Belfast Telegraph

Jubilation for the Green and White Army in Lyon as Northern Ireland snatch a 2-0 victory over Ukraine

By Michael McHugh, Press Association, in Lyon

A game which began with funereal remembrance ended in delight for Northern Ireland fans after a victory which resurrected their European Championship.

The Green and White Army (GAWA) stood and applauded one of their own on Thursday as they lauded tragic Darren Rodgers during the game against Ukraine in Lyon.

On Monday he fell eight metres from a promenade in Nice on France's south coast and died soon afterwards.

The massed crowd rose in unison on the 24th minute marking the talented footballer's tender years.

A banner in the stadium read: "RIP Darren Rodgers. Remembered by the GAWA."

The tribute began with chants of: "There's only one Darren Rodgers," and ended with a burst of Green And White Army.

In between there was universal applause, a gesture which will mean so much to his family and fits the spirit of solidarity which has extended across the island of Ireland and beyond.

Supporters braved strikes by public transport workers which threatened to leave them stranded in Geneva in Switzerland, and slept on the beach in Nice due to a cancelled train.

In the Olympique Lyonnais stadium they sang Will Grigg's On Fire. But after a thunderous downpour of hailstones and rain which forced a break in play nothing was on fire.

Except perhaps a Northern Ireland team buoyed by a goal and ultimately a 2-0 victory which may resurrect their tournament.

The heavy rain showers made it feel very much like home. The Ukrainian crowd scurried for cover. Ulster men and women are made of sterner stuff.

Although the fans have been saddened to a man by the death of Mr Rodgers they were still determined to enjoy themselves.

The inflatable crocodile had made it from Nice and was being brandished enthusiastically atop a large group of men bellowing out Will Grigg's On Fire in central Lyon.

There have been threats of an alcohol ban around the fan zone.

But the Sydenham Wine Team - a group of middle-aged men from East Belfast - did not allow it to concern them unduly. They are staying in Barcelona and flying to every venue.

One member, who did not want to be named, said: "It is once in a lifetime, I am 48. All my life I was a football supporter and I was too young the last time 30 years ago. It is the last chance saloon for me, if I did not go to this I might not have went."

Staying with a theme, Mark Peacock, 40, works in a brewery in Sweden - he met a beautiful woman - and was dressed in a striking green and white suit complete with boots. It was modelled on the green cross code man from the 1980s - stop, look and listen.

Mr Peacock said: "That was his first gig. His next was Darth Vader, so it was a double whammy, I had to get it."

A few Germans mixed with the Northern Ireland fans outside the stadium.

Frank Rath, 40, said he was from Rottweil: "Where the dogs come from, you know - woof, woof, woof."

He claimed he was a football fan and not there to gain intelligence for next week's game.

"It is the European Championship. We will have fun and it seems we will win this championship."

For one night at least it sounded like Northern Ireland had won the championship.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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