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'We all had a drink in our hand': The story of the Irish fans that changed the flat tyre at the Euros

Instant fame and a meeting with the French ambassador.

Italy v Republic of Ireland - UEFA Euro 2016 - Group E - Stade Pierre Mauroy Source: Michel Spingler

FROM SINGING LULLABIES to French babies and dancing to Westlife in the street, the Irish fans had quite the summer at the Euros in France (and there was the actual football, too).

But there was one act that came to symbolise the travelling Boys in Green more than any other:

When these lads changed a flat tyre for an elderly French couple in Paris

It was just after Ireland’s opening draw with Sweden, the Irish fans had gathered in the Montmartre area of the city – and it was here that this small act of kindness took place that would be seen around the world.

First, Irish fan on the ground Enda Bonner tweeted out the above photo that was shared on social media everywhere in the next 48 hours. Then, Newstalk journalist Henry McKean was on hand to take a video of the boys at work and that exploded on the radio station’s Facebook page the next morning.

The French couple were only delighted to have a troop of volunteers on hand: “Vive l’Irlande”

Source: Newstalk/YouTube

Although the person at the centre of the action was undoubtedly the Donegal man who speaks to camera:

“This is the difference between Irish fans and English fans… we change the wheel of a car.”

difference2 Source: Newstalk YouTube

DailyEdge.ie tracked down the man in question – Shaun Conaghan from Killybegs – to talk to him about how that one moment blew up into an international news story back in June. He took us through what happened that evening:

After the Sweden draw, we were a wee bit deflated because we felt it was a lost opportunity but then when all the fans got back together the buzz got going again in the Moulin Rouge area. We were drinking there when we saw a car get in difficulty driving past us – and the elderly couple looked in a little bit of distress.

So him and a mystery group of Irish fans went over:

I left my friends to go and see if we could help them out. There was another group of lads there too and they were helping to put on the tyre as well. We didn’t even exchange names but we were having the craic and chatted for a while after the couple were on their way.

“We all had a drink in our hand, and we never got each other’s names”

difference Source: Newstalk YouTube

Naturally enough, by 9pm that night everyone’s phone had died – but the celebrations went on until 5am in the bars of Paris.

It was only when Shaun woke up the next day that he realised something out of the ordinary had gone down the previous night:

When I saw all the notifications coming through, I thought something was wrong with my phone – so much was happening.

But that was only the beginning of it.

Soon the tyre changing exploits had made the news all over the world

sofoot Source: SoFoot

And he was starting to get recognised thanks to the millions of views it was generating online – from Channel 4 to ESPN:

During the tournament French people came up to me and said you wouldn’t believe how much it’s been used – chat shows, TV sports shows, it was everywhere. They used it in online news in Italy, Germany, the US and Australia.
I was away in the summer to the Philippines – and Australians recognised me from the video. I couldn’t get over it.

difference3 Source: Newstalk YouTube

Soon after returning home after the Belgium defeat, the French Ambassador to Ireland got in touch with Shaun to invite him to a function celebrating the fans and all they did during the Euros. He tried to track down the other members of the group, but could only find one to bring along to the ceremony:

It was a massive honour to be there, we felt a little bit embarrassed representing the fans by ourselves though.

But the Ambassador left him with these kind words on the night:

He told us that the Irish fans in general don’t understand what they have done for the French people, following the terrorism before the tournament – the fans brought this energy and positivity that the French people really appreciated.

Just a few lads changing a tyre became the iconic Euro 2016 fan moment

slatefrance Source: Slate

Other supporters at the tournament weren’t coming across so well – and that’s what was on his mind when the camera presented itself and he uttered the line ”this is the difference between Irish fans and English fans”:

On the day it happened, we hadn’t really had the internet – and someone had just shown us the video of English fans destroying a bar – so it was just what I was thinking at the time the video was shot.

A large tyre company in Ireland got in touch with Shaun with a proposal for him to star in a TV ad campaign. The premise? Changing a tyre on a camper van, of course

difference4 Source: Newstalk YouTube

Nothing came of it in the end, but during those first few weeks back home he discovered that Ireland was just as hectic as the streets of France:

For about six weeks to two months after I was being stopped in Dublin. People were coming up to me saying ‘I recognise you from the tyre video.’
It’s such a positive story and I’m proud to be associated with it.

And what about the tiresome cynicism back home by some to the positive news surrounding the Irish fans?

You know what there is enough bad news and negative news around. A couple of lads having a bit of craic out at the Euros – sure what harm?

What a summer it was

And one seemingly innocuous act of kindness was a key part of that feelgood factor.

COYBIG.

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About the author:

David Elkin

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