Our fan on the ground in Bordeaux surveys the aftermath of Ireland's hammering at the hands of Belgium
The day after our shellacking at the hands of Belgium, Bordeaux city centre was sombre.
Green shirts and jackets continued to pepper the bistros and brasseries, but shoes were firmly back on for the Boys in Green. Even a team of Gary Breens wouldn’t have coped with the ruthlessness of Eden and Romelu.
Irish fans have been praised for their behaviour throughout the tournament and rightly so. If ever an incident proved it, it was the sweltering tram ride to Bordeaux’s stadium for the match.
The ‘C’ line crosses the city from north to south, with the stadium situated at the Northern terminus, Parc des Expositions.
Stocked to the brim with Irish and Belgians on match day, our tram manoeuvred its way slowly from the centre. The day was more overcast than hot, but it still led to a clammy and uncomfortable train ride.
Then, for good measure, the tram halted 20 minutes shy of the stade. With no warning or information, we all just stood, waited and sweated.
We easily spent 15 minutes lodged together in the heat before the driver showed mercy and released the doors. Fans were clearly unhappy but there was no trouble at all.
The match was in 40 minutes and many Irish spectators resorted to walking the rest of the way. My friends and I took the next tram, which thankfully worked, but we still nearly missed the start of the game.
I clearly remember charging around the side of the stadium as Amhrán na bhFiann rang out, desperately trying to get to my seat. I got there just in time for kick off.
Of course, as the match played out, part of me wished I hadn’t.
No doubt you’ve seen it by now, and game analysis is not what this journal is for so I’ll spare you my thoughts on players, formations or tactics. I actually think on this occasion that those facets of the game were irrelevant: the team with better players won.
After the third goal nestled in Darren Randolph’s net, the Irish fans fell unusually silent. It was deathly quiet. For a number of minutes, not even the cheerleaders could muster a version of ‘Come On You Boys In Green’ or ‘Olé, Olé, Olé’.
We had been brought back to earth with extreme prejudice. It actually felt a lot worse than that 4-0 loss to Spain in Gdansk because we were never involved in that one. Messrs Iniesta, Silva and Xavi only allowed our players to gaze at the shiny white ball as they zipped it around them. It was hopeless.
Entering Bordeaux's stadium on Saturday
Bordeaux was different though. While the Belgians dominated possession from the start, they didn’t make much progress in the first half. I thought we could continue to make it difficult for them in the second 45 minutes. I was wrong.
In the days that have passed since that chastening experience for all the boys and girls in green, Bordeaux has taken on a different tone.
The throngs in Irish green and Belgian red have been replaced with the red, white and blue of Croatia, and in a similar shade of red, Spain.
The atmosphere through the days and nights are different here now. The vibe is much more Mediterranean with coffee, cigarettes and fan songs lacking in irony.
Yesterday, I spent some time in the magnificent wine region of Bordeaux. I don’t even drink wine, but my accomplices on the trip surely do. It was a lovely excursion away from the football before the final challenge presents itself in Lille.
I’ll set sail, by which I mean board a commercial airplane, for Lille on Wednesday afternoon.
There, the Stade Pierre-Mauroy will see Ireland’s last stand, our Helm’s Deep. Here’s hoping that while the Italians batter our defences, a hero emerges from the mayhem to take us into the round of 16.
Arise, Shane Long!
All images and video by Stephen Higgins