The atmosphere at Germany’s final group stage game was exactly the sort of thing that UEFA would like to see more of. The two sets of fans celebrated together before, during and after the match.
Germany and Northern Ireland come from opposite ends of the spectrum in many ways. Germany entered this European Championship as the World Cup champions, with nothing less than the Euro 2016 title acceptable to their fans. The Northern Irish, on the other hand, are just happy to be there.
To an outsider, the Germans may often seem dour, humorless people, focused only on work, efficiency and getting the beach towel out on the recliners beside the pools at some tourist destination in the south to prevent the English from getting there first.
The Northern Irish, on the other hand, are still probably tainted to many by the “troubles” that were pretty much put to bed by the Good Friday Agreement.
In footballing terms, it’s David versus Goliath – but in terms of supporters, you have to give the Northern Irish the upper hand, without taking anything away from the Germans.
Before arriving at the first security perimeter that surrounded the access routes to the Parc des Princes on this cloud-covered and humid Paris evening, you could see droves of Northern Irish fans mixing with Germans, drinking together, sharing a sing-song.
The common language, of course was English, and the song everybody was singing and dancing to was one about a Wigan striker, who doesn’t even start for Northern Ireland. If you hadn’t heard of Will Grigg, you have now!
Once in the stadium, the two sides were largely divided into separate sections of the stadium, but the singing of the Northern Irish fans was all the more impressive.
The Germans did pretty well too, occasionally joining in on the Will Grigg song, and after going up on the half hour mark, they eventually even belted out their own national anthem, a bit like the English do, over and over, no matter how bad things are for the Three Lions.
But no question, the Northern Irish fans stole the show. This Will Grigg song, or at least the tune, seems to be infectious, with other groups of fans adopting it (with their own words).
As much as UEFA will have loved the spirit and the good publicity that the atmosphere at this game must have generated, in contrast to the negative headlines associated with earlier matches involving Russia in particular, the spirit at Tuesday evening’s game was not of the European governing body’s doing.
Every major tournament seems to produce an outstanding set of fans who lift everybody’s spirits, despite a lack of success by their team. This time it is Northern Ireland’s turn. And the tune they have adopted to celebrate that certain Wigan striker, looks more and more like joining the staple of football anthems, to be adapted, adopted and added to the repertoire of supporters all over Europe in the next few years.
The game may not have been the greatest, but the atmosphere in and around the Parc des Princes was not only what UEFA was looking for, but probably the majority of the “average” fans as well.