Come on you boys in Lyon

Irish fans from Dublin getting a blessing from Fr Jean Babtiste Aubert in Lyon
Irish fans from Dublin getting a blessing from Fr Jean Babtiste Aubert in Lyon

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill yesterday blasted UEFA blazers for allocating just 5,000 tickets to Irish fans.

Speaking on the eve of the biggest football match of his term as Irish manager, O’Neill claimed Irish fans “deserved better” from UEFA bosses.

Ireland have been given just 5,000 tickets for today’s match, despite the fact the stadium has a capacity of 58,000.

“There’s probably a few people around here who don’t want to hear it,” said the Irish boss as a couple of nearby UEFA officials shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

 “But I think there is something very wrong with an allocation like that. Our supporters deserve better for what they have done for us and for the competition.

Orla Fegan from Dundalk enjoying Lyon

“We never expected to get all of our fans in when playing the host nation, but only getting 5,000 tickets, I’m sorry, but that seems unfair on our supporters to me. It won’t worry us as footballers, mind you, we’ll get on with it.”

O’Neill also parried the inevitable questions from the French media about Thierry Henry, saying it was nothing to do with this game.

The joyous scenes that have seen France fall in love with Ireland’s travelling army of fans continued over the weekend and on the eve of the biggest game in Irish soccer since Japan in 2002.

Despite the shortage of tickets, thousands of fans flooded into the city to be close to the action and soak up the special atmosphere that has followed the green army throughout the tournament.

Yesterday, French fans serenaded Irish supporters with ‘Stand up for the Boys in Green’ during glorious sunshine at the Fan Zone in Lyon.

A party atmosphere engulfed the mixed fan zone near the Old Town part of the city, with supporters from several countries joining the Irish and French.

Some of the host nation supporters even admitted they would be sorry to see the Irish leave if France beat them. 

Irish fans in Lyon before the game

The only fans appearing not to be wearing colours, yet hanging out in large groups in the city, were English fans, who chose to dress in casual attire.

The relaxed atmosphere followed tense scenes in Lyon on Friday night after English fans goaded some of the Irish supporters who had gathered in the city.

Witnesses told how French police were forced to intervene and charge England fans while deploying tear gas before the situation spiralled out of control.

One Irish fan said that while the majority of the English fans were friendly, one group was determined to cause trouble. England play against Iceland in Nice tomorrow and many are using Lyon as a stopover.

However, yesterday afternoon the English fans laughed and joined in the banter, even when the French started ‘F**k you and your Queen’.

Other fans sought divine inspiration from passing clergymen to pray for an Irish win.

Among those soaking up the atmosphere, as giant screens showed yesterday’s three games, was an uncle of Ireland goalscoring hero Robbie Brady.  But no doubt he is sorted for a ticket today, unlike others who were being offered ones by touts outside for anything between €500 to €2,000.                 

Fans are now arriving into Lyon by trains, planes and automobiles for the most anticipated match in over a decade.  The Irish supporters have endeared themselves to both the French public and the media with their charming and good natured bonhomie, earning them title of ‘best fans of the tournament’. 

“There is a huge buzz in France because of the mentality and the enthusiasm of the Irish fans,” says Yves Le Bec, from Brittany and who is going to today’s match. 

“It’s amazing what they are like. It’s cool that they want to party, that they want to sing. I’m really looking forward to be with the Irish fans.”

“There is a lot of respect from the Irish people to the French people, to the security, to the other competitors and I think it’s a good example for all of Europe.”

Pals Gabriel Higgins (Longford town), Gavin Quigley (Meath), Gary and Chris Curtis, (Terenure, Dublin), flew in yesterday morning.

Up for the craic!

“A buddy of mine has a ticket over here for me, I’m paying for his accommodation and he’s giving me a free match ticket,” reveals Gabriel.

“I was over for the Sweden game and the Belgium game too and I’m just back over again. It’s amazing. The atmosphere here is amazing.”

Dubliners Caoilfhionn Ni Dhuibhinn (Howth) and Shane Kennedy (Tallaght) are hopeful about getting tickets for today’s game.

“We have a ticket maybe, we’re hopefully going to get one before the match,” she reflects. “Fingers crossed. I would pay something within reason, but no more than €300.”

Meanwhile Martin O’Neill was downbeat when it came to the chances of both Stephen Ward and Jon Walters featuring against France.

“They are coming around, but we’ll see how they are,” O’Neill said,.

He has no fears about his own team’s mental strength during this match.

“I thought they way we came back from Wes Hoolahan’s miss after 84 minutes against Italy to get the goal was brilliant, just brilliant.”