Northern Ireland at Euro 2016: Fans in a confident mood

Draw with Germany would almost certainly guarantee passage into knock-out phase

 

Northern Ireland fans love Paris in the summer, even if it’s raining rather than sizzling, as the Ella Fitzgerald song says it should be doing. It wasn’t a deluge here on Monday but steady, wetting rain, which made it feel rather like a summer’s day in Belfast. The conditions did not bother the supporters gathered close to the Fanzone at the Eiffel Tower. Their minds were focused on keeping the Euro 2016 campaign alive by getting a result against Germany this evening.

Later tonight the team and supporters should know whether it’s time to go home, or to plan their way to another French city for the last 16.

Whatever about how Michael O’Neill’s players might feel, the fans were in a pretty confident mood.

Warner Kirkpatrick has driven almost 3,000km from his native Ballymoney to Dublin, to Rosslare, to Cherbourg, to sunny Nice for the defeat to Poland, and up to stormy Lyon for the 2-0 victory over Ukraine. He is now in rainy Paris.

The French have a name for being reckless drivers so were there any mishaps?

“There were a few close calls, mostly coming around the M50 at Dublin,” said Warner. There was also a “zoot alors!” moment heading out of Cherbourg but other than that it’s been a trouble-free adventure.

He travelled with his wife Alison and two friends, father and son, Davy and Ryan Laverty, and, regardless of the rain, what could beat standing over the river Seine with the mighty Eiffel Tower soaring above and getting ready for the big game?

“We are having a super time. It’s been fantastic,” he said.

Knock-out phase

The Kirkpatricks and the Lavertys would love to travel 1,000km or so before turning Warner’s Renault Scenic back in the direction of north Antrim.

“The leave from work is the problem,” he said, putting his boss on notice that there may well be a phone call from France if things go well tonight.

Gary Lenaghan, from the Shankill in Belfast, has great memories of the opening ceremony in Paris and of the Republic and Northern Ireland supporters joining together to dance, wave flags and sing each other’s songs.

“In my opinion the fans from Northern Ireland and from the South have made the competition.”

He said it meant a lot that at both Republic games the supporters paid tribute to Northern Ireland fan Darren Rodgers who lost his life when he fell off the promenade in Nice.

“That camaraderie and the togetherness is a shining beacon for everyone.”

Remember

On Tuesday evening in the Germany game Northern fans will remember Robert “Archie” Rainey (64) who died from a suspected heart attack during the game in Lyon last week.

The team plans to wear black armbands, as they did for Mr Rodgers, and at the request of the Rainey family, supporters will chant his name and applaud on the 64th minute.

Ryan Marks and James Irwin, from north Belfast, are learning that you need deep pockets to survive in France. They’ve been here for two weeks and, at the moment, definitely are going home on Wednesday. “We can’t afford to stay on. It costs a fortune, especially over here [in Paris],” said Ryan. He expects to see “four or five goals tonight”.

Who for? “For us.”

James is equally confident, “Even losing to Germany could do it, but we will beat them anyway; there is no reason why we shouldn’t get a result.”

Richard Dougan, from Garvagh, Co Derry, who travelled with his 13-year-old son Billy for the games in Lyon and Paris, said he had been at a “wheen of big matches” involving Northern Ireland and the victory over Ukraine was the best ever.

Based on the results and the various permutations there is a chance Northern Ireland could get through even with its current three points. But the Dougans reckon they should aim for another famous victory.

“If we don’t go for it they’ll hammer us, so go for it. We’ll not be scared of them,” said Billy.