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Euro 2016: The expats cheering on the green and white army in France

By Kerry McKittrick

Neal Anderson (42) is from Coleraine, works for an automotive PR agency and is the chairman of the London Northern Ireland Supporters Club. He lives in Bromley with his wife, Emma, and their children Ellie (2) and Tommie (two weeks). He says:

I went to university in Plymouth and then my first job was with a maritime magazine in Portsmouth. Then, I got poached to come up to London to do some editorial work and I've stayed here ever since.

I am settled in London, although the rest of my family still lives in Northern Ireland, and I do still call it home. I don't get to go back as much as I would like and that's one of the reasons the supporters club was set up.

A few fans on a Northern Ireland football message board got together to watch a couple of games and it's gone on from there.

There are now more than 200 members - it's great, because you get to enjoy a bit of atmosphere and make new friends. We're in our 12th year now.

I'm really looking forward to the trip to France. My wife is being very understanding in letting me go, as we have a two-week-old son."

Chris Goody (39), from Belfast, is a freelance percussionist and lives in Norwood in south-east London. He says:

I was born in Belfast and brought up in Carrickfergus. I went to Belfast Royal Academy and the longer I was there the more interested in music I got.

I stopped playing rugby on Saturday mornings, so I could go to the Belfast School of Music and, eventually, it became apparent that music was what I was going to do.

I auditioned in London, Manchester and Glasgow and, in the end, I went to the Royal Academy of Music for four years.

There are many more opportunities to both study and play music in England - and in London, in particular.

As a freelance, I go where the opportunities are - I also teach and I play in Wicked in the West End, too.

I've only joined the supporters club in the last year - I have a lot of friends from home who moved to England, too.

I've always watched Northern Ireland, but I've never had the opportunity to see them take part in a competition such as the Euros before.

It's been a great opportunity to make more mates from Northern Ireland - you just don't get the banter like it anywhere else.

The Northern Ireland connection is very strong with me and I'm very proud of where I'm from. I don't think I'll move back - I own a house in London now and I'm settled.

I think there's a lot of negative Press that surrounds football and football fans, but I don't think you get any of that with Northern Ireland fans.

I think the locals love us wherever we go - we're representing our country, so we don't want to be like all of the others.

I can't wait to go over and see it all happen in France."

Greig Jardine (37), from Belfast, is a tax manager and lives in Bexley Heath with his wife, Sabina, and their son Kit (6). He says:

I first moved to Kent to go to university in Canterbury and then moved to London for six years after that. Then, we moved back to Belfast for six years before coming back to London four years ago.

I enjoyed Belfast for a while and, when we were starting a family, it was great to have my family nearby - my wife is Swedish, so her family are all in Sweden.

But, after a while, I missed the buzz that you get in London. I do miss being so close to the seaside, though we're about an hour's drive away.

I've been a Northern Ireland supporter since my dad took me to games and, even during my first stint in London, I would watch matches with other fans.

The general atmosphere around the supporters club is absolutely fantastic. It's not that long ago that it was cause for celebration if Northern Ireland scored a goal - never mind qualify for something like the Euros.

There were 300-plus people in the pub where we're based that night and I've been there at times when there were only 12 of us.

It's nice to be involved with the whole thing, either way."

Alison Cathcart (52), from Florencecourt, Co Fermanagh, is a superintendent registrar at Westminster Register Office and is married to Mark. She says:

I did an art foundation course in what was then Jordanstown Polytechnic before I moved to Reading to study history of art. I moved to London after that and started temping. I have been working as a registrar ever since - I even registered the birth of Prince George.

I go home fairly regularly and still consider Fermanagh home in the way that Northern Ireland people living abroad still do.

I don't miss the weather, but I do miss the big family gatherings and all the crack.

I loved taking part in the video. My brother, Richard, wrote the lyrics and I jumped at the chance to be involved.

The club is a fantastic way to meet people from Northern Ireland. As soon as you hear a Northern Ireland accent, you want to know who it is and where they're from.

It's a unique accent and I can hear it in just one word from someone. You have a connection with that person that you don't get anywhere else."

Kevin Gartside (39) is from Ballyhackamore in Belfast. He lives in London with his wife, Rebecca, and runs a programme to help people in the military find new careers. He says:

I was in the Army for 10 years. I was injured in Iraq and then invalided out. Rebecca and I both decided to move to London after that. It can be a hard transition back to normal life after the Army, so London seemed the thing to do.

I miss home a lot - my family are still there, so I get home quite a lot. I work in Canary Wharf now and the job I do is quite niche, so it's probably where I will stay.

The supporters club has been fantastic - like a little bit of back home in London.

I only joined on the night of the Hungary match, when it all started.

I think it gives you somewhere to go where you can just be yourself and you don't need to slow down your accent."

Craig Lutton (21) is from Ballymena. He is now a music student and lives in Greenwich. He says:

I was in the Ulster Youth Orchestra and then I auditioned for the Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London.

I'm in the third year of my studies now.

London's the place to be for music - the opportunities are just too great to ignore.

I joined the London Northern Ireland Supporters Club as soon as I got here. It's been great to have people from home, especially as this is my first time in London.

Through the club I became one of the two drummers at the Northern Ireland matches in stadiums around Europe, so I'll certainly be going to France.

I've travelled all over the place with the team - it's been an amazing experience."

Belfast Telegraph


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