Our fan on the ground in France attempts to describe the delirious joy of watching Ireland beat Italy and the atmosphere in Lyon ahead of the game
I write this journal from Lyon, as surprised as you that the Irish team have made it here.
How do you contextualise that moment when Robbie Brady rose highest and headed the ball past the hapless Salvatore Sirigu?
It was easily the happiest I have ever felt wearing green. The nervousness, fluffed chances and outrageous heat in the Stade Pierre-Mauroy were washed away by a moment of pure ecstasy.
I grabbed my brother for a hug to celebrate, and would gladly have embraced all 20,000 comrades around me. This was Houghton, McAteer and Keane all over again.
Given the stakes involved, it was wonderful to watch Ireland go after a weak, but still experienced Italian team. We bullied and stretched them before delivering a sucker punch in the dying minutes.
Upon hearing the final whistle, the stadium erupted in cheers and song. It didn’t take long for “Come On You Boys In Green”, “Ole Ole Ole” and “The Fields Of Athenry” to rear their heads.
Emotion poured out of of every Irish person there. A lad in tears came over to my brother just to confirm that what we had seen had actually just happened.
As the Irish team made their way over to our stand - the lads, Martin and even Roy - we couldn’t clap hard or fast enough. They did it; for us, themselves and everyone who puts on green the world over.
We had beaten Italy, qualification was secured. We better tell the mammy that we’re not heading back just yet.
Image: Stephen Higgins
After a celebratory drink in a bar by the stadium, we headed into the city centre by tram to soak up what promised to be an unforgettable atmosphere.
Sadly, we hardly should have bothered boarding the train.
As hordes of us got off the carriage and emerged from Gare de Lille Flandres, we found thousands of Irish searching for the nearest party, only there weren’t any.
With the time approaching midnight, most bars were closed. The Irish, like zombies in a George A. Romero film, wandered aimlessly from street to street, brasserie to brasserie.
Image: Stephen Higgins
Having given up on any semblance of a late bar or nightclub, where songs could be sung and shoes removed, unlike the players on the pitch, many fans gave up.
The ones who weren’t queuing for kebabs rested on a fountain with Jeff Kenna in front of the train station. Some fans grabbed sleep on public seats, planning to dream away the hours until their trains/planes arrived later that morning.
After a late snack, we returned to the B&B and devised schemes to get to Lyon and find some seats at the match. Thankfully, while the majority had to beg, borrow or steal to get tickets for the French game, ours simply came via a friend who couldn’t make it over.
So the plan was set. We made it to Lyon on Saturday via Paris and a TGV. Our cases rattled along the pavements of yet another new city for (probably) the last time.
Images: Stephen Higgins
Lyon is lovely, like Dublin but with more careful planning. The French fans are buoyant and confident, but can’t help praising our joie de vivre.
In the narrow streets and squares, Irish and French fans chat and sing together. We chant each other’s songs as Irish fans attempt to frighten the locals with tales of Shane Long.
It’s wonderful. In a tournament marred by threats and some actions in Marseille, the true joy of football camaraderie has enveloped this city.
Whatever happens on Sunday afternoon, we should feel proud of our team and ourselves. Allez les verts!