Belfast Telegraph

How pre-match nerves gave way to unadulterated joy

By Valerie Edwards

An ecstatic Green and White Army were preparing to party all night after Northern Ireland stormed into the European Championships.

After 30 years of sitting on the sidelines, fans were not going to pass up the chance to celebrate a huge 3-1 Windsor Park victory over Greece.

As supporters savouring the sweetest of wins streamed out into the streets after watching the games in bars across the province, many burst out into song.

As they bounced along the streets of Belfast many raised a glass of Harp or Guinness to Queen's We Are The Champions and We're Not Brazil.

At Lavery's Bar earlier, a queue of more than 100 people had snaked along outside waiting to get in.

Once the crucial match started, all eyes were glued to the big screens as the tension rose - before the team in green took control.

"It's the Ulster boys making all the noise," fans yelled at the top of their lungs, stomping and beating their hands on the walls as captain Steven Davis knocked in the first goal of the game.

The entire bar erupted in deafening noise, beer flew through the air and a line of men started dancing.

Andrea Houston thought the game was amazing. She said: "I've never experienced this before and it's a fantastic feeling. The last time this happened I would've only been one year old so this has been great."

Several fans have already booked their tickets to France.

Steven Egerton from east Belfast admitted that he wasn't sure about the game at first.

"At the start I was nervous, but by the half I knew we had it - and now I'm going to France with my mates," he said.

Chris Baxter from south Belfast said he just knew Northern Ireland were going to win. "This was easy. I wasn't nervous at all. This was written in the stars and now we're going to France!"

And Richard Quinn added: "This is all a dream come true. We are very happy and we're going to France!"

Paul Lavery couldn't have been happier. He said: "I can't wait to go to France. I actually bet on the game so tonight's going to be a great night."

Novelist Zane Radcliffe, originally from Bangor, flew from Bath, England, to see his team coast to victory.

"I can't express how significant this is for this country. This is an epic evening. We were very hopeful, but naturally pessimistic in the beginning."

Earlier at Ryan's Bar and Grill on the Lisburn Road, not far from Windsor Park, fans cheered and danced outside as the action got under way. Arms were flailed and beers were spilled as a blur of supporters in green and white jumped up and down in the middle of the road.

Outside the bar, Colin Emerson (51) - who saw Northern Ireland qualifying for the World Cup in 1986 - admitted: "I'm really hopeful we'll win, but I have to admit to the pre-match nerves.

"I get more confident we'll win as every minute goes by."

His brother Steven (46) added: "You're always worried about something going wrong, but we have done so well that I feel like we'll bring home the win." Charley Emerson (18) was experiencing his first qualifying Northern Ireland game. He said: "They've been rubbish since I was a kid, but this year has been really good and I'm enjoying it.

"I go to every home game. I just hope they don't mess it up because I've seen that happen before."

The Botanic Inn in south Belfast was also crammed with a green-clad army of supporters.

Amy Gillen from the city said: "I am absolutely over the moon, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we are going to France."

Belfast Telegraph

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