It was a great first half. Both
sides had played attractive running rugby, there were only three
points in it and the jousting between the rival sets of fans had
given the game a tremendous atmosphere. The Ulster fans "Stood
Up", the Toulouse fans brought out the big drums and
whipped up their support. The air was crackling for what was a
nothing at stake pool game.
Things got better. At half time
I was visited by a couple of Toulouse supporters who I had met
in Belfast at the group opening fixture. I'd given one of them
my Ulster shirt in Belfast and made very vague arrangements that
he would return the favour in Toulouse. Much to my astonishment,
and delight, here he was returning the favour. New shirt in hand
we went off to the bar under the stand to queue for a drink.
Ten minutes later the shirt was
forgotten and the game was meaningless, I'd just witnessed an
astonishing and vicious attack on a rugby supporter by a player.
As I returned to my seat I noticed
that Brennan was warming up in the corner and I heard a few of
the Ulster supporters joke about his bar being shit. I saw Brennan
walk calmly towards the wall between the pitch and the supporters
and watched as he jumped the wall and walked up four or five rows.
I was expecting Brennan to carry
on the banter with the supporters and I was completely unprepared
as he rained down blow after blow on the helpless Ulster supporter
in his sickening attack. A women was struck by his wild blows,
children were stunned as they were forced to witness this act
Eventually Brennan was restrained
by a mix of supporters and security staff, but what was astonishing
was that after this sickening assault was that Brennan was released
by the security staff and allowed to saunter back onto the pitch
where he was justifiably berated by the Ulster supporters who
had witnessed the assault. It is to their eternal credit that
all the supporters threw was a couple of pints of lager.
What happened next was nearly as
distasteful as the incident itself. I and many other supporters
asked for the police to be called so witness names could be taken
and Brennan could be restrained. The Stade Toulouse Security and
subsequently the Stade Toulouse Officials refused to call the
police or take the names of any witnesses. One official shrugged
his shoulders and said "Sure you call him bad things".
This man had been no where near the incident when it occurred
but this was the sort of crap that they started to pedal almost
As we made our way around the city
that night it wasn't long before the sectarian angle was being
spouted. Who did this come from? Not from anyone who witnessed
the events. In the morning papers the French press were displaying
the Ulster supporters as protestant extremists. Where did this
come from? From Stade Toulouse?
I'd used to like Brennan. He'd been
a thug when he was thrown out of the Ireland side but he'd appeared
to change when he went to Toulouse. He'd worked hard and made
what appeared to be a great life for himself. It appeared he'd
matured and left the dirt behind.
After Sunday I have nothing but
contempt. I've tried to understand what he did. This was not a
heat of the moment attack but a pre-meditated assault. Was it
for some perceived sectarian comment? Was it because of some deep
down hatred of the "Orange Ulster"? Was it because he
was pumped up on adrenalin and other "performance" drugs?
Was it because he's a genuinely sick man? I don't know it may
be none of these and I'm sure hundreds of other reasons will be
made up over the coming weeks and months.
What I do know is that
I will still wear my Ulster shirt with pride. I'll also wear my
new Toulouse shirt with pride and as a mark of respect for the
great friendship between rugby fans throughout Europe. I also
know that until Brennan confronts the demons inside him and faces
his real enemy he will never know what pride is.