Wednesday, June 22, 2016

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Not Brazil, Norn Iron

Peter Anderson reflects on his soccer sojourn in France where he was part of the GAWA. Peter Anderson is a unionist who frequently comments on TPQ.


So I’ve just arrived back from France where I saw the mighty Ulstermen beat Ukraine at the new stadium in Lyon. Having supported Northern Ireland since the 70s, me and my mates weren’t going to miss the chance to see them in a major tournament for the first time. We decided to go to the Ukraine game in my mate’s campervan and so an epic road trip was planned. The first leg was from North Down to Rosslare. We rolled into the port and were put in the queue for the ferry with the other campervans. Ours was decked out in Northern Ireland flags and we very quickly realised we were in the queue with dozens of Republic fans. We needn’t have worried as many of them came over immediately and congratulated us on making the finals. Some more campervans full of GAWA (Green and White Army) arrived and soon there was an impromptu kick about going on between north and south. Later on the ferry we all sat together drinking and the craic was 90. During their first game they sang “Stand Up For The Ulstermen” in honour of the Northern Ireland fan that died in Nice, a classy show of friendship from our neighbours.

We decided to split the next leg in two and headed first to Nantes were the campervan owner has some friends. After a couple of nights there we headed onto Lyon. We arrived in a campsite on the edge of the city and it was full of GAWA from all parts. I took the opportunity to walk around the campsite speaking to the supporters and to admire the flags on show hanging from tents and campervans. Many had the France 1916-2016 theme and were works of art. Others displayed the wit of the Irish. Many featured Jim MacDonald from Coronation Street with witticisms like “It’s our turn to dream…so it is” and “We’re not Brazil we’re Norn Iron…so we are” and “Now we’re suckin’ diesel”. Others feature the famous BBC commentator Jackie Fullerton. The best had a picture of him holding a mike with the classic line “Big Jackie bucked yer Ma”.

On our first full day we did the tourist thing and took in the sights and smells of Lyon. If you have never been there it is a beautiful city with a rich history and excellent cuisine. After a 3 course lunch on the terrace of a typical Lyonnais restaurant we went to the fan zone where thousands of GAWA were drinking and enjoying the sunshine. The place was buzzing but we wanted to keep ourselves fresh for the next day.

On match day after brekkie we headed straight to the fan zone. We bought some cold beers and joined the fun. Thousands of GAWA started streaming in and soon the songs were being sung. The Green and White Army mantra and The Ulster boys make all the noise, as always, were the most popular. A new one being sung was The Spirit in the Sky except that the last line of the chorus was changed to “When I die and they lay me to rest I’m going to go on the piss with Geordie Best!”, another new one was Wil Grigg’s on fire. The sun was shining and the beer was flowing, everyone was optimistic that this was going to be good day. At 4 o’clock everyone started making their way to the stadium. There was a heavy security presence but the local police were extremely friendly. The drinking and singing continued on the underground all the way to the stadium. Once again the security was tight but friendly. We mixed freely with the Ukrainians and there were no problems. Inside the stadium the atmosphere was absolutely electric. The noise was cranked up and to see the massed ranks of GAWA on the terraces singing their hearts out brought a lump to my throat.

After an uneventful first half we took the lead early in the second. Gareth McCauley leapt like a salmon to meet a free kick perfectly and put us one up. The place went ballistic. The noise went up a few decibels more. The Ukrainians started to labour and we started to see more of the ball. They were limited to a few half chances and we had some great opportunities to extend our lead which we didn’t take. The last minutes were nail biting until young Niall Maginn stepped up to finish off a move started on the right by Josh Magennis. 2-nil, game over, pure joy. 

After the game the slick transport system whooshed thousands of happy Ulstermen back to the fanzone where we partied to the small hours. What a day! Considering the amount of people and drink taken there were no incidents or any sectarianism from the Northern Ireland fans. How times have changed. The next day on the campsite a group of Englishmen approached us and said that we were a credit to our country unlike their own fans. They had been in the stadium and loved the atmosphere and good nature of our fans. Later we were thanked by local French in Lyon and it seems that we made an impression on the tournament both on and off the pitch. Our first win in a tournament since Spain 82 was slightly spoiled by the news that a fan had died of a heart attack in the stadium.

The next day the boys dropped me at the airport to fly home alone (work commitments), and to pick up my replacement before heading onto Paris for the Germany game. Whatever happens in that game Michael O’Neill and the boys deserve great credit for what they have done so far. It was a pity to have to leave the boys, as the trip has been a wonderful experience. Spending time on the road with boys I’ve known for nearly 40 years, watching footy, drinking beer and eating French grub is a great way to spend a summer week.

In years to come I will look back fondly on this trip. Lyon 2016, I was there.

15 comments :

Steve Ricardos said...

Brilliant post Pete, I've mates still over there having a ball. Heard a story about the Republic fan about to get a kicking from some french twats before NI boys pulled him to safety into a taxi.

