Bill Harris: Kiwis just don't do passion like they do in Europe

Irish fans in Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille, France for a match against Italy at Euro 2016.
REUTERS

Irish fans in Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille, France for a match against Italy at Euro 2016.

OPINION: Would a Kiwi fan of any code fly around the world to watch their club – e.g. Ponsonby, Raumati Hearts, Tawa Titans, Southern Cavaliers, Pt Chev Pirates, Sydenham – play a big game?

Unlikely.

But British and Irish football fans who live here do. They hop on plan for 24 hours, watch one game and then head back. It's an incredible level of commitment.

Look at the hate in the eyes of football fans when an opponent comes over to take a corner. The targets of their vitriol will get anything thrown at them from a racial attack to a pig's head.

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Look at the fury of the coach when his team gets a bad call against them.

Look at the grief in the faces of football fans whose team has just been relegated. Or whose stadium - their home for over 100 years – is due to be bulldozed.

Look at their delirium when a vital goal is scored.

We Kiwis just don't know that kind of passion. As a country, are we too young, too comfortable, with too much else in our lives to feel that depth of emotion? Watch the national teams of, say, France or Wales or Uruguay sing their anthem compared to any team representing New Zealand. Hear the fans lift the roof off the stadium, while we mumble along, worried that someone will hear us.

Should we be grateful we don't live our lives through our team?

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We were in Italy for the 1990 World Cup. Ireland were playing Romania in the round of 16.

We got to the stadium in Genoa hours early to soak up the atmosphere. Enjoying the sun, the camaraderie, a beer and some food while mixing with other fans, particularly the Irish, at the World Cup is about the best thing you can do in life.

A young Irishman walked up. "Hey lads, you couldn't spare a few lire couldja?"

We got talking. It turned out that Sean had spent his life savings on a plane ticket to Italy. He had no match ticket, and no money to buy one. No money for a hotel, nor for a plane ticket home. His plan was to beg for enough money to buy a match ticket, then find someone who'd sell him one. It wasn't a very good plan. Beyond that, he had no plan. He didn't know where he'd sleep or how he'd get home.

We were gobsmacked. Why, we asked, would you come to Italy without a match ticket, a return ticket or a bed for the night?

"I just have to be here for the lads," he said, referring to his team.

Now that's passion.

A passion which many of his countrymen evidently shared. Sometime around 2am, as the celebrations of Ireland's momentous win faded, we headed for our car on the far side of a large park.

It was dark, but we could see the lights of the train station in the distance, which we headed for. From time to time we'd stumble across a body, sleeping soundly under the stars. The accidental kick to his head or ribs stirred him into a mumbled cry of "Ooh ah Paul McGrath", or "Go on Tony son!"

At the station we decided to sleep on the park benches rather than drive to our accommodation. A few hours later, the rising sun and the stirring city woke us, and then we saw it. A scene like the day after at the Battle of Waterloo. Dozens of seemingly lifeless bodies strewn across the park.

That day, with heads throbbing, they'd make the phone calls home. Beg their wives and bosses for another five days' leave. Whether they got it or not didn't matter. They'd be staying in Italy, making the trek to Rome for the match with Italy.

They had to be there for the lads.

 - Sunday Star Times

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