Some of the world’s most famous soccer players were on display during Thursday’s Spain vs. Ireland game in the group stages of the Euros 2012, but late in the 4-0 Spain victory the attention turned to the stands.
The Irish supporters were all still there in the 90th minute and sang louder than any country’s fans have during the Euros, even down the four goals. The Irish faithful sang “The Fields of Athenry,” an Irish folk song from the mid-19th century, so loud you could clearly hear the words despite the announcers speaking over it. This wasn’t just a loss, this was an elimination game and the end of a dream, yet the faithful never lost their pride. It’s also noted that the Spaniards in the crowd we’re clapping along with the Irish as they make their bow out of the tournament.
It’s a tournament that has been ravaged by violence and racism from the supporters of Poland, Russia, ect… but the Irish have proven to be as levelheaded as they are passionate. As a rumble between Croatian supporters and Poznan police broke out after the Ireland-Croatia match, a lone Irish fan can be seen trying to get between the two groups to calm everything down while bottles flew past his head and he was being hit with a baton. This photo of two separate Irish fans was taken later that night as riot police stood in the Poznan city centre.
Soccer is a sport that has long been associated with hooliganism and violence which has been brought to the forefront this summer. UEFA is imposing sanctions on teams as a result of their fans misbehavior, as they have on Russia with a fine and a six-point World Cup qualifying penalty after Russian fans beat up stadium ushers, but it will always be ultimately up to the fans themselves to define the beautiful game as being about pride and country over violence and thuggery.
While the Irish are the first team eliminated from the tournament and are extremely disappointed with their inability to compete with the rest of Europe, it’s their supporters that took the trip to Poland that the country can be proud of as they look towards their next goal – World Cup 2014 qualification.