Belfast Telegraph

Zach (12) in Russia to fly flag as Belfast runs up colours for World Cup

By Gerald Lennon

Northern Ireland may not be at the World Cup - but that hasn't stopped people here joining in the party.

The tournament kicks off tomorrow with a spectacular opening ceremony in Moscow.

And a schoolboy from Portadown will be part of the event, which will be watched by a global audience of around 3.6 billion people.

Zach Cowan, a pupil at Dungannon Integrated College, will carry the Northern Ireland flag at the ceremony in the Luzhniki Stadium ahead of the opening match between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Zach (12) is in Moscow as part of the Football For Friendship (F4F) international children's social programme.

World Cup organisers announced yesterday that the Portadown FC Youth player and children from the 210 other countries attending the F4F events will be involved in a flag ceremony as part of the opening spectacular.

And ahead of the big kick-off, residents in the nationalist heartland of west Belfast have also been getting in the spirit of things despite the absence of the Republic of Ireland team in Russia.

Residents of Whiterock Gardens and Iris Drive have decorated their streets with the flags of all the teams - including England.

Both streets organised separate sweepstakes which saw each entrant hang a competing team's flag outside their home.

Whiterock Gardens street party committee member Sharon McMahon (46) helped organise the draw. Sharon got Germany and Egypt as her picks, and despite not being a football fan, she'll be supporting both countries.

"Everyone likes to participate, very few don't take part," she said.

"This is the first year we've done the World Cup and we will continue this tradition."

Sharon and the two other committee members went door to door with flags in a black bag and each house picked two teams at random.

Any money raised will go towards a street party to be held the day after the final on July 15. Sharon added: "Flags don't mean anything to us, it's only a game of football."

John O'Neill (57) and his wife Betty (56) are flying the England and Belgium flags, and aren't worried about hanging the Cross of St George outside their home, saying it was "all a good laugh."

John joked: "Last time we did this (for the Euros) a neighbour down the street got the Northern Ireland flag as well, and they put it up. It's a bit of banter."

John, a big football fan, plans on catching all the matches during the tournament.

But he now has a "vested interest" when England and Belgium are playing.

The tradition started in another west Belfast street - Iris Drive - when resident Sandy Turley (52) came up with the idea to help lift community spirits.

Sandy added: "The community loved it last time, so we decided to do it again."

The winner gets £100, with prizes for second, third and fourth place, but the main reason they are having the sweepstake is for fun.

Sandy normally supports Argentina, but this year he and his family will be cheering on Mexico after they were allocated the Central American country in the draw.

Sandy's wife Jackie (42) added: "We've had a great response from people who live here and even from people who don't live here."

She said its was all about inclusivity, adding that a family from Syria who now live on the street are also taking part.

Residents will be holding a street party during the final match, as they plan to watch it live on a projector so the whole neighbourhood can get involved.

Jackie said: "The street hasn't stopped with visitors, you see people coming down after they catch a glimpse of the colourful flags. The whole event has brought joy to the community."

Belfast Telegraph

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