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Doctor cycling 2,000 miles in France to support football team and charity

Published 17/06/2016

Stephen Collins, a Northern Ireland fan who is cycling the length of France as he follows the team's progress in Euro 2016, on his bicycle in Lyon
Stephen Collins, a Northern Ireland fan who is cycling the length of France as he follows the team's progress in Euro 2016, on his bicycle in Lyon

A doctor is cycling the length of France to support the heroes of the Northern Ireland football team and raise money for charity.

Stephen Collins, 27, from Coleraine in Co Londonderry, only rests on match days during his Tour de GAWA (Green and White Army) and covers around 100 miles (160km) a day.

He began his journey in Belfast, reached Nice on the south coast for the opening fixture against Poland and cheered the team on in Lyon during Thursday night's victory over Ukraine.

He is en route to Paris for the crunch showdown against Germany, by when he will have covered nearly 2,000 miles (3,220km).

"Thanks to yesterday's result the trip may be a bit longer than first planned," he said.

"I have got vouchers for all the Northern Ireland games, up to the final if we were to get that far, so I will keep pedalling as long as they are still in the tournament."

Mr Collins decided the trip would combine his love of cycling, adventure and football.

His first day in France was scary.

"The weather was just atrocious and I was not used to navigating with the map so I started cycling on a motorway which obviously is not a great thing to do.

"It was chucking it down with rain. I fell off my bike in the first town I came to, which left me with a bad knee so I have been taking pain killers every day for it."

Cumulative fatigue has also set in.

"Let us say you are doing 100 miles and the last 20 or 30 miles your legs feel really heavy and every pedal stroke you can feel them sort of screaming at you a little bit, but I think that is when the adrenalin kicks in and you know you are getting close to your town the following night so that keeps driving you on.

"I think it is amazing how far a little bit of stubbornness and determination can take you.

"I am not the fittest person in the world by any means, I am not a superb athlete but I am stubborn and if I know I want to get to a place I will keep driving on until I reach it, the destination."

He shunned sat nav in favour of maps and has been staying in Airbnb apartments with French hosts.

"There have been a couple of old ladies who have treated you like their grandchildren."

He enjoyed meeting fans of other teams, like Ukraine and Poland.

"There is a real buzz around this place and I think sometimes the headlines from these tournaments focus on the places like Marseille where there was the fighting between the Russian and the English fans and it does not cover the vast majority of fans who are just having a wonderful time together."

He has raised £800 for Street Soccer NI, which helps homeless people.

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