Competitive day in Northern Ireland for William and Kate

But one young person finds the British royal occasion a little overwhelming

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge take part in a coaching session during their visit to Windsor Park, Belfast as part of their two day visit to Northern Ireland. Photograph: PA

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge take part in a coaching session during their visit to Windsor Park, Belfast as part of their two day visit to Northern Ireland. Photograph: PA

 

It was all a bit too much for Jasmine Andrews from Sandy Row in south Belfast. With her Fane Street primary school friends and teachers she turned up on Wednesday morning for a tour of the home of Northern Ireland football, Windsor Park. At least that was what she was told.

But who was there to meet them all but the box office representatives of the House of Windsor, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate.

And to add to the pressure Jasmine had to play football with the royal couple on the Windsor Park pitch. What’s a nine-year-old to do in such circumstances?

Burst into tears of course.

But there was a comforting arm to console her. The duchess was quick to embrace her and restore her to her normal cheerful spirits.

Jasmine explained, “I got a little bit nervous and I started to cry. And she said that she used to be shy when she was little too.”

That settled her for the game of kickabout on the Windsor Park pitch in which the royal couple enthusiastically engaged, as they joined children on opposing teams.

Igor Lackis, also nine and originally from Poland, said the couple were “really good” although he “blocked the prince’s shots”.

Also there was the legendary former Northern Ireland, Arsenal and Spurs goalkeeper Pat Jennings, who blocked a few shots in his day.

“There’s a man who needs no introduction,” said Prince William on meeting Jennings.

Windsor Park was the couple’s first event on the first day of their two-day visit to Northern Ireland. They were greeted by senior members of the Irish Football Association who included Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill.

Bronze cast

On arrival the duchess wore a red coat and black boots, the duke a blue suit, but the couple changed into gear more suitable for their appearance on the Windsor Park turf.

They also were shown a bronze cast in the Windsor Park museum of the large “safe hands” of Pat Jennings, Prince William remarking on his “really long fingers”.

Both Jennings and O’Neill said that the prince had great knowledge about Northern Ireland’s football history, which included appearances at three world cups and the 2016 European Championship.

But they could offer little comfort to the duke as to the prospects of his team, Aston Villa making it back to the top flight of English football.

“I don’t think he’s overly optimistic about watching Premiership football as a Villa fan in the near future,” said O’Neill.

One of the themes of the visit was the cross-community nature of football and how the IFA is pushing a “Football for All” policy. The royal couple learned about the IFA’s community football projects, and how sport can play a role in bringing communities together.

As they left the stadium they were presented with three junior Northern Ireland strips with the names of their children - George, Charlotte and Louis - on the backs of each jersey.

There was a youthful focus to the day. After Windsor Park they flew to the Youth Village in Roscor in Co Fermanagh where again it was playtime. At the activity and residential centre run by the charity Extern there was more competition when William and Kate joined separate teams to race against each other in Canadian canoes, the duke grabbing the honours by a couple of seconds.

They returned to Belfast on Wednesday evening where they visited the music and comedy Empire Hall, a landmark Victorian building on Botanic Avenue.

In the Empire, the couple met “inspirational young people”, again from both communities, who are “making a real difference in Northern Ireland”.

A large crowd gathered outside the hall to greet the duke and duchess, among them Patrick O’Neill from nationalist Belfast who displayed an Irish tricolour, a red hand of Ulster flag and a union flag with a picture of William and Kate on their wedding day.

It may have all been confusing for the royals but as 28-year-old Patrick explained, he was a “nationalist, Sinn Féin, Irish language-supporting royalist” who recognised the “right of everybody to Britishness or Irishness”.

“I am a wee bit of everything,” he explained, as people around him cheered the royal visitors.