NI Spurs fan is going the extra 16,000 miles to make European final
A local Tottenham Hotspur fan is going out of his way - a staggering 17,000 miles out of his way - just to see his beloved team play in tonight's Champions League final.
John Toner will travel the equivalent of three-quarters of the way around the world just to get to Spurs' showpiece encounter with Liverpool in Madrid.
But the 33-year-old, who lives in Belfast, believes the highly circuitous route is worth it, with Spurs playing in their first ever Champions League decider against Jurgen Klopp's highly-fancied Reds.
And he's shelled out over £2,000 to embark on what must be one of the longest detours ever to the Spanish capital which, as the crow flies, is 1,000 miles from Belfast.
But this could well be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Spurs fans and, in his case, the journey to Atletico Madrid's fabulous Wanda Metropolitano stadium will include stops in Uganda, Ethiopia and Qatar!
Even so John (inset below) told the Belfast Telegraph prior to departure that he is looking forward to his epic, convoluted journey, which is scheduled to end in Madrid this morning. "Belfast to Kampala, then on to Kigali... from there to Doha and finally - hopefully - on to Madrid," said journalist John.
"I've got to make two connecting flights before I get to Madrid, so fingers crossed everything runs smoothly."
He added: "I'm originally from the Tottenham area of north London and grew up supporting Spurs. I'm going with three of my friends who are Liverpool fans and hoping to meet some other Spurs fans in Madrid... if we can find each other!
"It's a long way to go, but Spurs have never been in this position, they've never reached this stage of the competition, and I wanted to be part of history."
Many supporters of both clubs have had to take drastic measures to make tonight's final because direct flights between the UK and Spain were snapped up as soon as the English teams made sensational comebacks in the semi-finals, with Liverpool beating Barcelona and Mauricio Pochettino's Spurs seeing off Ajax.
John is staying in an Airbnb studio in Retiro in the middle of the city for three nights, costing £400, and as a season ticket holder got a ticket for the final for £154.
Travelling back to Belfast will be a lot less laborious for him as he's flying home from the Spanish capital on Tuesday, having picked up a one-way ticket for £130, and he said he'll "probably spend around £500 when I'm there".
Given his massive expenditure, will they win? He replied: "I'll probably cry either way."
But while it's the biggest match in the club's history, by contrast their opponents have won it five times and been in the final on three other occasions.
And that's why massive Reds fan Pearse Sharratt, a 30-year-old barber from Belfast, immediately jumped at the opportunity to go.
He was travelling from Belfast to Naples yesterday and then on to Madrid that evening ahead of tonight's big match at a cost of £250 return.
"I had previously booked a flight to Ibiza, which I lost, but it actually worked out for me to go via Naples instead," he told this newspaper.
"There's a two or three-hour layover but I'll get to Madrid that night. I'm flying home on Tuesday from Madrid to Heathrow and then from Heathrow to Belfast."
Pearse's Liverpool-based uncle Barry Brennan (37) flew from Belfast to Valencia on Tuesday, where he spent three nights before heading to the Spanish capital for today's game.
His sister Alanna (28), a barber who works with him in Belfast, and his grandparents Tom and Maura Brennan, who're both in their 60s, also decided to make the trip.
"I think Alanna has caught the bug in the last couple of years; she probably wasn't the biggest fan in the world but she's recently surprised us all," he said.
"She came to Barcelona with us a few weeks ago for the semi-final and she's now busting to get to Anfield as she's never been, but we'll have to rectify that soon.
"They got their flights in and out of Valencia really cheap, at under £100 return, and then they were going to Madrid yesterday and taking the train back to Valencia on Tuesday and flying out straight away.
"I think they all had a fear of missing out.
"They're going for the atmosphere and the fun and just to see it and take it all in."
Pearse said all five of them are sharing an apartment in the centre of Madrid at a cost of £2,300 for four nights.
"We're going to win - there's no doubt in my mind and I'm going to say 3-1," he said.