Belfast Telegraph

Ecstatic Northern Ireland fans not put off by Belfast rain as team claim victory

It had to be a win for Northern Ireland, and for the thousands of hardy souls who braved the pouring rain in Belfast, the team did not disappoint.

If there had been a roof over the Titanic fan zone it would almost certainly have lifted such was the euphoria when the final whistle went.

Ecstatic supporters draped in sodden Ulster flags, dripping green wigs and with paint streaming down their smiling faces jumped, punched the air and cheered as though they had won the entire European Championships, not just one game.

They bellowed out an emphatic rendition of Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline and just like the song says, 'Good times never seemed so good'.

William Haighton, 43, from east Belfast, said: "I was in Spain in '82 but I have to be honest and say this eclipses that experience.

"This is unreal. I thought we did deserve to win, we were the better team on the night. I just hope it is enough to get us through."

Despite the downpours, the enthusiastic crowd of all ages were vocal in their support throughout but when Gareth McAuley rewarded them with a header they went absolutely wild. And w hen Niall McGinn's second goal went in during stoppage time, the place erupted again.

Flares were lit while chants of "green army" and "we're the Ulster boys making all the noise" reverberated around the slipways where the Titanic was built over 100 years ago.

Nichola McKeown, a care worker from the Shankill area of Belfast, who had donned a green wig for the occasion, was kicking off her 30th birthday celebrations, and was desperately hoping for a win.

She said: "The atmosphere is just great. We were here on Sunday and it was fantastic - that's why I decided to come down for my birthday celebrations."

Eighteen-year-old Nathan Dorian, from Bangor in Co Down, was predicting a 1-0 win.

"It had to be a win otherwise we were out," he said.

The Priory College student described the atmosphere as electric.

Meanwhile, father-of-two Philip Baine from Dundonald, on the edge of east Belfast, said: "What a brilliant result. It's just fantastic to see it."

During the 24th minute, fans also joined in the applause as a mark of respect for tragic Darren Rodgers 24, from Ballymena, Co Antrim, who died after an accident in Nice.

Among those dressed for the inclement conditions in bright orange plastic ponchos was Andrea Grattan and her nine-year-old son Kaide Mulholland.

Ms Grattan said: "The weather isn't great but we don't care - we're here to cheer on the team. A bit of rain won't put us off."

They had been predicting a Conor Washington goal but were delighted no matter who put the ball in the net for Northern Ireland.

"It's just brilliant," she gushed.

Derek Curran, from Dollingstown in Co Armagh, brought his eight-year-old son Sam to the event for the second time.

"When they qualified I told him we were going to France, but I meant the Northern Ireland team.

"This is the next best thing - despite the rain."

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