Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, Michel Platini ... and Caroline Hanlon. Isn't that the ultimate honour for a football fan, to share the same stage as the great names of football, as I was privileged to do at the World Player Gala in January? I'm still up in the clouds, and don't want to come down again just yet....

To receive the FIFA Fair Play Award on behalf of all the Irish fans was almost too good to be true. But let's be clear : if the stage at Disneyland Paris had been big enough, there would have been several thousand other fans up there with me. Because we are one big fan community, and I was simply the lucky one to be picked out to take the trophy back to Dublin.

Sometimes I think, though, that the fans should not look to share the stage with the stars. Stars should remain stars, accessible and yet still slightly out of reach. Fans need to look up to them, and some of that mystique disappears if we rub shoulders with them too often.

I would also like to think that the Fair Play Award went not only to the Irish fans, proud as we are of having achieved it, but to genuine football fans as a whole. The real fans of the game share a sense of community that bonds us all together, no matter which team we support, and in a way we are happy to share our trophy with all our fellow supporters around the world.

It's good to know that FIFA does not forget the fans. They are a vital part of the game, and the football authorities need to remember that without the singing and chanting and cheering from the stands, the big matches would be only half the events we all want them to be.

There are times when the fans feel they are not sufficiently consulted about the things that concern them, and we all hope that the people who run the game at all levels never forget the part we have to play. Gradually, it's true, the fan is getting a better deal in many ways, as many of the stadiums are improved for their comfort. But prices go up with better facilities, and we have to be careful not to give the live fan the rough end of the stick in favour of the TV spectator.

I have been following Ireland since I was seven years old. The highlights, of course, were the team's participation in the World Cup in 1990 and again in 1994, when we were simply thrown in with the best in the world. I've been able to travel around Europe with the team, visiting many countries where the passport has been the green and white scarf of Ireland. The only game I have missed was that against our neighbours, Northern Ireland, in Belfast, because of the security restrictions which prevented us from travelling. That was a great disappointment for us, especially because it was such an important match, but Alan McLoughlin's goal that day remains my most memorable moment as it took us to USA 94.

There has always been a special bond between the Irish team and its fans, and that also applies especially to the two team coaches of the past few years, Jack Charlton and Mick McCarthy. We are inseparable. The team knows that it has a loyal band of followers who sing the Irish national anthem with them before every match, and who will never let them down or disgrace them in any way, win or lose. And we know the players feel the same way about us.

Maybe it's because we come from a relatively small country that this relationship is so close, and also because the success of the late 1980s and the early 1990s came as such a wonderful bonus after having waited so long. Whatever it is, we all enjoy it, and it has helped focus more attention on our good reputation for fair play.

And of course we're already looking forward to being in Japan and Korea in four years' time...