Northern Ireland fans voting to Remain in Europe

Brexit less imortant for many than securing tickets – and permission – to go to next game

Northern Ireland fans  in Paris ahead of their Euro 2016 match against  Germany. Photograph: Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images

Northern Ireland fans in Paris ahead of their Euro 2016 match against Germany. Photograph: Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images

 

After the Northern Ireland game against Germany at the Parc de Princes the DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds was off to “round up a few” Brexiteers he wanted to get home to vote Leave.

That was just before it became known that due to the Turks that Northern Ireland had made their way through to the last 16 of the Euros. The Northern Ireland supporters at that stage of the night were nail-bitingly concerned about in or out of Europe - but it had nothing to do with Brussels or politics or the Common Agricultural Policy.

It was to do with would the North still be in the Euros and would they have enough euro in their pockets to survive another four or five days in France.

But after Turkey did the business for Northern Ireland it was clear that lassoing Brexiteers along the boulevards of Paris would have proved difficult for Mr Dodds when the fans were in such skittish and frisky mood. How Ya Gonna Keep ‘em Down on the Farm After They’ve Seen Paree, was also a song title that came to mind.

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness attended the Northern Ireland game and then travelled on to Lille for the do- or-die showdown between the Republic and Italy.

Like Mr Dodds, whatever about the roaming Leave fans, he too will be back in Northern Ireland on Thursday for the referendum - one for quitting, one for staying, so they will cancel each other out when the votes are counted.

But why would any Northern Ireland fan want to abandon Europe when the fun is this good? In any case it was evident in Paris that rather than Brexit, the greater focus was on whether the North would face France back in Lyon on Sunday or Wales in Paris on Saturday.

Welsh test for NI

Following the Republic’s result last night, the die was cast – Northern Ireland will play Wales in Paris on Saturday.

The Northern Ireland fans celebrated the 1-0 defeat to Germany as if it were a victory. And in a sense it was.

Had it not been for the astonishing goalkeeping athleticism of Michael McGovern, who actually is out of contract with his Scottish team, Hamilton Academical - temporarily, one would imagine - then Germany could have banged in four or five goals and Northern Ireland would have been in the Leave camp on goal difference. Instead they got through holding one of the top third places.

Tommy Logue, from Omagh, Co Tyrone was at the victory over Ukraine in Lyon and at the Germany game, travelling to France with his son, Andrew and their 17-year-old friend Kyle Beattie. Tommy said they were tempted to stay but that could have him facing “divorce and/or the sack”. So, it’s homefor them, and in time to vote in the referendum.

“Oh, I’ll be voting out, absolutely,” he said.

Why? “Just to see what happens.”

But had he not fallen in love with Europe?

“No, there are too many foreigners here,” he said, with, I think, his tongue firmly in his cheek. And yes, he conceded, Northern Ireland fans make up a significant proportion of those foreigners in France at the moment.

Glen Killen from Antrim town, who works in the ambulance service, finished a 12-hour shift on Monday and then flew out “last minute” to Paris after a mate got a ticket for him. “It was brilliant; we stayed in the ground singing ‘Will Grigg’s on fire, your defence is terrified’ on repeat for about an hour after the game ended,” he said.

Glen had his rucksack on his back and was for Leaving. But then again he might also be for Returning at the weekend. “I don’t know, I have to see if I am working or not,” he said, with the wistful look of a man who fervently wants Northern Ireland to Remain in the Euros. “I think I could make it work somehow.”