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We'll make an ass out of the Swedes, insist NI fans

By Victoria O'Hara

Northern Ireland football fans were neither baa-shful nor sheepish as they boarded planes for Sweden today - instead proclaiming they will make the opposition look like silly asses.

Hundreds of members of the Green and White Army were making the early morning trip to catch flights to Stockholm to watch the Northern Ireland team play Sweden in the make-or- break Euro 2008 qualifier.

The supporters took with them Belfast Telegraph donkey masks of star Swedish player Freddie Ljungberg to poke fun back at the home supporters after a Swedish newspaper superimposed a picture of David Healy onto a sheep with the headline 'Lambs to the slaughter'.

Jonathan Fairly (32), from Lurgan, said he was confident of a win: " Putting his head on a sheep didn't bother me, in fact David Healy is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It will be a bit of a tough match but it will be a great atmosphere and I predict a 2-0 win for Northern Ireland."

Fellow Lurgan man Tommy Fisher (51) said: "I think the Swedish newspaper did us a favour. It will make David Healy angry and he will bring that onto the pitch. So the whole mind game will backfire."

Jim Steele (53), from Dollingstown, said it was a vital match for Sweden.

"Sweden need to win to qualify for next year but this is very important to us as well - next year's holiday depends on it," he joked.

Meanwhile, James Young (50), from First Shankill Northern Ireland Football Supporters' Club, said: "I've been travelling to games for 30 years and this is a very important match.

"I don't care about the mind games, it will all be settled on the pitch, although we might need a few bricklayers on the Northern Ireland team. "

Meanwhile, some supporters swapped the green and white for all white, dressing up as Swedish tennis legend Bjorn Borg.

David Nesbitt (35), from Lisburn, said: "We just wanted to bring a bit of a party atmosphere and we're not really too concerned about the result. We just want everybody to have a good time watching the match."

Dermott Gillespie (40), also from Lisburn, said Northern Ireland always produce a shock: "Nobody expected us to beat England and I think we are due another shock tonight. But whatever happens it will not dampen our voices supporting the team."

Teenager Lauren Kells (15), from Newtownards, who was travelling with her father Trevor, said: "It is my first international away match and I'm excited but a bit nervous, but even at this early hour it's a great atmosphere."

One of the organisers of the flights for football fans, Jim Rainey, said there has always been great support for international away games.

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