has been able to spoil air of fraternity enveloping French capital
Republic of Ireland fans enjoy the atmosphere in Paris ahead of Monday’s game against Sweden. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
It is traditional for republicans to march out of Paris, on occasion, and storm Versailles. But after a revolutionary weekend in Irish sport, fans of the Republic’s soccer team will be hoping for another rewrite of history this afternoon, when the players leave their training base, near the old palace, and advance on the French capital, with aggressive intent.
Pending the arrival of Martin O’Neill and his men, meanwhile, the supporters have already taken the liberty of occupying the city. Their base for the weekend was the enormous fan zone on the Champ de Mars, underneath the Eiffel Tower.
But despite the venue (Field of Mars) being named after the Roman god of war, and unlike certain other Euro 2016 fans we won’t mention, these particular republicans are making it clear they come in peace.
If anything, the trouble in Marseilles has left the Irish even more anxious than usual to be seen as good guests. So the performance drinking has been as well behaved as ever. But, just in case, as well as celebrating the Champs of Athenry in song, as they always do, the visitors have also taken to reassuring locals by launching into the Marseillaise every so often. Some even know the lyrics.
For those and other reasons, not even the heavy security has been able to spoil the air of fraternity around Paris. On the contrary, although the guards can appear forbidding at first, once they have patted you down several times, you cannot but regard them as friends.
Among those watching the end of that now famous rugby game were the intending passengers on Ryanair’s 6.30pm flight to Beauvais.
We gathered around the televisions in a departures area bar, the numbers growing with the possibility of victory.
With 15 minutes left, unfortunately, the nearby monitor was urging us to “go to gate”. But a man with a Munster accent was unmoved. “There’s too many of us here: they won’t leave without us,” he declared, with the sort of cool thinking that was needed in Cape Town.
By then, the defiance of the outnumbered Irish team there looked like the Battle of Rorke’s Drift. And when Schmidt’s Drift (defence) held out, a guttural roar accompanied the mass departure for the boarding gate, along with the evening’s first chorus of “Olé, olé, olé, olé.”
Once the plane was airborne, and the “fasten seat-belts” sign turned off, there was a predictable rush for the toilets. The queue was still stretching down the aisle when the inflight trolley service began, or tried to. And for a while, there was a stand-off – literally – between those trying to sell drinks and those trying to expel drinks they had consumed earlier.
The cabin staff had to resort eventually to turning the seatbelt sign back on, whereupon those with swollen bladders groaned and retreated. But even then, good humour reigned, as the fans serenaded the trolley staff’s victory, to the tune of “Come on you boys in Green,” with “Come on the air hostess.”
Dash to pub
This did not have a noticeably depressing effect on the banks of the Seine where some in green shirts predicted a Brexit, via a twist on the 1996 tournament song: “England’s going home. It’s going home. It’s going home.”
As for the two Irelands, united briefly only by the rugby, they were several hundred miles apart last night, at either end of a famous cycling route: Paris-Nice – “The race to the sun.”
And sure enough, as seen from the Eiffel Tower fan zone, the Northern Ireland vs Poland game was played in glorious conditions.
But there were not too many watching the North’s defeat in the fan zone, because no sooner had the game started than the clouds burst, releasing a prolonged deluge that threatened to turn the Champ de Mars into the Mer de Neptune.