Green shirts take over ‘red light’ district
Post-Bataclan fears banished as fans send message that terrorists never win
Ireland and Sweden fans wait for the Group E match kickoff at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis. Photograph: AFP Photo/Miguel Medina
You would expect last year’s Paris attacks to have had an effect on the way Irish football fans socialise in the streets of the French capital. Au contraire.
If anything, their exuberance is even less restrained than it was in the innocent days of 2009, for example, when the only cause for concern was Thierry Henry cheating us out of a place in the World Cup.
As on that and other occasions, the fans still tend to congregate at night around three Irish bars on the Boulevard de Clichy in Pigalle. The Moulin Rouge is adjacent and so are numerous sex shops, making this a kind of red light district.
But that appears to be a mere coincidence. When the Republic of Ireland team is in town, the area becomes a green shirt district. And the only activities any of the shirt wearers seem to be interested in are drinking and having fun.
In that respect there have been no concessions whatever to the new, post-Bataclan reality. As usual this week, thousands of Irish fans have gathered outside the said pubs in the evenings, forcing the police to close one side of the boulevard to traffic.
Layers of security
The officers do look vaguely concerned, at least. That’s more than can be said for the Irish fans, who drink and sing and dance for hours on end, with a stamina that the sails of the nearby red windmill cannot match.
It’s as if they want to send a message to extremists that, in the words politicians always use, terrorism will never win. That, however, is probably not foremost in their thinking.
If there is a political motive lurking behind the epic nightly feats of partying, it is to emphasise, for any foreigners who may have missed the point, that we are not English. In general, the message is that no matter how drunk Irish fans get, they will not cause trouble.
There is definitely a performance element involved, sometimes verging on self-parody. The fans are happy to make a show of themselves and, police aside, Pigalle is a good place for an audience.
Over at the official fan zone, in the Champ de Mars, the multiple attractions include almost every kind of football game you can imagine. For starters, there is the actual Euro 2016 tournament, beamed live on big screens.
What the fan zone lacks, from the Irish-football-fan-having-fun point of view, is a playing space with buildings around it: one where you can kick high into the sky and sometimes, accidentally on purpose, cause them to go through the residents’ open windows. In this regard, by contrast, the Boulevard de Clichy is fully equipped.
Even in this activity, though, there is some consideration involved. Irish fans use light plastic balls, of the kind that won’t break glass. Which is just as as well because, for some reason, and despite the warm weather, the windows of residents near the Irish bars on the boulevard this week have been mostly closed.
But the odd ball does end up on a balcony. And the resident who comes out and throws it back down again is guaranteed instant hero status (as well further persecution from people trying to repeat the trick).
That said, the only casualty so far was a Swedish fan who had to be helped away from the scene on Sunday night to a waiting ambulance. Assisted by Irish fans, he had no obvious injuries.
The suspicion was that had just been trying to keep pace with the rest of the beer drinkers and found himself, as many foreigners do at this level, out of his depth.