Tiny allocation sees green army in Lyon scramble for tickets

Irish fans hope the French might love them enough to get them into the game

Irish fans celebrate during the Euro 2016  match between Italy and Ireland  in Lille, which  Ireland won 1-0.P Photograph: Laurent Dubrule/EPA

Irish fans celebrate during the Euro 2016 match between Italy and Ireland in Lille, which Ireland won 1-0.P Photograph: Laurent Dubrule/EPA

 

The first of the world’s greatest supporters entered Lyon’s den on yesterday, facing their biggest challenge yet in Euro 2016. Never mind the task of cheering on a tired Ireland against the hosts, who have had a more comfortable passage and several days longer to prepare. The first problem for many Irish fans will be just getting in to Sunday’s game.

“I’d compare it to whenever Cork play Dublin in an All-Ireland final,” said Frank Johnson, from Bandon, sitting outside a café on Place Bellecour. “They have all the advantages, it’s impossible to get tickets.”

Not exactly impossible in this case, he added, pointing to a website on his phone where premium seats for France v Ireland were on offer for €620. But failing a better deal than that, he will be watching from the fan zone. Johnson and his equally ticketless friends, Johnny Chambers from Cork city and Séamus Morris from Mayo, have been at all the Irish games.

Asked about their budget, they answered with a picture of a banner in the crowd at Lille, bearing the message, “Tell Mammy to send money”.

As if to confirm the paranoia of Cork people everywhere, two Dubliners nearby have tickets for the match. James Coll from Santry had the foresight or optimism, pre-tournament, to apply for a pair in a potential round-of-16 match involving Ireland.

Many of the advance guard of supporters though have travelled in hope. One vague source of hope for tickets is the deep well of affection that Ireland supporters have earned in France.

The French cannot learn enough about these green- shirted wonders, who fix cars, serenade police, sing lullabies to babies and in general appear to be on a humanitarian mission to lift the spirits of a host country at odds with itself. The result is that Irish supporters are routinely approached by locals wanting to thank them just for being so great.

Le Figaro became the latest newspaper to pay tribute on Thursday with its “Why the Irish supporters are the stars of this tournament”. The love-bombing peaked with a widely shared “open letter”, posted on Facebook by French fan Olivier Sauton, which claimed that he and many French supporters would not be be too upset if their team loses on Sunday. “I think I am telling the truth when I say that [all] France has fallen under your charm,” he wrote.

Back in the sports pages, Lyon’s Le Progrés listed several reasons why it considered Ireland dangerous opponents. The first was its “12th man” – the supporters – who had created a vacarme dementiel (mad din) against Italy in Lille.

But this time Ireland play the hosts at home. Barring a large-scale donation of tickets from our local admirers, there is likely to be only 4,500 Irish in a 59,000-seater stadium.

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