It may be known to some for its puffins, whales and notoriously inclement climate, but the prospect of a match against the Faroe Islands may have some of Northern Ireland’s long-suffering football fans reaching for the atlas.
Some of the locations thrown up in yesterday’s qualifying group draw for the 2012 European Championships will test the loyalty and passion of the famous Green and White army to its limits.
While supporters will be excited about the prospect of a money-spinning match against world champions Italy at Windsor Park, they may be less enamoured with trips to Serbia, Slovenia, Estonia and the Faroes as Northern Ireland attempt to qualify for their first major championship in more than a quarter of a century.
Travelling from Belfast to the Faroes, an archipelago of 18 islands lying halfway between Norway and Iceland, will be the major difficulty facing the hundreds of devoted supporters hoping to make it to every game.
Although dates for the fixtures have yet to be confirmed thousands of supporters will already be planning their journey and scouring the internet for the best deals on offer.
For those dedicated globetrotters wanting to watch every match there will be an estimated 10,824 mile (19,414 kilometre) round trip.
But Gary McAllister from the Amalgamation of Northern Ireland Supporters’ Clubs believes none of the destinations are too far out of reach for football followers.
“I think the draw is something that we can look forward to. Regardless of who we draw I am always of the opinion that we have to do our best. Our objective is always to qualify and we have to believe it.
“It could have been better but at the same time it could have been a lot worse. We have to be positive and give ourselves a chance. There will be lots of fans on the internet finding out how to get to these places. Some are awkward but I don’t think any are beyond our reach,” he said.
“Of the places in this draw I am quite interested in going to, the Faroe Islands just because it is such a small place and it’s not somewhere you would choose to go for a holiday. I would quite like to see what it’s all about.”
Tórshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands, is one of the world’s smallest capitals with a population of just 17,500. Travelling the 515 miles (828km) from Belfast is probably easiest via Aberdeen, however there are also regular options from London Stansted. Flybe offer flights from George Best Belfast City Airport to Aberdeen while Atlantic Airlines can take fans on the final leg of their journey to the Faroes. Costs will be a few hundreds pounds at least.
For the tie against Serbia, supporters will also face quite a jaunt. There are no direct flights from Belfast so one of the most straightforward options for the 1,351 mile (3,173km) journey is through London Heathrow and then on to Belgrade’s Nikola Telsa Airport. Costs for this journey could vary depending on which carrier is used to travel to London. Estimated to be in the region of £300 or £400 fans will be hoping for a better final scoreline than the 1-0 defeat following the recent friendly at Windsor Park.
In 2008 some of Northern Ireland’s biggest football lovers flew the 1,094 mile (1,761km) journey to Slovenia to watch their team beaten 2-0 in the World Cup qualifiers. A similar trip next year will involve three flights, from Belfast to London, London to Prague and then to the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana. It is thought this could cost in and around £400.
Gary McAllister added: “Slovenia is probably one of the nicest and most hospitable places we have travelled to. I’ll be looking forward to going back.”
Travel from Belfast to Estonia is reasonably simple. It is 1,238 miles from Belfast and the capital city of Tallinn can be reached by flying direct from London. Ryanair are currently offering some of the cheapest options from Belfast to London Stansted while Easyjet can take supporters on to Estonia. If booked early enough this could be done for around £100.
Easyjet, Ryanair and Aer Lingus all offer cheap flights to and from Rome almost every day of the week. Fans will be hoping for an improvement on last June’s 3-0 defeat.