Follow the drunk Northern Irishmen, have the best day of your life

I had my Northern Irish friend’s ticket to the Euro 2016 match he’d been looking forward to for, well, a lifetime, and I wasn’t sure how I’d find him.

He booked a flight that arrived three hours before kickoff. The stadium was 30 minutes away on a good day, and he’d be bringing a bag to a tournament with serious terrorism warnings.

Silly Jonny, carelessness is for Americans!

Neither of us had phone service, and we were going to an 80,000-seat stadium. Shouldn’t be too difficult to find each other.

“Meet me at the OL store. It’s on the north side of the stadium. 4:30.”

If we both made it on time, seemed doable enough.

I left 3:30; Google Maps said I was 25 minutes ahead of schedule. I’d explore. Northern Irish fans were already drunk and singing on the metro line. Hundreds of them. One couldn’t stand already and I worried as he wavered into the street. His Dad, I think, yanked him back.

We piled into the metro and they sang and pounded the metal to their five chants that I’d hear hundreds of times, literally, over the next few days. They snuck beers on.

Everywhere we go

Everywhere we go

Everywhere we go

We’re the Ulster boys

Bringing all the noise

Everywhere we go

Apt.

Even more apt:

We’re not Brazil; we’re Northern Ireland!

But it’s all the same to me!

Ulster!

30 minutes on a stopped train, I listened to the same five songs over and over, loving every minute. “We were named best fans in Europe!” A guy slurred. I agreed. Drunkest and loudest = best, in my mind. I was convinced half of Northern Ireland would be at the match.

Metro, tram, bus. An hour and a half, with a half hour traffic-induced stop that almost caused a friendly riot. They were happy-drunk. Confident externally, probably aware internally that they’re Northern Ireland and a win would be icing on the cake.

There were a hundred Northern Irish, a handful of French commuters, and me. I was crammed against a wall, sweaty, smiling, soaking it in, all five chants memorized, hands jollily clapping in my face.


The drunkest fan looked at my Michigan football pullover. What the fuck is that? He asked, smiling. I told him I was meeting a Northern Irish friend. You need a fuckin’ shirt! I’m getting’ you a fuckin’ shirt! You have a ticket? He said his friend had an extra jersey and he PROMISED I’d get it. Stick with me. I think he was gonna give me a free ticket if I needed one. Mine cost $131 dollars.

They were the nicest, most represented country of drunks I had ever seen. College football fans don’t come close, even minus fratboys.

We arrived and I saw the OL store, but it was inside, after the ticket takers. Jonny couldn’t have gotten through. He had to be outside.

Come with me, you need a fuckin’ shirt!

I really wanted the free shirt. But I chose not ruining my friend’s life instead.

Tough call, but I don’t look great in green.


I wandered for fifteen minutes. Thousands of people, no Jonny. I checked my map. I was on the South side of the stadium. Fuck. I asked a ticket taker if there was another OL store. Other side. I started to circle the stadium. Five minutes in, dead end.

Turned out the walkways were closed and you had to go aaaaaaalll the way around, on the bus route. Seemed like a 45-minute walk. I was already 45 minutes late. I ran. I was never a distance-runner, and I’m in mediocre shape. Five minutes in, I was sprinting and gassed.

It took over 15 minutes. My rough estimate said three miles. I don’t know. Probably 20 minutes and 2.689 miles. I’m not that fast and I can’t count.

I was drenched in sweat and hyperventilating. I found the OL store, but I had to pass two ticket checkpoints. Bad news, but there were no Jonnys at either, and it was my only chance.

He was fucked and I was going to feel horrible.

I made it to the store, and he wasn’t there. I waited 10 minutes. Nothing, no wi-fi, no options, no ideas. There was a beer stand, at least. I had consumed zero. Every green shirt around me had consumed truckloads. I was about to buy three, to hopefully split with Johnny when I found him. 8 euros each. I was next on line when I heard a Northern Irishmen. Point-five percent, fuckin’ shite!

It was 0.5% beer, basically non-alcoholic. I considered buying 50 for a minor buzz. I then realized that’s 400 euros and I’m a writer.


I saw Johnny. Glorious Jonny, donning a Northern Irish scarf, but no jersey, unlike the thousands around him. I was shocked. I had not ruined his life.

Where the fuck were you?!

Where the fuck were you?!

He had been there for over an hour and assumed he’d never see me, but found a ticket for 10 euros (ours were 115 each). We tried to sell the ticket, but we were past a checkpoint and it was impossible. We asked an American guy, the only one I saw, and he said, “I can’t get rid of mine!” and gave us two great seats.

“Five minutes ago, I had zero tickets. Now I have four.” He laughed. Nobody would take them. Eventually, we found two Brazilians.

“They were 115. How’s that?”

They cracked up. “Fuck that.” And walked away.

Great negotiating. I called back. “Wait! How’s forty?” Eventually they came back and we sold the pair for 30.

A profit of 30, to be used on beer.

There was no beer.

Violent hooligans ruined the fun for us pleasant drunks.


It was clear both teams were bad and Northern Ireland were a bunch of minor leaguers who couldn’t do anything but pray for a 0–0 draw against a good team. Ukraine wasn’t a good team.

0–0 at half. No good chances. But watching Northern Ireland cheer was worth the price of admission, plus watching with a good friend who knew all the players.

We wandered into what looked like a VIP area accidentially. “Do we have access to this?” Everyone had lanyards, but nobody was stopping us. We both wanted to hit the buffet of charcuterie, but we were flustered and left to look for hot dogs. We waited 10 minutes, halftime is only fifteen. “If the game starts, go back and I’ll get yours.”

“Don’t worry, it’s not like we’ll score in the first few minutes.”

I heard noise. It was starting. “Just go.” I needed about five minutes. But then they ran out of hot dogs, someone complained, and it took seven minutes for my ham sandwich. As I walked toward the concourse, there was an eruption.

Ukraine must have scored. Fuck. I had missed four minutes.

I tried to sprint but realized you can’t sprint back in time.

I walked through the aisle and everyone laughed at me. “You missed it!” Fuck you.

Northern Ireland had somehow scored.

Fat chance I’d see it again.


There were six minutes of stoppage time.

“Fuck that!” Johnny was nervous. Ukraine had played like shit but started pressing.

Then Northern Ireland scored again and I witnessed the boom.

This is me screaming like a crazy person. (My mother told me to always be myself.)

2–0 win. Johnny stayed 15 minutes after staring at the pitch and the fans who watched some players run laps afterwards. I don’t know what they were doing.

Johnny’s childhood friend was at a bar, so we met him. Turned out everyone was outside of the bar, in a little courtyard, singing those same five songs.

We got there at 11pm. They were in full swing. The bar couldn’t handle the people. “We’re closed.” Missing out on thousands of euros, I see. We walked 10 minutes to a market and bought cheaper beer along with dozens of others desperately asking on the way WHERE’S THE FUCKING BEER?!

We left at 330am. The singing had just stopped.

And yet the next day, as we strolled the streets, we heard more songs, never hoarse.

Sweet Caroline in a restaurant.

The next two nights were the same.


The most popular celebration song was:

Don’t take me home

Please don’t take me home

I just don’t wanna go to work

I wanna stay here

Drink all your beer

Please don’t ever take me home!

They sang it for about an hour straight.

It sounded a little too real for them.


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