All things considered, Euro 2012 hasn't been the greatest advertisement for the sport so many of us love so dearly. Accusations of racism and multiple instances of fan violence have largely overshadowed the competition, shaming football and causing fans from around the world to contemplate if there will ever come a time when we won't have to worry about such things. Just when you think football might not be worth the trouble anymore, an event such as that which occurred during Thursday's Ireland vs. Spain contest remind you that, in the end, this really is a very beautiful game.
I'll first set the stage before explaining exactly what happened. Spain thoroughly dominated Ireland throughout the contest, opening the scoring four minutes into play thanks to a lovely finish from one Fernando Torres. Spain were credited with an incredible 859 total passes in 90+ minutes of action, and they held a 4-0 lead heading into the final seven minutes of regulation. Up by four goals and in zero danger of losing, the team thought by many to be the best in the world slowed the match to a crawl, offering up a bit of mercy to the over-matched Irish side.
A moment that I will (hopefully) never forget then began at about the 86th minute of the contest. With Spain controlling possession in the midfield and their team minutes away from being eliminated from Euro 2012, a group of Irish fans in the stands began singing "The Fields of Athenry," a folk ballad that is a sporting anthem often heard at football and rugby matches featuring Irish sides or the Ireland National Team. The song picked up momentum little by little. It took about two minutes for the anthem to overcome all other noise inside the stadium, an incredible example of Irish pride and also a show of love for a group of players who were simply beaten by a better team on that evening.
The best part of all for those of us watching on television was that commentators from around the world realized that a truly special moment was occurring, and they, outside of a word here and there, ceased calling the action. Viewers in the United States weren't so fortunate, though, as those calling the match on both ESPN and ESPN Deportes blundered, and they continued analyzing the game as normal. That's OK, though, because, thanks to the glory of the Internet, I was fortunate enough to see a variety of video feeds from around the world on Thursday evening and Friday morning.
Too bad that Big Daddy UEFA, so busy doing far too little to stop acts of racism from occurring inside stadiums and at training sessions, began having such videos taken down from websites roughly 12 hours after the completion of the game. Keep in mind that these videos merely contained about 4-6 minutes of footage of fans singing and the Spanish team enjoying a game of kickball. How dare somebody infringe on a copyright just so we can selfishly enjoy what was nothing more than an emotional and beautiful moment. Truth be told, UEFA will probably try to sell the footage via DVD.
Sadly, I'm only half-kidding.
The Football Association of Ireland honored Irish football supporters on Friday for being "amongst the very best (fans) in the world." I couldn't agree more with the FAI's assessment of their supporters after Thursday evening's events. To those Irish fans who gave all football fans a wonderful memory, I just want to say this:
Thank you. Thank you for saving Euro 2012. When I think back on this competition years down the road, I won't first remember racist taunts or a march that turned violent. I'll instead remember all of you, who reminded all of us on Thursday that football is, by nature, incredibly beautiful, and also the best sport on the planet.
For more: Here are several videos featuring the Irish fans singing "The Field of Athenry." Please note, however, that these videos may eventually be pulled.