Green and white fan flying from US for Ukraine match

Undated family handout photo of Ryan Harkness with his wife Becki and their children Rory (left), aged four and Alex, aged seven, as the Northern Ireland fan hooked by the brilliance of Norman Whiteside 30 years ago is flying from Georgia in the US for the Euros
Undated family handout photo of Ryan Harkness with his wife Becki and their children Rory (left), aged four and Alex, aged seven, as the Northern Ireland fan hooked by the brilliance of Norman Whiteside 30 years ago is flying from Georgia in the US for the Euros

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

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

Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley with Steven Davis

Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley with Steven Davis

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

Mr Harkness said it was a one-off opportunity.

“I don’t know when it will happen again.

“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 fortieth birthday present to myself.”

The father-of-two met his wife Becki in Lavery’s Bar in Belfast. They married 15 years ago, moved to the US in 2001 and have two children, Rory, aged four and Alex, aged seven.

He is a member of the US NI Supporters Club and among many 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, a qualifier for the 1986 World Cup.

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

They 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.

Mr Harkness 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. I was not 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.”