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Posts Tagged ‘Poznan’

Pulling on the Green Jersey – the best fans in the world?

It was an incredible sight to see. It was a sea of green, jumping up and down rhythmically on all sides of the ground, backs to the play, singing and supporting their team. It was close to 30,000 Ireland fans doing the “Poznan” at the European Championship against Italy supporting their boys in green.

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There was a small pocket of Italian fans in the corner supporting the Azzuri. They probably had just 10% of the numbers supporting Ireland. At the end of the game the Italian players (as did the Irish players) showed their appreciation of the atmosphere generated by the Irish supporters during their lap of honour. It was clear from Italian captain Gianluigi Buffon’s expression that the goalkeeper was impressed by it all giving the Irish fans multiple thumbs up.

Spain, current World and European champions, could muster only a fraction of the Irish support in the game in Gdansk that will be remembered of course for the 4-0 result for Spain. It will also be remembered for the fantastic rendition of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ by the Irish support at the conclusion of the game. The best supporters in the world they say. They may say it but I don’t believe it.

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While John Delaney, the FAI, the PFAI and the Green Army were out supporting the national team in Poland, at home another League of Ireland club ceased to exist, their results “expunged” for the season. Monaghan United went to the wall on Monday, not that too many noticed.

What other league in Europe has a club just disappear mid-season? The United Chairman stated the lack of a main sponsor and the dwindling support that forced their hand. Monaghan have been playing in front of average crowds of around 600 but had one game where less than 200 paid in. Over 25,000 Irish fans made it to Poland for the each of the three Ireland games. That 25,000 figure would represent the total gate over a whole 16 home game League of Ireland season.

Compared with every other squad in Poland and Ukraine, the Irish squad at UEFA EURO 2012 was unique in that we had no players from our own domestic league. I’m not advocating that we should have League of Ireland players in the squad for the sake of it but it does say something about the state of Irish football that there were no players from our own league.

People say they won’t go to the League of Ireland as the standard isn’t good enough with the league being “rubbish”. Results in Europe over recent years would dispute this and I’m not just talking about Shamrock Rovers’ qualification for the group stages of the Europa League. Six of the original squad called up by Giovanni Trapattoni played in the League of Ireland; Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Stephen Ward, David Forde, James McClean and the injured Keith Fahey. As an aside the last time Ireland played in Poland in 2005, the squad did contain one league of Ireland player, Jason Byrne.

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The fact is though that if fans don’t come through the turnstiles in sufficient numbers in Ireland the game cannot progress. The aim should be for players to emerge through the League and not just get farmed off to the UK at 15 in the hope that they will make it. If players are good enough, they will get the chance to play on higher stage like those players in the Ireland squad who progressed from the League. A certain Roy Keane began his playing career in the League of Ireland with a club, Cobh Ramblers, which have since dropped out of the league due to financial issues.

Just last month, I travelled up to Gortakeegan for my first and, as it now turns out, my last visit to Gortakeegan. Getting petrol in one of the M1 service stations I looked around and saw a car full of lads in blue track suits. Inside were a few more and then I spotted their manager, Roddy Collins. It was the Monaghan team travelling up from Dublin where they lived and trained for their home game in Monaghan. I was reliably informed that United had just one local player in their squad. Maybe this was one of the myriad of reasons the Monaghan public shunned going to see their recently promoted team in the Premier Division of the Airtricity League.

Clubs will prosper if fans come in sufficient numbers to see them. If they can produce their own talent and give a sense that this team represents the area, fans will invest their time and hence their money in the team. Clubs like Cork City, Sligo Rovers, Derry City, Dundalk and even Limerick FC have great potential outside of Dublin with their catchment areas and sporting culture.

The population of Dublin can certainly support a number of vibrant teams from the capital. Shamrock Rovers are the current success story in the League but that is being helped by developing roots in the local area of Tallaght. Having a manager and three of the playing squad from Tallaght is not a hindrance either.

The League needs to continue to promote itself to try and attract new fans. No, we can’t necessarily compete with British football but we can attract some of that floating support to, in addition to watching their UK team from a barstool, get out and see some live football at their local club. We need to get the wider Irish sporting public to be patriotic, to pull on the Green jersey (or red, white, blue etc.) and support their local League of Ireland football club.

Not quite an endless summer

The Euro 2012 theme song by Oceana is called ‘Endless Summer’. Well for Ireland, the Euros have seemed like a series of endless defeats
with three losses in our three games. It certainly wasn’t what we hoping for after doing so well to qualify for Euros.

Journeying out to the tournament just over ten days ago it seemed like it would be an endless tournament as I contemplated optimistically how to get to the knock out stages; fly home and back out or work out of our company’s Warsaw office for a few days. As it is, those Ireland quarter-final, semi-final and final tickets are simply a souvaneer now after Ireland’s three defeats. The players flew back this morning and the fans are making their way own home via campervan (imagine how depressing that journey is!) or on flights from Poznan, Berlin or Warsaw where I’ve travelled to.

