Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Green and White Canaries in fine voice for the big game

The invasion of the Canary Islands by Northern Ireland's Green and White Army was well advanced last night, amid dreams of another major victory over Spain to rival that unforgettable night during the 1982 World Cup.



The fans had begun to arrive on Gran Canaria even before the weekend's game against Denmark had finished.

Over the weekend there were one or two green and white shirts to be seen in the crowds gathering at the watering holes that serve the island all year round but by Monday the influx had really begun.

In Puerto Rico, on the south side of the island, bars were taken over one-by-one as the fans ditched their bags and headed off to make the most of the run-up to the final match of this historic Euro qualifiers.

So loud was the singing in a bar next door to the popular Harley Davidsons in the main shopping centre in the town that one Danish tourist wanted to know who was playing - she was bewildered to discover that there was no game on, but then she had to be told that Denmark had lost on Saturday.

Further out at one of the many tourist centres Northern Irish fans were getting the opportunity to practice all their favourite songs. But one DJ had a sizeable shock when he dared to play Tina Turner's Simply the Best - which football fans associate with Glasgow Rangers.

As one, the fans in the bar - at the time nearly a dozen - turned and booed until the bemused DJ changed his tune.

In truth, he probably didn't know the significance, and if he did he was quickly brought up to speed on public opinion.

One of the fans, Andy Crawford (27), originally from Carnmoney and now living in Glasgow, said: "He tried to play Simply the Best but we booed it off. We want no sectarianism here, we're the Green and White Army."

He added that there is a firm belief among fans that Northern Ireland can pull off the impossible once again.

He said: It will be hard but I think it will be 1-0 with David Healy to score in the last minute, but my head says it will be a 3-0 beating.

"I was watching the Denmark game on the television, I only get to the away games and there are 10 of us over here - nine of them are block-bookers. You have to go with your heart everytime."

Sam Mitchell (36) from Bangor said manager Nigel Worthington and the fans could draw many positives from the campaign, whatever the outcome of tonight's match.

He said: "Results-wise, I think we could do them, but at the end of the day we're relying on someone else.

"If we can get a draw and finish third in the group it will be a building block for next time. I was in Denmark this time last year and it was like the Alamo, we were under so much pressure. But here you can see how the spirits with the troops is up.

"Worthington has been under pressure but you can see what he's trying to do. He tried to make his mark in the first game but it was a mistake and he's now gone back to the basics."

He continued with the anti-sectarian sentiment that was running through the fans in the bar.

He said: "I'm the father of a young child and I wouldn't have gone to Windsor Park five years ago with all the rubbish that was going on, but now with the atmosphere there you can go with your family."

Darren Roe (18) from Belfast was more positive of Northern Ireland's chances of qualifying for the Euro 2008 finals.

He said: "Northern Ireland 2-0, I hope. Healy will get one and Warren Feeney will get the other if he plays.

"I think it's 50-50, but it's out of our hands.

"It's a big 'if' for Latvia to win, but if they do, then Northern Ireland just have to win."

The Craigs from Whitehead - father Hugh (62) and sons Jeff (38) and John (29) - were also positive that another miracle is on the cards.

John said: "It will be 2-1, absolutely. Spain have qualified whatever happens so, hopefully, they will put out their second team. If that happens we'll just have to hope for Latvia."

"Feeney should play if fit, Lafferty can do the job and then there's always Healy.

His brother Jeff added: "I think we will win the match but won't qualify. This is a platform for the next qualifiers. A three points win will see us finish on a high. You have to keep believing."

A beach tournament has been organised by the Our Wee Country web forum which should see 16 teams take part. Whether or not all the participants show up remains to be seen, but by the 7pm kick-off they will be in good voice once again.

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