Euro 2016: Sons of Ulster make history in the hail

Memorable Northern Ireland tournament victory rekindles fighting spirit of 1982

Gareth McAuley of Northern Ireland celebrates after scoring during the Group C game against Ukraine. Photograph: EPA

Gareth McAuley of Northern Ireland celebrates after scoring during the Group C game against Ukraine. Photograph: EPA

 

A lone piper led a troop of ecstatic Northern Ireland supporters out of the Olympique Lyonnais stadium last night after a famous victory.

The 2-0 win over Ukraine – the North’s first ever in a European Championships – leaves Michael O’Neill’s side in with a fighting chance of exiting Group C and reaching the last 16 of the competition.

A weather delay brought about by a combination of lightning and exceptionally large hailstones stopped proceedings briefly during the second half but the excitement generated by man of the match Gareth McAuley’s opening goal moments earlier kept the travelling fans ticking over.

After coming under a sustained period of pressure from their opponents, a late Niall McGinn goal put the North on three points ahead of their final group game against Germany in Paris on Tuesday.

A draw would almost certainly secure the North a spot in the last 16, which the travelling party would have been delighted with this time last week.

However, the fans in Lyon last night wanted more. “Germany don’t believe us, Germany don’t believe us, we’re going to win the group,” the supporters sang while en route back to the city after the game.

A green-bearded Justin Turner from Belfast, declared Fan of the Match last night, said the North had “done well against Germany before, we’ll give them a game on Tuesday”.

Cross-community team

At the stadium was the Belfast-born writer Robert McLiam Wilson, who said last night’s victory was on a par with the victory over Spain at the 1982 World Cup.

“The fans are absolutely fantastic,” said Wilson, author of Ripley Bogle and who now writes for Charlie Hebdo in Paris. “The fans are different. The French are really taking to them,” he added.

The fans certainly were noisy. They sang for the team and also in memory of Darren Rodgers, a supporter from Ballymena who died when he fell off the promenade in Nice after last week’s game against Poland.

There was sadness on the night too when fans heard of the death of a fellow supporter in his 60s who collapsed in the stadium during the game.

“Our thoughts are tragically with a second family this week mourning the devastating loss of their loved one,” PSNI Supt Nigel Goddard said.