Northern Ireland may have failed to qualify for the World Cup finals in Brazil but the Green and White Army hasn’t missed out on the giant samba party altogether.
Proudly displaying their “We’re not Brazil we’re Northern Ireland” flag, Newtownabbey men Roy McGivern, Justin Cole, Angus Henry and Stephen Gamble have made the 11,000-mile round trip just to sample the atmosphere.
Despite the disappointment of missing their first planned game due to a flight delay, the football-mad four have made up for lost time – and can now tell their friends “they were there” the night Luis Suarez bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini.
“We had tickets for four games: Mexico v Cameroon, USA v Ghana, Japan v Greece and Italy v Uruguay. Unfortunately there was a 24-hour delay with our TAP airline flight from Lisbon to Natal and we missed the opening game,” Roy explained.
“We were well looked after, however, by the airline and spent an enjoyable night in Lisbon watching the game between Mexico and Cameroon.”
The four fans, who are all members of the Newtownabbey NI Supporters’ Club, spent two years preparing for their holiday of a lifetime.
“We have all grown up hearing stories about Spain 1982 and Mexico 1986 and wanted to experience the unique World Cup experience for ourselves. Sadly the chances of Northern Ireland qualifying again for a major tournament are remote but we decided that we would travel anyway as neutral football fans.
“We have based ourselves in Ponta Negra, a tourist resort in one of the host cities of Natal. It is a beautiful resort in the north east of Brazil with miles of unspoilt beaches and it’s famous sand dunes. A bit like Portstewart with more sunshine,” Roy joked.
“We have been treated wonderfully well by the local population and have not encountered any problems. There are still some infrastructure difficulties in the country and internal travel appears to be difficult. The new Natal airport appeared to be only half-finished when we arrived but at least the Arene de Dunas in the city is completed.”
Roy, who is also a director of Linfield FC, said the match-day atmosphere has been incredible.
“The Brazilian fans have been wonderful and we have met great supporters from numerous countries around the world. The USA and Japan fans in particular created a fantastic atmosphere inside the stadium. Unfortunately England are out and their fans have been keeping a very low profile.
“The Brazilian World Cup experience so far has been exceptional and we look forward to another week of samba football and sunshine.”