The video of the Irish fans helping the elderly french couple change a flat tyre is one of the many examples of exemplary behaviour by our fans, North&South, being great ambassadors for the Island.

Still gutted I couldn't be there but family circumstances wouldn't allow. Still, the boys played their hearts out and did us all proud.

Oh aye, hope the Republic bate those 'fenians with a tan' Larry!

larry hughes said...

Enjoyed that. Good you got the win, nothing worse than a journey to get gubbed. Be interesting to see who the wee 6 get now. My English mate here in Donegal is crest fallen they didn't win the group and says that's England's tournament over. I said how can you consitently insist you are going to win these tournaments and 'its coming home' and then expect to do so by beating Albania, Iceland or N. Ireland? It gets interesting now for sure. I don't anticipate Ireland beating Italy even with 9 changes to their team, so it is in all likelihhood over for the Irish. Enjoy!

Niall said...

We may all eat Tayto crisps Peter but we all don’t work in the Tayto factory!

AM said...

Thanks for that piece Peter. Hope there is more to come from you. Really enjoyed it and it adds to our soccer theme.

Steve Ricardos said...

YE SPOKE TO SOON LARRY!!!!! LOL

Henry JoY said...

Peter et al

Prompted by recent comments from my 'blueshirt' buddy Senator Frank Feighan suggesting that the Republic of Ireland re-engage as a member of the British Commonwealth would you see any merit in an island of Ireland soccer team following such a move?

(Seamus McClean for captain should he agree?)

AM said...

From Larry Hughes

Steve and Pete et all

Typical Leprechaun performance that from the Irish. 9 changes for the Italians 6 for the Irish side and we played them off the park. Italians seemed to be seeking the draw for some reason but our lads were like 22 men ... all over the place!! What a night for the 'UNASHAMEDLY IRISH' Irish team on this wee island. 5 million people max and we have 2 TEAMS in the last 16 of the Euros !!! My big English mate up the road was very quiet until the 3 minutes added time. Said good luck with the French. I suggested he should be more concerned about the mighty ICELAND out on penalties again lol Toul yiz lads....twaz a doarty PAPIST plot ... again hahahahahahaha yeeeoow!!
All I want now is a Celtic fringe team to stay in longer than Ingerlund...init?!

Peter said...

Congrats to the Republic for last night's victory. It is excellent to have all 4 "home" teams in the last 16, although it would be hillarious if Iceland won!

HJ
As I have said before it would be great if the republic rejoined the Commonwealth. It is an inevitability if there is to be a UI. The Irish president would still be the Head of State as the Commonwealth is little more than a club of English speaking nations. With regards to the football I can see the merits of a one island team but I am going to be selfish here and say that I don't want it because I want to keep some regular top class football in Belfast. I know that some games would be played in Windsor but the big games would be played in the Dub. We don't have a good standard in our league so you don't see Linfield in the Champions League or even the Europa League so for me it is important to have the World and Euro qualifiers every year n Belfast.

Steve Ricardos said...

HJ,

The idea of an "Ireland" football team like the Rugby holds no particular offense to me, the only annoyance is for years it seemed to be only a consideration when the Republic were doing worse than us in tournaments! But like Peter, I'd still be wanting 'big games' played at Windsor.

But from a purely domestic football perspective I am all in favour of combining the IFA and the FAI all into one, changing the season to a summer sport and letting the national teams merge naturally if that is the will of the supporters. It needs to change at grassroots and a domestic 'Irish Premier League' would be a damn sight more attractive than the debacle the IFA roles out regularly, but I must confess to not knowing how competent the FAI are? Theoretically a combined governing body would be far better for the game as a whole.

This would raise the standard, and bring the fans together on the notion of OTOI (one team one Ireland) LOL

Steve Ricardos said...

Larry,

Great result for your 'Engurlund 'B' team' LOL

Seriously, well chuffed for the Republic!

Henry JoY said...

Sure Peter

an all-Ireland team would inconvenience soccer fans and aficionados in the northeast.
Viewing the results of the Brexit vote this morning though that may be the least of our problems!
It seems to me that the heat is to be further turned up again under the ever simmering pot of narrow nationalism.

larry hughes said...

I haven't had as much fun or interest in the TV in decades with this brexit. Going to be great fun all day and then tomorrow the Celtic fringe teams swing into action over the weekend and God willing/Allah Akbar BREXIT TWO will arrive on monday - Iceland on penalties for me coz those England forwards couldn't score furniture, nor hit a barn door with their egos. yeeeow!!

larry hughes said...

FUKIT C'mon the wee filthy BLACK NORTH

larry hughes said...

over and out for us all.... or over an ooooot for the Ulster Scots lol

Steve Ricardos said...

Looks like Engurlund are taking this leaving the euro's thing the wrong way.

In fairness to the BBC website they have been utterly vicious in their assessment of one of their national team in one of the worst games of football I have seen in living memory.

F*ck it, UP DA VIKINGS!