So Euro 2016 is almost upon us and Irish fans are once again pulsating with optimism. (Once we have forgotten the results of Euro 2012, of course.) One thing we could take pride from in that displeasing experience was our ‘Best Fans in the World’ award. This summer, there is no doubt our lot will do what they can to successfully defend that title. So what exactly is the science behind our fan’s unrestrained exhilaration? Why do we sing no matter how badly our team gets mauled? How do thousands suddenly find the money to travel the globe to watch the boys in green? Why do Croat girls lift their shirts for us?
Perhaps, it’s the thrill of the event? All over the continent, fans watch live football on a weekly basis. They pay for a ticket, go through the turnstile, join in the atmosphere and watch their team battle it out. As we know, that doesn’t happen here.
The Irish football fan gets his weekly fix from Match Of The Day or Sky Sports Super Dooper Sunday. So when Ireland come to town, we get to see LIVE football. It’s not something we’re used to.
Of course there is no denying our patriotism, our love for the tricolour, the feeling of cheering on our own lads. But again, that same feeling is not experienced when we watch club football. The majority of Irish football fans picked their favourite team at random one day. Be it Man. United, Liverpool, Arsenal, whoever. Most of us don’t support local. We have no real connection to the team we love. If a Man. United ‘fanatic’ saves all of his money for a visit to Old Trafford once or twice a year, does that make him a die-hard supporter?
It’s difficult to see how one can get the full appreciation of supporting a team without actually seeing them play on a regular basis.
Of course I do not wish to sound like a League of Ireland Nazi. Everyone has the right to support whoever they want. Just don’t claim to be the best fan in the world. Our own league continues its slow death to malnourishment while we support foreign leagues because of their flashy superiority. The players are richer and better looking. Simple. Lifestyle Sports are likely to start stocking Leicester City jerseys but not bloody likely to stock any League of Ireland jerseys. Tricolours have already begun to wave at the King Power Stadium.
Is that why the Irish fan is so enthusiastic when we qualify for a tournament? Is that why we are so joyful when times are good? Because we weren’t there when times were bad? There were 27,000 in house to see Ireland beat Kazakhstan in the last match of the doomed World Cup 2014 campaign. Almost double that stuffed in to watch us beat Germany and Bosnia to secure a successful climax to the Euro 2016 qualifiers. We don’t seem to be interested when things are bad. We join the shindig when it kicks off and saunter home when it’s over, claiming to be the life of the party. We’ve done the same with rugby, UFC and even cricket, briefly. Is it only when our athletes start to thrive when our patriotism shines through? Are we actually the best fans in the world, or just the most obnoxious?