The Oirish!

Sunshine burst through the curtains for the first time in what felt like forever the next morning. Today’s match in Bordeaux saw the Republic of Ireland take on Belgium. The decision had been made prior to the tournament for me to photograph the Irish fans today, rather the match itself – that responsibility lay with travelling man Marc Atkins, who’d journeyed over from Avignon for a couple of days on the road in the south-west.

Much of what lives in my ThinkTank roller bag wouldn’t be needed today…the 400mm lens, for one, would be staying at the chateau. I re-jigged my rucksack and headed into the city towards the middle of the morning. Off-street parking was virtually impossible to find, and the impatience of drivers behind and around me made the search for somewhere to dump the car even more difficult. It was close to 11am before I was out and about on the streets of Bordeaux, much of which was just as busy with weekend shoppers as it was with football fans.

Fans fill the streets in the centre of Bordeaux

With a couple of hours to go until kick-off, my attention switched to the square in front of the Galerie des Beaux-Arts, opposite The Connemara Irish Pub, focal point of the previous night’s gathering involving thousands of Irish fans, some of whom were still suffering from their booze intake the evening before…

To my surprise, as it neared 3pm, many fans began to vacate the square in search of the Fanzone, at which point I jumped on a nearby bus and headed just a couple of stops down to Tourny, a stop located just a couple of hundred yards from the main entrance.

It was at this point that I realised I’d need additional accreditation to get into the Fanzone with my rucksack and cameras. A number of stewards were great at telling me to go to different places, but eventually one of them made it clear I should head for a small, hardly-noticeable hut on the northern side of the compound. A woman here was extremely helpful, arranging a pass for me despite my lack of official identification and letting me in via the gate just to side of the hut.

Irish fans descended on the entrance to the Fanzone, next to the impressive Monument aux Girondins. A tall column surrounded on all four sides by an impressive statue and fountain, it would’ve been a miracle had the Irish not made their mark, and they didn’t disappoint…

I’ve never taken pictures in a situation like this before – thousands of people looking up at a giant screen behind you while you stand and wait for a reaction. The problem is, Belgium were dominating the Irish, so there wasn’t much for the men in green to look happy about. Not that I had to make them look happy, but it wouldn’t have done any harm to capture some emotion on their faces…

At half-time, I made the decision to head back to the square. I needed to move my car, and was lucky enough to find a space being vacated just a hundred yards from the pub just as I approached. Jackpot…from this point on, I could come and go as I pleased. Soon enough, the Irish contingent began returning from the Fanzone, many of them armed with crates of Kronenbourg. There was hardly a cloud in the sky, they’d be in it for the long-haul again tonight. A 3-0 drubbing at the hands of the Belgians did nothing to dampen the spirits of the Irish, and before long, the road was being closed as fans spilled out of the pub and shops into the streets. The highlight of the evening for me was a moment I couldn’t see clearly enough to get a picture of…something that is still annoying me now. Through the crowd, one of the many footballs that were flying around bounced off a couple of walls and landed at the feet of one of the many fully-armed Gendarmerie officers. A murmur akin to a cautious sigh rang around the square when everyone believed the fun was over, but to everyone’s delight, the officer picked the ball up, stepped back and punted it high into the sky and back into play…the game was very much on! The biggest cheer of the afternoon was left until last, for a moment that cemented the fans’ relationship with those in charge of proceedings…


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