Irish football fans like to think of themselves as the best in the world; it’s pretty much a self-awarded accolade but it’s also undoubtedly true that they are well regarded by those that have encountered them. The reputation was forged at a time when English football fans (or at least a sizeable minority of them) were still terrorising towns and cities across Europe, so it wasn’t too difficult to look good in comparison. But boozy good-naturedness is not the sole preserve of the Irish — the Danes had a similar reputation on their first World Cup in Mexico in 1986, and other Scandinavians and the Scots are largely known to be the same. You might even say that the majority of football fans anywhere in the world, behave just like that — whatever followers of snottier sports might say — but the bad eggs, of course, will always stand out. Regardless of whether the Irish are unique in their good behaviour, there is something remarkable about large groups of mostly young men drinking so much yet causing little or no trouble.
The video below, which I found on YouTube, sums up Ireland’s fans rather eloquently. It was filmed in Bari three years ago (on April Fools’ Day, no less) on the occasion of Ireland’s World Cup qualifier away to Italy. A sharply (or maybe tackily) dressed young man is apprehended by a group of fans, who delight in his supposed similarity to Borat. There’s an initial hint of menace in it, not intentional but the fellow might be forgiven for being worried by a group of foreigners taking such a keen interest in his appearance. After nervously declining an offer of being lifted on someone’s shoulders, he finally joins in with the fun, with another mustachioed local sharing the heat. You have to admire his perseverance and good humour as it was a situation that might so easily have been misinterpreted, given the probable language barrier. Having been in Bari myself on that trip, I can testify to the wonderful welcome the locals gave the Irish fans, despite dire warnings that local businesses were going to rip us off at every opportunity. The Irish fans’ banter in this video could have veered into mean-spiritedness but ultimately it’s generous and endearing. The very fact their poor ‘victim’ really looks nothing at all like Borat only makes it all the funnier.