Apparently we’re the best supporters in the world, and UEFA agrees. To the degree that Michel Platini will travel to Ireland at some stage and present an award to the FAI to acknowledge the wonderful European Championships that groups of Irish fans had while supporting their national team.
Fair dues to the thousands that spent their hard-earned cash to travel overseas and support a football team. Not only did they behave themselves in a dignified manner, they left a huge impression on the locals and sang out loud and with plenty of pride as their team were hammered on the pitch.
I watched the game against Spain and heard those supporters singing. I thought it was a terrific moment and having experienced electric atmospheres in the flesh myself, I can only imagine that anyone who was there will never forget it.
The problem for most League of Ireland fans, however, is not that their fellow citizens aren’t worthy of some of the accolades written and said about them – it’s the fact that Irish football supporters travel abroad every year supporting their team, behaving in such a fashion and never more than a couple of words is ever mentioned about it.
Imagine hearing how great Irish football fans are while trying to deal with the consequences of another club withdrawing from the Premier Division of the domestic league? Thousands of officials, volunteers and supporters give their time and money each week to support their team with as much passion and gusto as we have seen in Poland in recent weeks.
The reasons these tens of thousands won’t visit the various League of Ireland grounds in the aftermath of the tournament are many and complex but it’s important they realise that the ‘special’ experience they witnessed in Poland is not actually that rare a moment in football.
The men and women who support their local team week in week out didn’t wake up one morning and decide to give that league they think so little of – without ever having attended a game – a chance to impress. We were all generally brought along to a match by a family member or friend and have come to love it for the many positives it can create in your life.
Getting out there and watching live football (no matter what the weather!) gives you a really different and much better appreciation of the game of football – you see all the things the cameras can’t and will never be able to show on TV, including formations, tactics and players’ work rates. The atmosphere, the singing, the comments and the banter will never be replicated by Sky Sports or any other television network, and without even trying you will meet and befriend like-minded people.
Football brings families together; it gives them something to talk about. Being involved in a supporters trust or supporters club gives you life skills and experience while extending your contacts and networks in all walks of life.
Giving your time to a worthy cause is hugely fulfilling and very little gives me more pride than talking about what myself, my friends and 700 other Cork City fans have achieved in re-establishing our football club and gaining promotion back to the Premier Division. A collective group of people achieved what has been accomplished to date – supporters, players, management, club staff alike.
So when people talk about supporting ‘their’ team overseas, I recount trips to France, Lithuania and Serbia. I was also in Paris when Derry City took on PSG in the Uefa Cup. If the parameters for getting a Uefa Award are as defined above, my only question is – where is the one long overdue for League of Ireland fans as they are some of the best supporters I have ever come across?
And maybe, just maybe, if we talked a little more about what fans are missing out on by not coming to League of Ireland games – instead of demanding justifications from them – we might gain ground in our ongoing battle with the football that’s landed on our laps almost every day of the week via our televisions and satellite dishes.