Dream journey ends for Northern Ireland but fans won’t be forgotten

Green and White Army made name for themselves with raucous noise through campaign

Northern Ireland fans cheer during the Euro 2016 round of sixteen football match Wales vs Northern Ireland at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. Photo: Getty Images

Northern Ireland fans cheer during the Euro 2016 round of sixteen football match Wales vs Northern Ireland at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. Photo: Getty Images

 

Northern Ireland lost to Wales by an unfortunate goal in the Parc de Princes on Saturday evening but they couldn’t and wouldn’t be out-sung.

An own goal by Northern Ireland hero Gareth McAuley in the second half gave Wales a 1-0 victory and passage to the quarter finals that they hardly deserved.

Before the last 16 encounter between the Green and White Army and the Welsh dragon Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill said he didn’t want to go home just yet.

But alas it wasn’t to be, the “dare to dream” Northern Ireland project has come to an end - but just for the moment. The fans will keep faith with O’Neill and his team.

At least that’s the way it sounded in the Parc de Princes long after the final whistle was blown on Saturday evening. Thousands of fans stayed standing at their seats, still dancing and singing about Will Grigg. The Welsh fans even joined in singing and dancing with them.

Such was the emotion and the fervour that it was no surprise that the team came out to applaud the fans, and to be applauded back with even more vigour.

DUP First Minister Arlene Foster in a week when she helped to take Britain and Northern Ireland out of Europe was at Parc de Princes to see the football team also exit Europe. Wearing a green cardigan she too joined the team to hail the fans.

There is no doubt that the Northern Irish out-sang the Welsh for most of the game, and let it be remembered that the Welsh can sing. The Northerners had the advantage of a red-haired drummer in the stadium, who kept the beat going, and let it be remembered the loyal sons of Ulster can drum.

Fans are gloriously insulting to each other too. “Will Grigg’s on fire,” the Northerners sang from the outset. “And he hasn’t played a minute yet,” the Welsh replied.

Sharpening the razor the Welsh tried, “You’re English in disguise.”

“You’re only a small part of England,” roared back the Northern fans.

Still, it was nice the way some Welsh supporters clapped the Mothern fans when they finally quit the station.

There can be no doubt which side of the house the majority of Northern fans hail from but equally the banner “Norn Iron: Our team kicks with both feet” reflected a cross-community truth about the team.

The Northern Ireland fans certainly have made an impact at the Euros. On the Metro to Parc de Princes four green-shirted fans were unusually quiet as all around them red-clad Welsh supporters sang “Delilah” and “You’ve got Will Grig, We’ve got Gareth Bale”.

Normally Northern supporters match their opposites decibel for decibel, even when out-numbered, but this quartet just smiled politely.

One of the Welshmen asked them where they were from. “South west Germany,” they were told, “near Mannheim,” prompting an astonished: “They’re not even fecking Irish.”

These four mustn’t have been aware of the Northern fans’ penchant for singing “There were 10 German bombers in the air” and how “the RAF from Ulster shot them down”. Or maybe they were impervious to it having heard it so often.

Sebastian Goetterd explained that they were diehard German supporters but were so impressed by the good humour of the two sets of Irish fans they decided that Northern Ireland would be their second team. They were also warming to the Welsh. “All red shirts on this carriage but everyone is friendly,” said Sebastian.

His brother Christopher and another of the four, Jochen are to holiday in Dublin in two weeks’ time to “enjoy Temple Bar, the culture, the pubs” and to seek a little romance.

“In Germany we love to go to Irish pubs. So we decided to be for Northern Ireland today,” said Christopher. “And they will win.”

Christopher was incorrect in his prediction but it was a victory of sorts: Northern Ireland supporters behaved well and won a lot of hearts and fans of their own during the great adventure in France.

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