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Come home Lawrie

Booted out by Fulham, but the Northern Ireland fans would be happy to have Sanchez back

By Claire McNeilly

Northern Ireland football fans last night told Lawrie Sanchez: you're welcome back here any time.

Former international manager Sanchez (48), was sacked by Premiership club Fulham yesterday after just eight months in the job.

He leaves Craven Cottage with his pride dented - but his bank balance boosted by a £750,000 pay-off.

And a return to the 'Norn Iron' hot-seat he vacated last May is not beyond the realms of possibility, with current stand-in manager Nigel Worthington yet to sign a full-time contract with the Irish Football Association.

Should negotiations with 46-year-old Ballymena man Worthington break down, the call for Sanchez's return will be overwhelming, despite his miserable spell at Fulham.

The London team, despite being fortified by four Northern Ireland internationals, including star striker David Healy, won just two out of 17 Premiership games this season and plunged into the relegation zone.

But Sanchez's spell with 'our wee country' brought the best results since the Billy Bingham era and he remains hugely popular with the 'Green and White Army' despite his sudden departure.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Gary Hancock, a massive fan and one of the IFA's official photographers, said that the majority of supporters would welcome Sanchez back at the helm.

"I think the fans aren't going to concentrate on what has happened in the past," he said.

"They're going to think it's more important that the right man is in the job - especially given the group we're in now.

"If he came back on the condition that he sees the two years of the campaign through I can't see why the Northern Ireland supporters wouldn't welcome him back."

Gary McAllister, spokesman for the Official Northern Ireland Supporters Club, said that if an "open field" situation should arise, then Sanchez would have ample backing.

"No one would object to Sanchez coming back," he said.

"But until such times as the situation is resolved with Nigel Worthington, as the current incumbent he should be given respect."

Newtownabbey NISC member, Richard McIntyre, said that the IFA's decision on the new manager should be results - and commitment - orientated.

"If Sanchez had stayed in we would've qualified for Euro 2008," he said.

"It's a big decision for the IFA to make.

"We know his pedigree. If he were to do the same again, the past would be forgotten."

He added: "But I think he would have to come out and nail his commitment to the mast this time."

Meanwhile, supporters were last night voicing mixed opinions on the Our Wee Country website.

"Get him back," read one message.

Another said: "Get Lawrie on the next Easyjet to here."

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