Last Tuesday I had the pleasure of attending a soccer match between the Republic of Ireland and the United States. I thought I knew what the game from the stands would entail, as I have been to many American football, hockey, and baseball games at home in Boston, where the fans are known for their devotion. However, I underestimated the spirit of the Irish fans immensely.
For me, the experience really started on my journey to Aviva Stadium. I went there alone using public transport, having just eaten dinner with my friend who did not attend the match. As I got closer to the stadium, the train cars got more packed, and I saw more and more fans wearing jerseys or even just the colors of their team. Chanting and singing were common occurrences both on the train and on the short walk into the stadium.
Once I got into the stadium, I anticipated the atmosphere of an American football game due to soccer’s popularity in Ireland. Many of my peers also seemed to think this, as I could see from their red, white and blue attire, face paint, and abundance of American flags. However, this is not how the Irish do things. Comparatively, the Irish fans were dressed more modestly, mostly sporting their team’s jerseys, scarves, and hats, and leaving their faces untouched.
The game itself was very fun to watch. We were seated close to a large group of Irish fans, including one with a bodhrán, and the back and forth of the game play in the first half mirrored our cheering in the stands. As Ireland pulled ahead, they cheered while we booed, and the reverse happened when the Americans did something favorable.
However, these lines between fans were not completely solid, especially as the game went on. Once the American team (surprisingly) began falling behind the Irish, we began to appreciate the game more, and respect the Irish players’ skill. In many ways, this is a reflection of our time here in Ireland. We were so focused on our identities as Americans in the first weeks that we did not allow ourselves to appreciate the Irish culture. Now only towards the end of our time abroad can we learn to respect the Irish way of life. Upon leaving Ireland in a few weeks, we will all surely have a newfound sense of understanding about Ireland and its people.