WATCH: Irish support as strong as ever ahead of Belgium clash

Stephen Higgins shares his experience in France in his latest fan journal

As we made our way from the Stade de France to the city centre on Monday night, it was hard not to feel a pang of disappointment.

The Swedes were there for the taking in the first hour. If only John, Robbie or Jeff could have snagged one of those chances before Erik Hamren’s troops staged their late revival.

At our post-match destination, the Boulevard de Clichy, the throngs of boys and girls in green showed no signs of negativity. You’ve never seen the like of that street on that night.

A giant hedge of Irish fans bisected the boulevard. They lingered outside the Moulin Rouge, outfitted with green hats, shirts, jackets and sunburn. A few lads, dressed in full body suits, twerked outside a store that would cause your gran to recite the rosary. 

After an overpriced beer and a fantastic créme brûlée at Le Chat Noir, we caught a metro back to our apartment near La Défense. It was time to pack our things for an early train to Saint-Étienne.

A chocolatier in Bordeaux making the most of the festivities.

My brother and I had never seen Cristiano Ronaldo in the flesh. A couple of years ago, we travelled to see Real Madrid play Villarreal at the Bernabeu primarily to catch the Portuguese in his pomp. He did us the favour of getting sent off in the preceding cup match, ruling him out of our game!

So our second chance came in Saint-Étienne, a pretty uninspiring city 30 miles southwest of Lyon. Portugal took on Iceland at the Stade Geoffrey Guichard. The stadium, recently renovated, is cloaked in steel sheeting and looks like a place where microchips are processed.

It was interesting to observe passionate fans from other countries. How they cheer, chant and boo. Any attempt by Iceland to acquire the ball, fairly or not, was met with deafening whistles from the Portuguese spectators.

Meanwhile, some of the Icelandic contingent sang "Gylfi’s on fire, your defence is purified" to the tune of Gala’s Freed From Desire. I did not point out that they had misspelled Shane Long.

Ronaldo was not exceptional in the match, which ended 1-1 and was littered with goal chances, but he was a fascinating character to watch. Between the mannerisms, flicks and that free kick pose, it’s hard to remove your gaze from the prolific forward.

An early night was then called for as we had to make our way to Bordeaux the following morning. After a train (to Lyon) and a flight, we arrived into the wine lover’s paradise.

From the beginning, at the central train station of Gare St Jean, it was clear that the Irish were in the process of invading the Gironde. We also brought the weather with us. Short spells of sunshine have been bookended by rain, and even thunderstorms. So much for the summer holiday...

A crowded house for Iceland's clash with Portugal.

Last night, I wandered around Bordeaux’s beautiful streets and took in the magnificent Cathédrale Saint-André. I even did a stint at the infamous The Connemara Pub on Cours Albret, best explained by the video I recorded.

The night involved volleying a ball at a rooftop, reminiscing about Paolo Maldini with a Dubliner and discussing living expenses with three Danish microbiologists. As you do at the Euros.

The decisive match of Ireland’s campaign is now upon us. The world’s second best ranked team will face Martin’s men and a green army at the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux.

As Delia Smith once opined, probably as a result of Bordeaux’s greatest export, let’s be havin' you!

All images and video by Stephen Higgins