Local fans set for France again

Northern Ireland fans cheer on their side in the stands during the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Parc Des Princes, Paris
Northern Ireland fans cheer on their side in the stands during the UEFA Euro 2016, Group C match at the Parc Des Princes, Paris

NI fans from Banbridge and Dromore are set to get back to France this weekend ‘by hook or by crook.’

Gareth Sloan from Banbridge is already set to find his way back to Euro 2016 for Northern Ireland’s last 16 game against either Wales or France, and plenty more will be making similar journeys.

“I am flying home on Wednesday but I will be back in France at the weekend by hook or by crook,” he said after watching NI’s 1-0 defeat to Germany in Paris.

“French people that we met on the train told us that we were the best fans they ever had in Paris.”

Northern Ireland will find out tonight (Wednesday) whether they will take on France in Lyon on Sunday or Wales in Paris on Saturday.

Then it will be all systems go on booking a route to the match.

The GAWA have received plaudits from across the world of football, with plenty of Banbridge and Dromore supporters in the middle of it all.

“I am very proud of the Northern Ireland fans,” said Gary McAllister, chairman of the Amalgamation of the Official Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs. “Their conduct throughout the tournament has been fantastic.

“Wherever we went fans from other countries have commented on it - people from Iceland, Norway and Austria.

“They have actually been coming in and supporting Northern Ireland in our games. Everybody has been commenting on how well behaved they are and I am very proud of that.”

When informed that former international players - now television pundits - Alan Shearer, Ian Wright and Lothar Matthaus all paid substantial tribute to the Northern Ireland fans, Mr McAllister replied: “They are just finding out what we knew all along.”

He added: “Obviously we have to wait and see who we will play next.”

For a time, the doubters had given the Green and White Army’s team “no chance”.

“But now we are into the last 16. Anything from here on is just to be enjoyed.

“Most supporters will have to go home now but quite a few will stay on. People are already trying to secure tickets for the next game.

“Many are trying to change their travel plans but not everyone can afford to stay on. Many have already been here for 10 or 14 days.

“Not everyone can afford to stay on but those of us who remain will trying our best to maintain the support we have seen so far.”

Yesterday, the response at the final whistle belied the 1-0 defeat as a wall of green at one side of the stadium jumped in unison.

Supporters flew from Kuwait, Beirut and the US to be at the crunch final group at the Parc des Princes - the Park of Princes - and acclaimed their heroes like royalty with a standing ovation at the end.

They had besieged the French capital in a mass of green shirts, flags, sombreros and banners.

And long after the Germans scored a first-half deadlock breaker, fans in the stadium were still “doing the bouncie” following a result which is far better than feared.

They sang “Everywhere we go it’s the Ulster boys making all the noise” and the emotion poured from the solid green wall ranks.

The faithful chanted at their counterparts: “You only sing when you are winning” and in one corner of the stadium the cries of Deutschland were drowned out by the UIstermen.

The martial but good natured atmosphere was cemented by a veritable battle of the bands between supporters with rival drummers.

The First Finaghy Northern Ireland Supporters’ Club from South Belfast transports its bass drum to most away matches.

Sam McClean said: “We have a carry case. We have slugged it on taxis, trains, buses, the whole lot, then we take it home on a plane.

“Oversized baggage, you see. It goes everywhere. “

They brought it to the Northern Ireland war memorial in France at the Ulster Tower on Monday.

“It gets the crowd going,” said Mr McClean

The Euros had been fantastic, he added.

“You will never get it again, the atmosphere is unreal,” he said

An inflatable crocodile which has been a permanent feature of Northern Ireland’s travelling entourage again showed up in the capital.

And the two bass drummers from south Belfast and London led the Ulstermen in raucous full voice in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

A beach ball was tossed enthusiastically between fans as bemused tourists with ears echoing from the drumbeat elbowed their way through the square and towards the Seine.

Earlier, Northern Ireland fans played their counterparts in a sign of friendship and cooperation ahead of the match.

The match also marked the first attendance of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at a Northern Ireland game.