Yesterday, I ran the full gamut of emotions from anticipation and boredom to elation and fear to nervousness and outrage to pride and querulousness, to a weary type of zealousness that I’d rather not experience again any time soon. It’s almost as if the rugby (Ireland’s win over France) and the soccer (Ireland’s loss to Poland) were by-the-way,incidental.
The atmosphere in Jack Doyle’s was electric. I could count on one hand the number of French people I have met in my eight years in Budapest but yesterday, they outnumbered the Irish both in body and in voice. Their rousing rendition of the French national anthem was one worth hearing. So good was it, in fact, that our pathetic effort at our rugby anthem was … well… pathetic. Only a handful of the Irish in JDs knew all the words to it and knowing the chorus just wasn’t enough.
Had we been singing Ireland’s national anthem, I think we might have fared better but then this would have excluded our northern brethren (which was why the rugby anthem was adopted in the first place). A Welsh mate of mine had commented after the England v. Australia game on how sad it was that England only has one rugby song compared to the six Wales can offer up. I thought about agreeing until I realised that Ireland only has one, too – the Fields of Athenry! Lads, we need to do something about this.
The bar seemed quite divided – the French at one end and the Irish at the other – with both sets of fans doing their bit to egg on their respective teams. And even though we won, when it all cleared out afterwards, the French fans were the ones still singing. A credit to them. The rest of us were still discussing what it meant for us to lose four players as we approach the quarter finals. We were doing Joe Schmidt’s job for him, working through the boys on the bench and debating whether or not we had cover for next Sunday’s game with Argentina.
With an hour wait we thought about going home or staying to see what Martin O’Neill has done with the Irish soccer team. We stayed. And as the French filtered out, the Poles arrived. And what a difference.
The bar had been packed solid for the rugby. It took an age to get out for a smoke or to the loo. Kudos to the floor staff who managed to stay upright without accident while navigating the dense crowd balancing their booze-laden trays. And hats off to them for keeping a smile on their face as the punters’ anxiety about what was happening on the pitch seeped in to what was happening with their drinks. A stellar off-pitch performance.
Given how important a game this was for Ireland, it was surprising how few people stayed to watch, but those who did got to see some great camaraderie between both sets of fans. When Ireland scored the equaliser in the early minutes, our Poland neighbours tipped their glasses in acknowledgement. And when it was all over, gracious in their victory, they shook hands with all of us.
Behind me, I overheard a snippet of a conversation that summarised the atmosphere:
Polish fan: There are way more Irish in here. We’re outnumbered.
Irish fan: Sure we’re all friends here tonight. We’ll have a few pints and then we’ll be singing.
Me? Give me rugby any day. I enjoyed the football well enough but there isn’t enough action in it for me. So much so that I spent my time wondering at what was going through Ireland’s manager Martin O’Neill’s head when he picked that lilac and green tracksuit to wear? Had he no one to tell him NOT to wear it? He made Poland’s manager Adam Nawałka look like a pin-up from GQ! I was mortified.
We didn’t get the result we needed in the football but we’re not out of it yet. There are still the play-offs. Martin – if you’re reading this – lilac ain’t your colour, pet.
But we are through to the quarter finals in the rugby. Next up, Sunday at 2pm, Ireland v Argentina. If you’re Irish (or Argentinian) in Budapest, pop by Jack Doyle’s. And if you’re buying, mine will be a Magners. Bring the Valium.