By Ciaran O Raghallaigh in Poznan
WHEN your country or team loses an important match, would you rather the fans rioted, or would you prefer they stood proud, defiant against the disappointment?
It’s Hobson’s choice, clearly. But why has taken the decent option suddenly become such a sin? Much talk in the last week, both here in Poland, home in Ireland (and from Roy Keane on British TV) has focused on the Irish fans.
Happy losers, fans with no real interest in the game, eejits. They’ve been called an awful lot. The funny thing is, outside of Ireland, they seem to be getting an incredible press.
In Poland there’s almost universal praise.
After the defeat to Spain, Polish fans who’d gone along as neutrals, came out as fully paid-up supporters of the green cause, and many uploaded videos to YouTube of the singing that blocked out the final whistle.
A former international, commentating on Polish TV said he wished ‘our fans we were like that’.
Anna, from Warsaw, was at the game and said she loved seeing the goals and beautiful play of Spain, “but I’ve more love for Ireland fans after that”.
But they’re neutrals, not stung by the pain of defeat. What of the Irish?
Ed, an Irish fan who’s also a Manchester United season-ticket holder, travels home and away with club and country, and said he’d never sang more than he did at that game.
“Not even in Moscow (at the Champions League final),” he claimed.
“I was just never more proud of all of us together, over here.”
But was it just low expectations?
Are the fans here for a party first, and the football comes along second?
Well, Ed recalls singing at West Ham when United were losing 4-0 in the Carling Cup. It’s not just Irish fans that stand defiant.
Spanish defender Gerard Pique said he’d ‘never forget the Fields of Athenry that was sung at full-time last Thursday, and yes, it’s a bit sad that it’s not a defeat he’s trying to shift from his mind.
I’ve never understood the mentality of those who could party so soon after defeat. For me, it was always a sign that a) you expected to lose, or b) you didn’t demand enough from your team.
But I met some Dutch fans in the old square in Poznan on Sunday night, hours after their much-vaunted team were humiliatingly booted out of the tournament, despite being one of the pre-finals favourites.
They, along with a smattering of Italian fans, agog at the number of Irish fans still here, started up a chorus of ‘stand up for the boys in green’.
What was their excuse? What would Roy Keane say about them?
The truth is, in football, for many, winning is all that matters.
For some, it’s about much more. It’s easy to sing when you’re winning, as the chant goes, the hardest is to do it when things aren’t going your way. Asking for a reward from UEFA is frankly pathetic, but these Ireland fans have been rewarded many times by the friendship and respect they’ve earned from locals and fans of other countries.
When you go on holiday to Poland or Spain, it might just be the songs of these ‘losers’ that guarantees you a warm welcome.
Jock Stein once said that football without the fans, is nothing. These fans have proven his statement is timeless.