Sing when you’re winning: NI fans in full voice
Green and White Army are singing their way to Paris, but not all the songs make sense
In Lyon, they couldn’t resist humming the oddly mesmerising “Go Gareth McAuley, Go Gareth McAuley”. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
As the Northern Ireland caravan travels through France the supporters leave their songs behind them. In Nice, locals on the street were picking up on the catchy “Everywhere we go, from Paris to Bordeaux, it’s the Ulster boys, making all the noise, everywhere we go.”
In Lyon, they couldn’t resist humming the oddly mesmerising “Go Gareth McAuley, Go Gareth McAuley”, a paean to the Larne man who scored the first goal against Ukraine in Northern Ireland’s 2-0 victory last Thursday.
A rather infectious tune it may be, but would it be wise to sing it so vociferously in Paris? World champions Germany carry enough of firepoweras it is; why rilethem unnecessarily?
The “don’t mention the war” school of diplomacy doesn’t apply to Northern fans. And let them at it, is the view of Robin McLiam Wilson, author of the great Belfast book Ripley Bogle. “The fans can be rude, but that’s good. They are great fans, they are showing the French how to be fans,” he says.
He was in Lyon for the Ukraine game and was thrilled by the experience. “That was a knockout result, and we were good, we played football.”
He is now based in Paris and, among a number of publications, he writes for Charlie Hebdo, which was targeted by Islamic terrorists last year when 12 people were killed. By default, McLiam Wilson is the Euros correspondent for the magazine, which is stuffed to the gills with satirists and intellectuals. “I am covering the tournament for them because they all hate football at Charlie Hebdo. I am doing it to annoy them as well.”
Capacity for song
So, here we are in Paris as the Green and White Army makes its impact along the boulevards and in the cafes and, much more often, the bars. Now the French capital is getting used to the fans and their songs and their strange way of greeting each other on the streets.
And you get all strata of society among the Northern fans. They can be exotic and different to other supporters in their own particular way. You get loyalists from Sandy Row and the Shankill, Lambeg drummers from Armagh, middle class types from the Malone Road, unionist politicians, evangelists from the North’s Bible belt, and the occasional lord and lady.
Historian Lord (Paul) Bew was at the Ukraine match with his wife Greta and son John. It was rather like being back in Belfast, as he met so many of his Queen’s University students at the stadium. He is predicting a German victory tomorrow just as he predicted Ukraine would defeat Northern Ireland 3-0.
That’s because in 1982, ahead of a famous 1-0 World Cup victory over Spain, he told friends that Northern Ireland would lose 3-0. “I make these predictions in the fervent wish that I will be wrong again.”