Belfast Telegraph

Joyous supporters make Paris party central

By Adrian Rutherford

It was the morning after the glorious night before on the streets of Paris, and euphoric Northern Ireland fans were still in the mood for a party.

The French capital was bathed in sunshine, adding to the feel-good factor among the Green and White Army.

Many celebrated into the early hours after Michael O'Neill's heroes secured their place in the next round of Euro 2016.

It was easy to forget Northern Ireland had lost their game against Germany on Tuesday evening. Other results conspired to send the team through, meaning the narrow defeat was largely irrelevant. Seldom had a 1-0 loss been so widely celebrated.

John Hanna, Gavin Graham and Justin Savage from the Banbridge area were proudly carrying Northern Ireland flags as they strolled along the Champs-Élysées.

"It was the best defeat ever, and the best atmosphere I've ever experienced," said John.

"To lose by just one goal almost felt like a victory because we knew it was probably going to be enough to get us through."

The result that guaranteed Northern Ireland's progress - Turkey's win over the Czech Republic - was confirmed around 11pm in Paris. Within minutes, the city came alive to the colour and noise of the GAWA as fans spilled on to the streets.

A huge party kicked off around the fanzone beside the Eiffel Tower, where hundreds of supporters had gathered.

John, Gavin and Justin had headed there after the Germany game. "The whole place just went mental," said Gavin. "You had all the Northern Ireland fans, but there were also German flags and ones from Spain, the Republic of Ireland and Austria.

"You saw it in the stadium too where the German fans stayed behind to watch our fans singing and going mad."

Yesterday, the mood among fans was jubilant as thoughts turned to the match against Wales in Paris on Saturday.

At the Arc de Triomphe, Sports Minister Paul Givan, wearing a Northern Ireland top, held his arms aloft as he saluted the team's success.

He said Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 campaign had been "an incredible journey".

Mr Givan was at the Parc des Princes to see the team produce an heroic performance against the world champions.

"It was an incredible game - my nerves are still wrecked," he said. "To be in the stadium and see the fans before kick-off and then 45 minutes after the game...they did not stop singing.

"They are a real credit to Northern Ireland."

Those fans have won the hearts of people across France.

They have brought joy to a country still torn with grief by last November's terror attacks.

Yesterday France's leading sports newspaper L'Equipe ran a two-page spread praising the role of the Northern Ireland and Republic's supporters.

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