Our man in the van: Irish fans find forgiveness for Henry’s handball

It’s something that has slowly crept up on the Irish fans, but hasn’t been said: We may be ready to forgive France for that handball in 2009.

What else can explain the roar that greeted Antoine Griezmann’s late header against Albania?

Neutrals watching a game typically side with the underdogs in the hope of a dramatic and entertaining upset, but “Allez les Bleus” rang round the pub packed with mostly Irish the other night.

The relief among the French staff gave way to jubilation as Payet curled in the host’s second to confirm the win, and they came out from behind the bar to join their customers in a celebratory dance at full-time.

The Irish fans have come in for praise locally for the boisterous, yet cordial atmosphere that the Boys in Green bring with them — the French edition of Buzzfeed has declared the Irish fans the “winners of Euro 2016”.

However, it’s fair to say that the feeling here has been more than mutual, and the hospitality with which we have been met has been consistently warm, helpful, and good-humoured.

Even the notoriously strict security checks into stadiums and fanzones are done with a smile and helpful guidance when necessary. French barstaff seem to initially greet the antics of our travelling supporters with bemusement — some pull out cameraphones to capture the chanting to provide digital evidence for the you-won’t-believe-this stories they’ll tell their friends later.

But it doesn’t take long for them to embrace the madness and join in with the more accessible numbers in the Green Army’s repertoire such as ‘Stand up for the Boys in Green’ and ‘Twist and Shout’. Even a retired English couple next to us in the bar the other night seemed to enjoy the exuberance, even if we had to explain one or two chants to them and some French onlookers.

One barman emerged to distribute promotional green and white headgear among the crowd. The appreciative chants of “free hats for the Boys in Green” cheekily transformed to a request for “free pints for the Boys in Green”, which was greeted with a dramatic thumbs down, Roman emperor-style.

At our campsite, a van windscreen is shaded with one of the dozens, if not hundreds, of custom-made tricolours with slogans that have divided commentators at home.

It bears the infamous image of Thierry Henry on the night Ireland lost the play-off for World Cup 2010.

“Never thought I’d return to France after this,” it reads.

It’s fair to say bridges have been built.


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