Cancer-battling Northern Ireland fan Alan McAleer cheered by the fundraising efforts of Green and White Army
A cancer-suffering Northern Ireland football fan has raised almost £10k for charity after rallying the Green and White Army.
Alan McAleer received his diagnosis within days of returning from holiday with wife Michelle (51) last September.
"I wasn't well for the whole trip but it was only on the last day that I started to feel really sick. I just got worse and worse and was on my hands and knees crying by the time I got home," the 54-year-old Newtownards man said.
The father-of-two (below), known to friends as 'Big Mackers', went straight to hospital where doctors operated immediately and discovered he had bowel cancer. It meant he would miss out on following his beloved team to Norway for their World Cup qualifier.
Surgeons removed over a foot of Alan's intestine and part of his bladder before he started chemotherapy in October, which left son Jack (24) heartbroken at the thought of his dad having to sit out the qualifier games.
"I follow Northern Ireland wherever they go and friends from all over the world were saying that they would miss me," Alan explained.
"That's when my son said: 'My dad's still going'."
Determined to ensure he would still be a part of the trip, the graphic designer made a two-dimensional 'Mobile Mackers', which stirred curiosity among fans in Oslo, including broadcaster Colin Murray.
"The 6ft banner went to the Ullevaal Stadion, the Royal Palace and round all the bars," Alan explained.
"Colin had been in a bar and wondered what the fuss was about, and the next thing he phoned me up in hospital to wish me well."
Alan chatted to the presenter on BBC Radio 5 Live when he made it to Basel for the drawn game against Switzerland last November.
But the one-nil two-leg aggregate defeat wasn't enough to keep his spirits down as messages of support poured in on social media.
"The friends I have met in places like Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan have been amazing," he explained.
"But the Northern Ireland fans have been great - the Ulster Hospital felt more like Piccadilly Circus at times.
"I even had four German friends visit me from Hamburg."
Overwhelmed by the support, Alan set about planning a charity night from his bed in the MacDermott Unit.
"I knew that the world famous Green and White Army could help me," he added.
Football personalities including retired Northern Ireland winger Keith Gillespie quickly got on board as friends gathered items to be auctioned off.
"We had a signed Rory McIlroy photograph, loads of signed football and Ulster Rugby tops including a Rangers Uefa Cup final top, and Barrie McKay got me a signed Nottingham Forest top."
Alan also got his hands on a Manchester United top which had been signed by former manager Sir Alex Ferguson
"I'm quite good friends with his godson, who runs a Rangers bus in Scotland, so he was able to sort that out," Alan added.
"People's generosity has been outstanding."
The fundraiser night, hosted by Downtown Radio's Kirsty McMurray and comedian Noel McLarnon at the end of February, raised £8,763.
The doting grandfather-of-four gave the money to the Royal Belfast Children's Hospital, where his grandson has been treated for seizures earlier this week.
"I couldn't have done any of this without the amazing fans, family and friends," he added.
"That's what is helping me get through this."