Euro 2016 has been a great tournament. It is certainly one of the most memorable tournaments I can remember, and is one my whole family have enjoyed watching together. There have also been plenty of lessons to take from it for the various domestic leagues around Europe, the League of Ireland included.
For me football has always been a sport for all the family. The fact that my family have watched the tournament together has been the highlight of it. The tournament has had it all: the under-performing of so-called great teams like England: the punching-above-their-weight of so-called minnows like Iceland, Albania, Wales and the two Ireland teams; great players like Bale living up to their star billing; the success of good managers like Martin O’Neill, Michael O’Neill, Chris Coleman and Lars Lagerback in galvanising their squads to play for each other; the joy and pride that proper supporters can bring to the occasion.
On the back of watching the Euros my entire family came out to Bray to watch the 3-0 victory over Wexford Youths at the weekend. A friend from Wexford came up to join us for the game. The manner of the victory, with goals, good goalkeeping [step forward Peter Cherrie] and a feel-good atmosphere will ensure this won’t be an isolated occasion as the summer progresses.
Football can unite more than families. It can unite countries. As Britain pressed the self-destruct button politically with their Brexit vote [and the English soccer team followed suit with a horrific showing], the folly of this act was at odds with the spirit of unity and celebration of the many European nations coming together in a show of skill and sportsmanship.
The next Euros will be a pan-European affair, hosted by cities in multiple countries. You couldn’t ask for a better metaphor for keeping Europe united into the future. As an entity the European Union has brought unprecedented peace and economic growth to all. It’s something to be kept together, not torn apart.
The tournament isn’t over yet. My extended family, if I look at both sides of it, has German, Welsh and Portuguese connections. We still have a couple of good nights to come in friendly celebration and healthy competition.
Football has the power to unite and to inspire. This tournament has certainly inspired me, given me back faith in a sport that has seemed to be increasingly about money over the last few years. Chief culprit here has to be the English Premiership; thankfully the myth that football needs to start and end with the PL has been blown apart. Good players, good managers, good teams and good officials can come from all over Europe, as the past month has taught us.
The Irish fans did us proud, as did our team. Hopefully there will be an increase in attendances at League of Ireland grounds. It’s a shot in the arm the domestic game both needs and deserves.
For the football purists the rule changes introduced at Euro 2016 were a talking point. 95 changes to the Laws of the Game were introduced in June, in time for Euro 2016. The ball can be played back from tip-off. An injured player doesn’t now have to go off if the injury is because of a carded offence committed by the opposing side. An attacker can step off the pitch to show he is not interfering with play. Rules around violent conduct have been tightened up. Welcome reforms. Not earth-shattering or game-changing, but welcome. Maybe the European Union can take note and introduce some welcome political reforms to keep the 27 remaining EU states happy and content with their membership.