Belfast Telegraph

Euro 2016: Fans get sinking feeling at Belfast's Titanic slipway

Tears were wept, nerves shredded and voices sang hoarse, but throngs who flocked to Belfast's fanzone left with one abiding thought - we can still make it though...

By Nevin Farrell

The dream is far from dead, and not even a deflating defeat in Northern Ireland's first big match in 30 years could quell the unbridled enthusiasm of 10,000 supporters in Belfast's fanzone.

Despite the heartbreaking 1-0 loss to party-pooping Poland, the atmosphere was electric in the city's Titanic Quarter until the final whistle blew.

The Green and White Army sang, danced and bounced their way through the Euro opener and even when their nails were bitten down to the quick by the end, their spirits were still high.

"We're not done yet - we'll be back," was the message afterwards.

Earlier, the popular chant 'We're not Brazil, we're Northern Ireland' had helped ratchet up the feel-good factor as fans prepared to party their way through the match.

Unfortunately for those watching on the 72 square metre, 663,552-pixel big screen - it weighed a mere 4.2 tonnes - it was clear that Poland were dangerous.

When they took the lead at the start of the second half the fans held their heads in their hands.

However, every Northern Ireland attempt to equalise had them in raptures.

But the plucky Poles held out and when the final whistle sounded there were a few glum faces at first.

But it didn't last for long, as the defiant supporters vowed they could still make it through to the next round.

And as the smoke of the green flares faded and the sound of plastic beer glasses being crumpled underfoot were replaced the sounds of cheers, grown men in green wigs dusted themselves down and danced their way home.

The sense of pride, passion and belief was still palpable.

Michael Shaw (37) from Finaghy was at the fan zone with his boys John (10) and Jackson (3). He was downcast, but is still heading out to France to watch his heroes.

"It is disappointing. We tried very hard in the last 35 minutes to get a result," he said.

"But it is great to be in the tournament and I'm now heading over for the Ukraine game with three mates. It doesn't matter if we win, lose or draw, we will have a party."

Earlier, when hopes were higher, even the PSNI couldn't resist the party atmosphere, blaring out the fan's favourite chant - Will Grigg's On Fire, a parody of Gala's Freed From Desire - from a Land Rover as the queue stretched for half a mile.

And with the mighty Harland & Wolff shipyard cranes providing a towering backdrop many quickly realised it would be a David v Goliath tussle against the Poles. However, they came from places like Killyleagh - for ever associated with Northern Ireland legend David Healy - and dared to dream.

When the match started, cheers went up every time the Poles were thwarted. And Northern Ireland were still in it at half-time with the score still nil-all.

But hope evaporated a few minutes into the second when Poland took the lead.

"I hope it can be turned around," said Ian Dawson (35) from Portadown as the fightback started. Northern Ireland's first corner in the 66th minute was greeted like a tournament win. Although it came to nothing fans could be heard urging each other to keep the faith.

Chances near the end for Conor Washington and Kyle Lafferty brought huge cheers and when it ended in a 1-0 defeat the despondent fans soon launched into their rendition of the Monty Python classic, Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.

Billy Arthurs (64), from Ballysillan in Belfast, said despite the defeat he had enjoyed his day out and felt they deserved a draw.

His daughter Deby (37) said it had been nerve-wracking but they hope to be back at the fanzone for the Ukraine game.

Grace McNeill (56), from Co Antrim summed up the mood.

"We didn't get the result we wanted but we had a great day. We'll be back again next week," she said.

Belfast Telegraph