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Northern Ireland fan who cycled across France raises £3,000 for charity

By Michael McHugh

Published 06/07/2016

Dr Stephen Collins on his trek through France to raise money for a homeless charity
Dr Stephen Collins on his trek through France to raise money for a homeless charity
Dr Stephen Collins back home with the Street Soccer NI team

A doctor who cycled the length of France to support the Northern Ireland football team in Euro 2016 raised more than £3,000 for a homeless charity.

Stephen Collins (27), from Coleraine, Co Londonderry, covered 2,100 miles during a 21-day Tour de GAWA (Green and White Army).

He slogged through torrential downpours from Belfast to the Riviera via the Alps, then returned across the historic and beautiful region of Provence to Paris.

Dr Collins said: "It was good to see how far I could stretch myself.

"There was a real sense of satisfaction in finishing it and feeling like I had accomplished a tough challenge personally."

Stephen began his journey in Belfast, taking the ferry to Cherbourg and reaching Nice on the country's south coast for the opening fixture against Poland.

He cheered the team on in Lyon during last month's victory over Ukraine and pedalled to Paris in atrocious weather for the final group showdown against Germany, which took the team into the knockout stages.

After covering around 100 miles a day, he spent a week in the capital enjoying himself as a tourist before the devastating defeat against Wales.

After the side was knocked out, Stephen packed his bike into a box and flew home from Paris.

The doctor wants to specialise in sports medicine, and starts at the Causeway Hospital on the north coast later this summer.

"The trip was one of the best months of my life," he said. "I just absolutely loved it to bits.

"To go through those tiny villages and meet people in those tiny bars and bakeries and cafes was a France that people going on holiday would never see, so that was a real privilege."

Street Soccer Northern Ireland is sending a team to the Homeless World Cup in Scotland next week.

The money Stephen raised could be used to run the project, which helps people after a relationship breakdown, intimidation from their homes or addiction issues, in Londonderry for a year.

Aidan Byrne works for the East Belfast Mission community organisation, where the soccer charity was founded. He said: "It fills a void in people's lives. It gives them a structure and stuff to aim for."

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