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Northern Ireland v New Zealand: John Hill odyssey comes full circle in All Whites clash

By Robert Jones

Born and raised a Blueman, he grew up to become a Glentoran hero and then the 'other' Ulsterman at the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain, playing for his adopted New Zealand.

John Hill's football journey is unique and, now aged 67, he will consider the circle complete when the country of his birth take on the New Zealand All Whites for the first time at Windsor Park on Friday, June 2.

It might be a friendly, but Hill has told his fellow Kiwis to expect an intense atmosphere to match the occasion, even with capacity now capped at 18,167.

"I think the All Whites will enjoy the atmosphere because Windsor Park is a special ground and the Irish supporters are always very, very supportive and vocal as soon as the team comes out," said Hill, who knows all about the Windsor Park atmosphere of old, having grown up supporting Linfield from the Kop terraces before signing for bitter cross-town rivals Glentoran.

He packed in with up to 55,000 frenzied fans to marvel at George Best's skill and enjoyed one of his most memorable on-field moments in the 1973 Irish Cup final when helping Glentoran beat Linfield 3-2.

"The thing was, because I'd supported Linfield all my life as a kid, all my family was on one side of the ground supporting Linfield, whereas my wife and her friend were supporting Glentoran. My family wanted me to win, but they also wanted Linfield to win as well."

Hill expects to go through similar emotions when he watches the match from New Zealand in June. Had the game been a month later, when he and his wife Jennifer will be back in Northern Ireland for a holiday, he would have been there in person.

"I've often thought about what would happen if Northern Ireland played New Zealand... I've got probably a bit of a different attitude," he said.

"I've lived in this country longer, and I feel this country has given my wife and kids so much and been very good to us, so I am very loyal to New Zealand.

"I went back to Belfast in about 1997 when my son was over there and he got us tickets to watch the All Blacks play Ireland in Dublin and I had no problem going to the game totally supporting the All Blacks. Because I'm from Northern Ireland I'd probably be a bit more inclined to support them this time."

Hill emigrated to New Zealand in 1975 after 347 appearances for Glentoran. He would go on to play 21 times for the All Whites, including at the 1982 World Cup in the same group as Scotland and Brazil.

He said he expected Northern Ireland, with a world ranking of 35 to New Zealand's 111 and coming off the back of a round of 16 appearance at the 2016 European Championships, to be too strong for the All Whites.

"Northern Ireland should win, I know the All Whites are a good team, but Northern Ireland are having a great spell and had the Euros where they played particularly well," he said.

The All Whites will also play a yet to be named southern club team in Dublin and Belarus in Minsk as they prepare for the Confederations Cup which starts in Russia on June 17.

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