Belfast Telegraph

Sun shines on Northern Ireland fans in Belfast despite Paris defeat

They came in their droves, hoping, praying and daring to dream once again.

It was the biggest game in a generation for Northern Ireland and the crowd at the fan zone in Belfast was the largest yet with more than 13, 000 people packed onto the slipways where the Titanic had been built.

Buoyed by the victory against Ukraine, the supporters belted out tunes that paid homage to team favourites like captain Steven Davis and mid-fielder Corry Evans.

There were also hearty renditions of "We're the Ulster boys making all the noise" and "We're not Brazil, we're Northern Ireland".

One fan, Jamie Hanna, even carried a drum the 50 miles from Kilkeel in Co Down and was leading the crowd with chants of "green and white army".

Ahead of the game there was a party atmosphere in the fan zone which lies in the shadow the £90 million Titanic visitors centre, a symbol of Belfast's re-birth.

But as the minutes ticked away, for many it became a nerve-racking watch and the sea of expectant faces focused on the big screen gradually etched with agony.

Some fans could be seen biting nails, pulling their hair and hiding behind their hands as the final whistle approached.

Despite the disappointing 1-0 defeat however, most people remain confident Michael O'Neill's team will make it through to the next round.

Grandmother Susan McAllister, 51, from east Belfast plans to travel to France if they qualify.

She said: "All our men are already out there but if they get through the rest of us are going too. And I am confident they will get through.

"We have been to the fan zone for every game. This was a great atmosphere but the last match was better because they scored."

In the 64th minute the fans paused to remember with applause and cheers tragic Robert "Archie" Rainey, 64, who died after suffering a heart attack at the game in Lyon last week.

Andrew Thompson, 28, from Randalstown in Co Antrim said the Northern Ireland squad should he proud.

"I was impressed," he said. "I did believe we could win but I was still impressed with the performance. I'll support them all the way."

Teenagers Ryan Ferguson and Dan Campbell from south Belfast had been optimistically hoping for a 2-0 victory, predicting scores from team captain Steven Davis and striker Conor Washington but enjoyed regardless of the final scoreline.

Ryan said: "This is the first time at the fan zone. It is unreal."

Dean McCroary, 28, from Ballymena in Co Antrim brought his seven-year-old daughter Jessica-Lee to the game.

"I didn't think we'd beat them but a draw would have been good. At least we have a good chance of getting through to the next round."

William McLaughlin, 34, from Coleraine in Co Londonderry travelled by train to the fan zone.

He said: "There was a great buzz on the train, loads of people were coming up to watch the match.

"This is he first time in my life that I've seen my team in a major tournament. It doesn't get much better than this."

Helena Mateer, 44, from Newtownards in Co Down, who was at the match along with three friends and had donned a green wig for the occasion said she was glad to have been in Belfast.

She said: "It's pouring down in Paris.

"We have warm sunshine here. Sure it's just great."

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