Belfast Telegraph

Euro 2016: Meet Green and White Army's foreign legion, the Oz expats on 10,000-mile trek to witness history

They may have settled on other side of the world, but up to 50 Australia-based supporters made pilgrimage to France for NI's bow in Euros

By Adrian Rutherford

They are the Northern Ireland super-fans who travelled 10,000 miles to watch our footballers write their names into the history books.

Brian and Lorraine Fletcher jetted in from Australia to follow their home country's adventure at Euro 2016.

The couple, originally from Belfast, emigrated Down Under 35 years ago after becoming disillusioned by the Troubles.

But they remain committed members of the Green and White Army, and are among around 50 Northern Ireland fans who have flown from Australia for the Euros.

The pair arrived in Nice last Friday via Singapore and Frankfurt, and were at the team's opening match against Poland.

On Thursday they were at the Stade de Lyon for the historic 2-0 win over Ukraine.

The pair are now heading to Paris for the final group game against Germany, where a win will put Michael O'Neill's side in the last 16.

For Brian, the chance to see his country at a first major tournament for 30 years was something he could not miss.

"I am old enough to remember 1982 but for most it's a once-in-a -lifetime thing," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"We also have family back home in Northern Ireland, so we decided to combine a holiday with a tour of France."

The couple grew up on Sandy Row and the Donegall Road.

But 35 years ago, as violence flared on the streets, they opted for a new life on the other side of the world.

"We left for Australia because of the Troubles and the better opportunities which life there seemed to offer," Lorraine explained.

They now live in Sydney but keep in touch with life back home.

That includes the fortunes of the football team.

Brian revealed that there are many members of the Green and White Army living in cities Down Under.

"We belong to the Northern Ireland Supporters' Club in Sydney," he added.

"There's about 50 guys over here from Australia, through the different supporters' clubs. There's one in Sydney, in Brisbane, in Western Australia, in Adelaide and in Melbourne.

"We try to get together once a year in Adelaide - everybody meets up and all the boys get together for football.

"We have outings in Sydney and would have 30 or 40 turning up to every function.

"There's a bloke who owns a house which has a bar built into it, and it's called the Ulster Bar. It's our headquarters.

"We meet there and keep in touch with the football.

"We try and get the games screened live. Some of the younger guys are able to get them on their laptops."

The couple were at the game in Nice, where Northern Ireland slipped to a 1-0 defeat to Poland. While there they left a shirt in tribute to Darren Rodgers, the young fan who died after falling from the city's promenade.

"It was just a terrible shame about the young lad losing his life," added Brian.

"To go to a game and not come home is really sad."

Despite the tragedy which has overshadowed the team's Euro journey, including the death of a second fan at the Ukraine game, Lorraine believes it has been a wonderful adventure.

"It is a great experience for the Northern Ireland fans to be here - a fantastic experience for us all," she added. "The supporters have been great. They have been in good spirits.

"We saw it with the Polish guys the other night. By the end of the night they were swapping hats and shirts."

The couple are regular visitors to Northern Ireland, and also follow the Irish League scene.

Once they leave France, they are looking forward to coming to Belfast and seeing the refurbished National Stadium.

"We try to get back every couple of years," said Brian.

"Normally Linfield play a European qualifier around that period, in July, and I would always try and take in one of those games. We were home a couple of winters ago and I took in the Big Two game (Linfield v Glentoran) on a freezing winter's day.

"When we finish in France we are going back to Belfast. The boys have organised a tour of Windsor Park for us. It's not totally complete yet but it will be good to see it.

"My grandfather was a night watchman at the old Windsor Park many years ago, so I'm looking forward to seeing what it's like now."

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Belfast Telegraph