The countdown has begun for thousands of rugby fans who are to travel to Twickenham to see Ulster battle to win the Heineken Cup final in nine days’ time.
Devoted sports fans lucky enough to have tickets will travel by air, bus, car, ferry and even by bicycle to witness the match against Leinster on May 19.
The cost of making the journey to watch the historic game has proved expensive. Return flights are soaring towards £500, with some airlines being accused of benefiting at the expense of supporters.
But Ulster Rugby said it is “fantastic” to see so many people still supporting the team.
Fiona Hampton, senior sales manager for Ulster Rugby, said: “It is absolutely fantastic to see so many fans travelling to Twickenham for the final.
“We appreciate that it has been a costly time to be a Ulster fan but we know that it makes a huge difference to the team to have the white flags waving — the thousands of white flags waving at the Aviva was the one thing the players all found inspiring.”
Among the fans travelling over is Fermanagh man Ryan Wilson (32) and his brother.
“We’ll be travelling from Fermanagh to Knock Airport and flying from there. It works out to be cheaper and it is just as far away from Belfast,” he said.
“I was a student in England when they played the final in 1999 and I couldn’t afford to get over and see it.”
But the youth worker said it is a “big event” for another reason.
“I’m emigrating to America in November, so it will probably be my last time to see Ulster in such a big final.”
As reported in the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, Neil McConkey from east Belfast will be cycling to the final to raise funds for charity.
“There is definitely a buzz,” he said. “I’ve heard of people flying to Paris then getting the Eurostar over to Twickenham — but I think I’m the only one travelling by bike.”
John McKirgan (47) from Belfast is flying to Liverpool. “I’m going to Liverpool on Friday then renting a car. As far as rugby is concerned, it is the best that you can get, to make the European Cup final, it is absolutely brilliant.”
Ulster take on Leinster in the 82,000-capacity London stadium on May 19. They beat rivals Munster at Thomond Park in Limerick in the quarter-finals, before defeating Edinburgh 22-19 in the semi-final at a packed Aviva Stadium in Dublin.