Mammoth journey to Lyon for NI fans blamed on French strike

(Left to right) Paul Leslie, Jonnie Gregg, Jamie Dill (top), Simon Sharkey. They have made it to Lyon in time for the Northern Ireland game after a near 24-hour odyssey and a cancelled flight
(Left to right) Paul Leslie, Jonnie Gregg, Jamie Dill (top), Simon Sharkey. They have made it to Lyon in time for the Northern Ireland game after a near 24-hour odyssey and a cancelled flight

A group of students endured a nearly 24-hour journey from Dublin to Lyon due to flight problems – largely caused by a French air traffic controllers’ strike.

They were travelling to the Northern Ireland game against Ukraine, due to begin today at 5pm GMT.

Jamie Dill, a theology student at Belfast Bible College, and five friends slept at the airport in Geneva outside a shuttered cafe as they contemplated missing the match due to industrial action by French air traffic controllers.

He said: “We are stuck here like ducks in water.”

Their flight was due to leave Dublin on Wednesday morning but was delayed by an hour.

When they arrived in Zurich they took a train across the stunning mountains of Switzerland to Geneva to catch the short flight to Lyon.

But upon arrival they were told the service had been cancelled due to the French air traffic controllers’ strike.

They managed to take a train early on Thursday morning and made it to Lyon in time to relax before the fixture against Ukraine.

Another member of the group, Simon Sharkey, said: “That was some ordeal. Now for some rest before the party starts.”

To many Northern Ireland fans, France’s transport system has seemed on the verge of collapse.

But it has stopped short of a complete standstill despite opposition to government labour reforms spreading.

Eoin Campbell, president of Lyon’s French-Irish Association, said over the last few weeks the workers’ strikes had been a major concern.

“It is very rare that things come to a complete standstill,” he said.

“What they do is they reduce the number of Metro carriages, they will close for an hour at this time of day, an hour at that time of day, a line won’t function and it will be replaced with buses.

“It is disruption rather than stopping things but the sheer number of people in town at the minute causing that sort of disruption could cause awful trouble.”

Refineries were blocked so fuel trucks could not deliver, and panic-buying in the southern city led to half-hour queues at 11pm.

Railway workers attached to unions, some with links to the French Communist Party, stopped some services, air traffic controllers have taken action in recent days, and bus services have been scrapped.

At Lyon’s Part-Dieu railway station young people proffered a petition supporting the action.

Northern Ireland fans, some delayed for hours by the strike, were bemused.

The battleground is over a French principle – a job for life – which has existed for generations but which opponents argue hampers business productivity.

The government is trying to reform or undermine the system, depending on one’s point of view, amid a state of emergency linked to Islamic State (IS) attacks while hosting a major football tournament.

East Belfast father and son Jim and Kirk Spence said they had suffered three cancelled trains and had to travel to Lyon by bus.

Mr Campbell said people in the Rhone’s major city had been confused about whether they would be able to travel and if the Metro underground would function.

But he added that citizens of one of France’s largest cities were getting on with life despite the disruption around them.