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Dublin: 8 °C Sunday 31 May, 2020
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Letter from Versailles: 'Sad' France's spirits lifted by 'the green people'

We asked one Bordeaux taxi driver whether the Irish fans really deserve their reputation as ‘the best supporters in the world’.

Republic of Ireland supporters in the stands during Euro 2016.
Republic of Ireland supporters in the stands during Euro 2016.

Paul Fennessy reports from Versailles

AS MUCH OF a privilege as it is to be travelling around France covering the Euros, there are occasional inconveniences.

After a long day working at the media centre and a return home to the apartment in what felt like the middle of nowhere, it was finally time for dinner. Only, every food delivery place was closed (it was just after 11pm local time) and the fridge was empty, meaning there was no option but to sleep on an empty stomach.

Moreover, poor hungry journalists are not the only ones experiencing problems. Transport has also been erratic throughout France at times owing to various delays and strikes.

A number of fans reportedly missed the start of yesterday’s match owing to delays on the tram line and thousands arriving at the stadium simultaneously, with the understandably rigorous security check points causing further delays for eager supporters determined not to miss a second of the game.

As is usually the case, however, the vast of majority of the Irish fans remained relatively calm and well behaved during this frustrating time.

Even after the 3-0 loss to Belgium, Boys in Green supporters seemed upbeat considering the circumstances, treating one outgoing tram to renditions of All Saints’ ‘Never Ever’ and the rather less catchy ‘Belgium Has No Songs’.

And by the way, a tip for anyone planning on travelling on a tram full of Irish fans — do not bring takeaway pizza on it. What followed was several inevitable impassioned requests to share my much-needed dinner (though I had at least learned a lesson from my previous night of temporary starvation).

The next morning, like thousands of hungover Irish fans, I departed Bordeaux.

Relief and sweat washed over me as I got into the vehicle following half an hour’s worth of trying and failing to get a taxi, and feeling more relaxed, I struck up a conversation (in English, of course — my pidgin French leaves much to be desired).

I was eager to discover if the media image of the Irish fans being the darlings of France was actually true, or whether it was overplayed.

But in this one taxi driver’s opinion (which of course isn’t necessarily representative of the majority of French people), the Boys in Green supporters certainly came out as well as the reports suggested.

“When they win, they sing, and when they lose, they also sing,” he marveled, of the supporters whom he referred to as “the green people”.

He added that French people “appreciated” the Irish fans who were “singing and drinking all the time,” in contrast with the poor behaviour of others — most notably, a minority of Russian and English supporters.

“France is sad,” he explained, although he “didn’t know why”. The industrial unrest across the country probably doesn’t help, but he nonetheless was grateful for the presence of Irish fans to “lift the spirits” of his countrymen, adding that it will be a shame to see them leave.

But while Boys in Green followers may be happier than most, they were definitely more reserved than usual on the train back to Paris this morning, following yesterday’s “reality check,” as Joey Barton put it.

In contrast with the euphoria of previous days, there is now a sense of resignation among Ireland supporters over here after Martin O’Neill’s side were outclassed by the brilliant Belgians.

Whether they can pull off a famous win against a potentially weakened Italy team remains to be seen, though one thing is certain — there’ll be a few more stirring renditions of the Fields of Athenry on Wednesday night regardless of the outcome.

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Paul Fennessy

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