Security concerns will keep players cocooned at Euro 2016
The days when Irish fans could mix with players at tournaments appear to be gone
Martin O’Neill: close proximity to fans at 1982 World Cup was ‘really fantastic’. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
With all the briefings and workshops in the run-up to Euro 2016, you’d think some might be fluent in the local language by the time the tournament finally comes around. Then again, maybe not: life in the Uefa bubble is a world away from everyday France and there is absolutely no need to trouble yourself with the lingo.
The sessions this time – on security, media and refereeing guidelines, among other things – were attended by managers and officials from the 24 relevant associations. They were held in plush meeting rooms in a windowless basement. As you come and go, Parisians could be seen going about their business in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, but inside, where the tournmant preparations took place, delegates could be anywhere.
There’ll be a touch of that, too, when the Republic of Ireland team travels to Versailles on June 8th. Their five-star hotel will serve as a cocoon for a squad whose predecessors were once celebrated for their willingness to mix with fans.
It was the same in the old days with Northern Ireland, recalled Martin O’Neill yesterday in a mixed zone notable mainly for how glum the English reporters looked when it became clear that Italy’s Antonio Conte, on course to be Chelsea’s next coach by all accounts, had decided against coming.
“I think it has pluses and minuses,” says O’Neill of the changed environment in which players find themselves at major championships. “If I can go back to my own experience in 1982 in the World Cup, the close proximity to fans was really fantastic. You felt a strong camaraderie. I think if you were to ask the players and management team of Jack Charlton’s era, I think it was exactly that. Everyone was in it together.
“I still would feel as if we are going to be part of the travelling support, but obviously for security you know you are going to be separated a little bit.”
With family, friends and, in particular, fans, all kept at arm’s length, there is a lot of time to kill for the players, but O’Neill is visibility exasperated by the notion that boredom might be a serious problem.
“I really don’t understand this,” he says, slightly more animated than usual. “The suggestion that it does happen and the very fact that it might happen. You can be bored for the rest of your life! Just don’t be bored for a month.
“I don’t understand it. We will have time, and the players will have time, to see families. But the minute we hit France, it will have to be total concentration on the games, absolutely.
“And of course if we progress, of course they will have the opportunity to see people. I wouldn’t stop that. But at the end of it all, part of the thing about being in Ireland [at the training camp in Fota Island at end of May] is that they can go and see family at different stages.
“The minute we play the Dutch game, the minute we focus and hit France, five or six days beforehand, absolutely total concentration. I don’t think there will be time to get bored. That’s just my view.”