Belfast Telegraph

Greece match is hottest ticket in town for Northern Ireland fans

By Paul Ferguson

It had been billed as the biggest match at Windsor Part in 30 years.

In reality though, due to the fact many fans weren't even born the last time Northern Ireland played in a major finals, nor indeed half the team, including Kyle Lafferty, it was the most important match of their lives.

The prize was great. A chance to play on a monumental stage - the 2016 European Championship finals in France.

An historic occasion - a time to achieve what many dared only to dream, others thought was simply impossible. And all on the 10th anniversary of David Healy scoring that winning goal against England. Surely Northern Ireland's fate was sealed.

Windsor Park, due to the major refurbishment work ongoing, was capped at capacity of 10,000.

But if the new national stadium had been fully completed, they would have easily sold out.

As it was, ticket touts were back outside the famous south Belfast venue, eager to service and, I suppose, exploit those desperate fans who had failed to secure a ticket through conventional means.

Northern Ireland v Hungary was the hottest ticket in town.

With the Kop having been flattened, due to subsidence found after the Finland game in March, the east stand picked up the baton as the main area for vocal and dramatic support for Northern Ireland.

They bounced, cheered and ultimately jeered every decision against Michael O'Neill's men.

About 400 hearty Hungarian fans made their voices heard and were a resplendent colour of red and green. But they were drowned out by the passionate members of the Green and White Army who had arrived from all parts of the country from mid afternoon, while many ex-pats had flown in from all parts for the special occasion.

Usually a game against Hungary at Windsor Park for Northern Ireland wouldn't garner more than a few hundred words in the national press.

But this game had captured the imagination with all the national newspapers sending over correspondents while Radio Five Live presented their evening programme and live commentary from Windsor Park with sports anchor Mark Chapman broadcasting live from the stands..

An air of nervous anticipation swept round Windsor Park in the early exchanges and the butterflies in the stomach were not helped when Northern Ireland talisman Lafferty received a yellow card after only 10 minutes which rules him out of the next qualifier at home to Greece in October.

But really it was only getting everyone ready for a pulsating last 16 minutes.

Incredible drama.

We had everything - a goal to break hearts, a bizarre sending off and then a magical equaliser by that man Lafferty. But that doesn't tell half the story with diving, close shaves and off the ball incidents.

The Northern Ireland fans were put through the ringer, with the intensity of the match at fever pitch.

But the wait for Northern Ireland goes on - a point closer to the promised land but we still need a win from our remaining two games.

The task has just got that little bit more difficult with Lafferty, Conor McLaughlin and Chris Baird all ruled out through suspension for the game against Greece.

As Sir Alex Ferguson used to say - it's squeaky bum time.

Belfast Telegraph