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Having said all that though it has been a great trip to Poland who were excellent hosts. From the bloke who walked me 10 minutes out of his way to help find my Pension in Poznan to the guy who pulled in and gave three of our group a lift to the game when their tram broke down yesterday. The Poznan and Gdansk stadiums were excellent. We got to see some historical sights, have a week long sing-song and to see one of the best teams ever to play this game.

I’ve been to a few of these tournaments but only one until this one following Ireland. That trip to Japan & Korea in 2002 was by far the most enjoyable tournament for me. On the pitch it couldn’t have been more different than this one. Back then Ireland put in some impressive displays, getting out of the group and were unlucky not to beat Spain. Having said that we also spent a lot of time talking about Roy Keane in 2002 as well as in 2012!

Going as a neutral to tournament games means you don’t have the dispiriting depression following a defeat. You can celebrate with the winning supporters and enjoy the game for what is in front of you. I’d still prefer though to be at a tournament supporting me own team even if they arent winning. It would just be better to be singing joyfully about a good Ireland performance or result rather than the sympathy singing we have had a lot of in Poland.

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The atmosphere at last nights game against Italy was up there with the best I’ve been in. The crowd reacts to what they see on the pitch and thankfully that wasn’t the concession of an early goal for Ireland that we had in the earlier games. The sight of the 25,000 plus Irish fans “doing the Poznan” was superb.

The team put in a markedly better performance than in the other two defeats but we still finshed rock bottom of the group. It was a table that was not “upside down” as some fans chanted but accurately reflected the gulf in class between Ireland and the other teams we faced in what was probably the hardest group we had been played in ever at a finals.

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The fans sung long into the night back in Poznan’s Old Town. It was as if we had won the game so it was the type of singing that a former captain of Ireland would not approve of. Ireland rode our luck in qualifying and we got what we deserved when we did qualify. Whether this bunch of players under this manager can qualify for the next tournament is the question. With Germany and Swedan in our qualification group, it is a big ask. It is doubtful that we will be cheering on our boys in brazil but let’s hope so.

The next Euros seems a lifetime away. With France 2016 having 24 teams, we will have as good a chance to qualify as ever before. Many of the current team and our manager will have retired by the time it comes around. Will we have the coach and squad to get us to France? Might hold off on booking that campervan and ferry tickets to France just yet! It’s not an endless summer so it’s time to get back to work…

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Careful now – the policing in Poznan

Poznan’s main square last Sunday was some sight to behold. You were either wearing red & white or green or else you were in the wrong location.

The thousands of Croatian fans had their red & white colours on show with red top hats, red & white chequer-board overalls or a Hrvatska flag wrapped around their waists. For the Irish it was Trapattoni masks, green wigs and lots of tricolour face paint.

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As is usual for an Ireland away game, the main square was the focal point for the pre-match festivities for the Green Army. The difference this time was that the square was shared with the legion of Croatian fans who had mobilised from the Balkans. In Poznan’s historic main square, from every point hung a Croat or Irish flag and both sets of fans mingled freely, chatting and discussing the finer points of their teams playing 4-4-2 or so it seemed!

They sung, we sung. They drank, we drank. They were definitely the more confident of the two sets of fans on the outcome of the game and as it turned out that confidence was well justified after the 3-1 win to Slaven Bilic’s men.

There was a third force also in and around the main square throughout our time in Pozan and that was the police. Pockets of Poznan police were strategically located around the main square in full riot gear wearing helmet and body armour including shin guards a lot bigger than Robbie Keane has. At night, the lights of the square reflected off their visors and riot shields that they carried. Some also had tear gas canisters and rubber bullet guns visible.

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Each cohort had someone with a small digital camcorder recording the fans around them. They will have lots of footage of Irish fans shoes in the air singing “shoes off for the boys in green!”

I’ve seldom seen such a visible police presence away from a stadium ahead of a game and they were called into action on the eve of the match. There were lots of rumours about neo-nazis and Polish football fans fighting amongs themselves. I saw the police backup arrive under blue sirens and screeching tires from 20 or so police vans, jumping out to line up in formation. It seems they were probably being deployed to protect Irish fans.

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They did move on elsewhere some Irish fans who were jumping around under a massive umbrella in an outside bar in the main square too vigorously but that’s not exactly major trouble. What is in no doubt though is that ten Poles and three Irish were arrested that night but the local mayor played it down saying that with that amount of fans and that amount of drink it was inevitable.

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Having said all that the police were still happy enough to be photographed beside smiling Irish fans who were mostly amused by the sight of all the robocops. The moment of the night had to go to the two Irish lads pictured in front of a big group of riot police in the square holding up a couple of home made signs saying in Father Ted style “Careful now” and “Nothing to see here”! Do tournaments miss out when Ireland don’t make it. Probably and Moments like that seem to justify the self-proclaimed ‘best fans in the world’ tag.