The night that sport took a back seat

It was a remarkable game to watch on television because of the smog that had descended onto the pitch. It made the game practically unwatchable yet strangely enthralling because of the weather conditions which were practically unprecedented in an Irish game of this importance.
Yet by the game’s conclusion it became clear that its importance was diminishing. Horrible news was breaking from Europe’s cultural central, Paris, the main host city of the 2016 tournament Ireland was playing to qualify for.
The news developed as the night wore on and Eamon Dunphy’s post-match ramblings became even less relevant than before. The low point came with the discovery the tragic news that hostages were being shot one by one in Bataclan Concert Hall.
At that point, it became incredibly hard to focus on any sport that was happening that night.
Sport had a key role in the story of the Paris attacks in a different way. It was the first live realisation of what was happening, as noise resonated through the Stade de France during the France-Germany friendly match.
The moment when the bomb exploded outside the stadium, where Patrice Evra paused on the sideline and the crowd gasped in particular, will last a long time in my memory.
Bill Shankly once said that football is “not life or death, it is more important than that”. The events in Paris, the sense of dread that permeated out of the stadium from players, officials and spectators alike reinforced more than ever that it is not.
When all is stripped down bare, it is hard to see it as more than a diversion in the wider scheme of things.
The chaotic ending to the friendly match, with players standing in the tunnel and worried fans crowded on the pitch, was a concerning one. The players admitted that they were concerned for their safety.
Aware of the bomb scare earlier at their team hotel, the German players would not leave the stadium. The French response was fantastic. France’s players refused to return to their homes as a show of solidarity with their opponents.
“The French said that they were staying as long as Germany had to stay,” said the German Football Association’s caretaker president Reinhard Rauball. The camaraderie between two old footballing foes, France and Germany, was great to see.
The word “solidarity” has been frequently used in the response to the attacks and it was seen by the fans too.  
Fans sang La Marseillaise as they were evacuated from the stadium. The pride with which they roared it out was spine-tingling and they sang it like they had a message for the city’s tormentors – we will not be defeated.
These are small footnotes in the larger scheme of things. But the French have a saying “un peu d’aide fait grand bien”.
The proverb can be most closely translated to “every little helps”.
It sums up the recovery process that is ahead for France in many ways. The nation is still suffering scar tissue from the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January and they are still trying to comprehend the horrors of Friday night. It will take a lot of little steps to overcome the mighty tragedy of November 13th.
“Every little helps” like the little steps taxi drivers took by turning off their meters to take people home, or the hundreds of Parisians queueing for hours to donate blood to victims in hospital or even the pianist who played Imagine just outside the Bataclan Theatre today, the ultimate song that espouses the hope for universal peace. None of these things can take back the people who died but every little step helps the recovery process.
I said earlier that sport was a diversion, irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. Yet maybe that is also why we love to watch sport.
It is wrapped up within its own bubble and we like that. We like how it is a diversion from the horrors of the world. It is a lot easier to think about who will start for Ireland on Monday than to think about where ISIS’s next target will be.
So maybe it is important. It is a necessary escapism because incidents of violence and destruction like the one that manifested itself on Friday are unthinkable. RIP to the victims in Paris.