Lord of Gdansk: Reality bites for Irish fans

Eurosport Yahoo! supervising editor Seán Fay is throwing his professional hat out the window and travelling to Euro 2012 as an Irish supporter. He'll be blogging throughout the tournament.

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“And then you go and spoil it all by doing something stupid like playing football.”

As the clock ticked deep into injury time in Poznan and all hopes of Ireland getting anything out of the match evaporated, the Irish fans, still standing, and still at the ground en masse, roared out ‘The Fields of Athenry’.

It was a show of defiance, an act of pride - but more than that it was one last chance to experience the dream world that us Irish fans have been citizens of ever since qualification was achieved last November.

For when the final whistle was blown, it was finally time for reality to bite: this was a catastrophic result, which even after one game leaves Ireland on the brink of elimination.

Before the tournament started, people indulged in moments of fanciful thinking.

- “Look what happened to Greece, why can’t we do what they did?”

As a country we’ve plenty in common with Greece, but not with their 2004 football team, it seems.

Outside the stadium, fans began their post-mortems - but they were short and brief. Some bemoaned a few refereeing decisions, others questioned Trapattoni’s subs, while uncharacteristically poor defending and bad luck was also cited.

However, even after taking into account such misfortunes, everybody was left with the same inevitable conclusion.

- “The better team won, we were outclassed, no complaints.”

It is such a shame that a game of football got in the way of an otherwise memorable day.

The old town square in Poznan was heaving with both sets of fans from early afternoon. The Irish claimed one end and Croatians the other but fans from both teams mingled happily at either end.

I saw one Croatian fan getting kicked out of a bar for being a little too flirtatious with a waitress only for one of his new Irish friends to step in as a character witness and talk the bouncers into letting him back in.

When there was a brief bit of trouble, it was on the side of the Croatian fans. I was with friends not far from the incident and we saw bottles and chairs being flung at the riot police.

We initially thought it was Polish protestors who had sparked it off - there had earlier been about 300 people marching against public finances helping to fund the European Championship - but it later emerged that the scuffle was between a handful of rival fans from Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split.

There was also a brief flurry of violence the previous night sparked by Lech Poznan hooligans, which I did not see, but while these make sexy stories, I can assure you that the atmosphere between the two sets of supporters was nothing but friendly. Never once did us Irish fans feel threatened by our Croatian counterparts and I’d like to think the feeling was mutual.

Everybody was in a great mood as they moved from the city centre to the stadium itself. One fan told a tale of his tram breaking down after the Ireland fans joined the Croats in a song which involves everyone bouncing up and down.

Inside the stadium the atmosphere built up quickly; fans arrived much earlier than they would normally, ready to soak up a special occasion.

UEFA, to be fair, did a good job getting everyone in the mood. They made the announcing of the two teams a ceremonial ritual conducted by a fan. For Ireland, comedian Karl Spain was handed the task. Ireland’s official Euro 2012 song – a reworked old folk song called ‘The Rocky Road to Poland’ – was played with lyrics on the big screen so everyone could sing along.

It might seem a bit naff and artificial, but it actually worked and got the already pumped-up juices flowing even more.

- “You’ll NEVER beat the Irish...”

If only that was true!

The anthem was also stirring stuff, but then bang - three minutes in and we were 1-0 down. Even after equalising it never really looked like we had a grip on the match: the second-half performance was better but most of that good work came after Croatia had done irreversible damage at the other end.

This Ireland team is not one built to play from behind.

Reality bites.

On the walk back to my own supporters’ coach I saw another bus that had a banner pasted across it in crude writing asking fans to “join us back in the funzone to see Mundy playing in concert".

I’ve never been a fan of Mundy – a middling singer-songwriter from the Midlands in Ireland – but I felt sorry for him last night.

He must have thought he was on a great jolly heading off to Poland for the game and a gig but I couldn’t have imagined anything worse than seeing him play at a 'funzone' after such a match.

But listen - it’s just one game, it is not over. Ireland have pulled out some pretty incredible results over bigger fish in past tournaments: England at Euro 88, Italy in New York in 1994, the famous draw at the death against Germany in Japan back in 2002.

Our Euro 2012 chances may now be on life support, but we’re not dead yet. By the time the Spain match comes along next Thursday we may even have talked ourselves into an even more unlikely dream.

We will travel to Gdansk and we will scream, roar, whistle and sing our team on to an unlikely victory.

We will be ready... just give us a few days to get over this one first.

Eurosport-Yahoo! supervising editor Seán Fay has thrown his professional hat out the window and has travelled to Euro 2012 as an Irish supporter. He'll be blogging throughout the tournament.

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