Let’s be honest, Euro 2016 closed much the way it started; violently, with French police standing off against unruly fans beneath the Eiffel Tower. France has been inundated with fighting from day one, with clashes culminating around the England Russia game at the Stade Velodrome, resulting in 35 injuries and 20 arrests. The drama has given rise to the Russian “Ultra” and the re-emergence of 1980’s hooliganism, with fines, suspensions and the threat of disqualification hanging over both teams.
The events of the Euros clearly demonstrate how susceptible organisations are to the decisions and actions of those in their community, for good or ill. But despite the sporadic violence, the middle weeks of the tournament displayed a glimmer of hope that Euro 2016 may escape condemnation as the most violent in recent history, and get away with only a small blip on an otherwise successful event.
Euro 2016 bade a very fond farewell to both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – and with them, the Irish fans, who unlike their English and Russian counterparts have conducted themselves with fun, responsibility and good sportsmanship. Irish fans have been lifting spirits all over France in almost fairy tale fashion; changing this couple’s tyre, fixing this car, entertaining this local and serenading everyone from the French police to rival fans, this unsuspecting French girl and even a sleepy baby on a train. Their harmless festivities revitalised the Euros and set the standard for football fans everywhere.
Social media has been key in spreading the love for the Irish fans. While news outlets jumped at the violence of previous weeks from the outset, the activities of the Irish weren’t newsworthy until they had gathered a following online. As such the stories, pictures and videos that went viral carried with them the credibility of being shared by ordinary people.
Similarly, the celebrations stand in such stark contrast against previous coverage of the Euros that viewers welcome the change, and are much more receptive of the positive messages. Had the finale’s wayward fans kept their behaviour on the down-low, the sudden diversion of public attention may have helped the Euros emerge from its opening weeks unscathed.
So how far are the Irish fans responsible for saving the reputation of Euro 2016? UEFA is certainly due credit for ceasing the violence with warnings of expulsion, but while damage limitation efforts were largely successful, UEFA hasn’t been proactive in repairing the damage already done. The admirable conduct of the Irish fans drew both public eye and media lens from the tournament’s rocky start, leaving UEFA with a much smaller challenge.
When it comes to the Irish fans, Euro 2016 certainly has a lot to be thankful for. Social media, however, remains an unsung hero; without the public’s ability to record and share the festivities, they would never have made the news at all and violence would still dominate the headlines. Perhaps the Irish can dedicate their next ditty to Twitter.