Belfast Telegraph

Euro 2016: Northern Ireland expat jetting in from US to Lyon for match

By Michael McHugh

A Northern Ireland fan hooked by the brilliance of Norman Whiteside 30 years ago is flying from Georgia in the US to the Euros.

Ryan Harkness (39), who is originally from Portadown in Co Armagh, married his American wife, Becki, 15 years ago and now works in the aerospace industry in Savannah.

They travel to Lyon on Wednesday for the fixture against Ukraine with strong memories of the World Cup qualifying class of 1986.

Ryan said the trip was a one-off opportunity.

"I don't know when it will happen again," he added. "When you turn 40 next year, you start to think you are midway through your life and taking these chances when they come. It is a 40th birthday present to myself."

The father-of-two met his future wife in Lavery's bar in south Belfast.

They married 15 years ago, moved to the US in 2001 and have two children, Rory, aged four, and Alex, aged seven.

Ryan is a member of the US NI Supporters Club and is among many members travelling from New York and other parts to France for a grand reunification of the Green and White Army.

He said: "I am a massive fan. I went to my first match at Windsor Park in 1985. It was a qualifier for the 1986 World Cup.

"Norman Whiteside scored twice against Turkey and I was hooked from then on."

The team qualified for the World Cup that year but went out after the first round.

Northern Ireland's last game at a major international tournament before this year was a 3-0 defeat against Brazil in Guadalajara in Mexico in the final group fixture of the 1986 World Cup.

Ryan said being in the US meant he did not get to see his idols play in person very often, but viewed them online.

"There might not be a chance again," he added. "I wasn't going to sit in the States and watch it.

"I felt like I needed to be here. The thought of being able to go and support Northern Ireland and the pride that goes with that... I don't know when it will happen again."

Belfast Telegraph