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Much-travelled Northern Ireland fan hopes for special victory

Published 24/06/2016

Thousands of supporters will arrive in Paris for Saturday evening's clash between Wales and Northern Ireland
Thousands of supporters will arrive in Paris for Saturday evening's clash between Wales and Northern Ireland

A Northern Ireland fan who has visited more than 100 countries is hoping for a special victory on Saturday.

Jonny Blair, 36, from Bangor in Co Down, said he had been caught up in the buzz of the Euro 2016 Championship. He is a full-time traveller who was at several of the team's away game qualifiers in places like Romania and the Faroe Islands.

Thousands of supporters will arrive in Paris over the next day for Saturday evening's clash between Wales and Northern Ireland.

Mr Blair said: "I have been to over 100 countries now and this is just another step on the journey, so it is off to another destination after the tournament anyway, win, lose or draw."

He added: "I just got the big buzz of finally being at a tournament so I had to be here."

He made his way to France from neighbouring northern Italy and has held countless local jobs during his peregrinations, including on a broccoli farm in the Tasmanian wilderness.

Botswana and Antarctica are among the places he has ticked off his bucket list.

The writer joined a handful of Northern Ireland fans in central Paris exchanging vouchers for tickets for Saturday's last-16 fixture.

He said the group stage victory over Ukraine in Lyon was a showcase for the well-behaved fans.

Mr Blair added: "For one time in our lives we could show Lyon how the Northern Irish people party and enjoy themselves - win, lose or draw.

"It has all been crazy and we are all so happy to be in the last 16, anything we get is a bonus."

Most supporters are arriving on the day of the game. Belfast International Airport confirmed three charters will carry 500 to the French capital.

Matthew McInnes, 22, a student, said he had been to every game at Windsor Park in Belfast for the last 13 years.

"It is relatively unknown for me because in my lifetime I have seen us get tanked every single year and this is all new to me.

"It is just really exciting to be in the last 16 of a European competition, playing in front of the world, it is brilliant."

He has travelled with his dad, Andrew, 53, a teacher, from Nice, where Northern Ireland's opening game against Poland was held, to Lyon, to Paris.

"It has all just been one big party for the last two weeks, it has been brilliant."

Meanwhile, the funeral of Darren Rodgers, who died following a fall from the promenade in Nice after the Poland game, will be held on Saturday at St Patrick's Parish Church in Ballymena in Co Antrim.

Mr Rodgers's father, Paul Rodgers, said: "The sheer amount of love, goodwill and outpouring of grief has left us with memories that will live with us the rest of our lives.

"To all the supporters from every country who have left mementos, shirts, scarves, flags and messages of love and support at the site of Darren's accident we can never express how much all of this means to us."

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