Over 30,000 Irish supporters were said to have made the trip to Euro 2012, our first major tournament in a decade, and as they did in France four years later, they made a lasting impression on the locals and global television audience.
The rendition of the ‘Fields of Athenry’ during the final game with Spain polarised opinion in Ireland with current assistant manager Roy Keane bemoaning the apparent ‘only there for a sing-song attitude’ of the supporters, an opinion condemned by those who made the trip.
Following Ireland’s exit, we recalled the word repeated again and again from fans around the globe was ‘respect’ and it was shameful that Irish supporters should encounter such a lack of it at home.
Back then we wrote the following: “Leaving the stadium in Gdansk after the Spain game, we were inundated with handshakes and comments from the Spanish saying what phenomenal support the Irish had offered. Countless football fans around the world have described the ten minutes of the Fields of Athenry as an abiding memory of the tournament. Dozens have remarked they teared up, while Irish fans who’ve followed the team for decades described the emotional impact it had on them”
On German television, commentators even stopped talking to allow viewers to hear the Irish fans.
Footballers including Fabrice Muamba, Robin Van Persie, Michael Owen, Paul McGrath, Yossie Benayou, and even the Mayor of Gdansk took to Twitter to express their admiration.
But the best quote of all was uttered by Spain defender Gerard Pique.
“Listening to them (the fans) singing during the last five minutes of the game… I will remember it for as long as I live”
When the two sides met the following summer for a friendly in New York City, Irish La Liga writer Gareth Nunn set the scene for Póg Mo Goal.
“A year ago whilst Spain and Fernando Torres defeated their doubters with a hammering of Ireland, Irish fans deafened households across Europe and the world with the ‘Fields of Athenry’. Spectators and even opposition players admitted that the support the Irish team received that night was something from another world. More than one Spanish player has admitted since to being envious to the way that the Irish fans stood up and followed their team. The Spanish National Team has never had such support.”
“A year ago Spain beat Ireland but the Irish were still seen as champions.”
Thankfully, performances at Euro 2016 erased the memories of what happened on the pitch in Poland four years previously, but this legacy of the Irish fans endures.