Northern Ireland’s history-making Euro 2016 heroes will be welcomed home in some style on Monday with a special event at the Belsonic Fan Zone in Belfast.
Michael O’Neill and his squad may have lost narrowly to Wales on Saturday, but they were the first Northern Ireland team ever to qualify for the European Championships and managed to reach the knockout stages.
While the players were widely praised for their tenacity and spirit in the face of world class opposition, the Green and White Army of fans were lauded around the world as the most supportive and enthusiastic any team could wish for.
Thousands will descend on the Titanic Belfast site - where each of the team’s four Euro games were screened - for tonight’s homecoming celebration.
The manager and players will be on stage at 5.30pm to share their experiences of the tournament. Doors open at 5pm and the event is expected to finish around 8.30pm.
Due to restrictions on numbers attending, admission is by ticket only they have been made available via the Ticketmaster website at www.ticketmaster.ie for an administration charge of £2 per ticket - £1 of which will go to the NI Cancer Fund for Children.
Fans are being encouraged to use public transport as parking is not available at the venue.
Announcing details of the homecoming event, sports minister Paul Givan said: “Michael O’Neill and the team have made the whole country proud and it has been fantastic to see the Green and White Army getting behind their team, both in France and back home.”
Before, during and after Northern Ireland’s games in Nice, Lyon and Paris, the boisterous but good-natured fans won non-stop plaudits for their infectious humour and genuine warmth.
As well as being widely regarded as the best fans at the tournament, the Green and White Army also had the undisputed song of the tournament with an ironic tribute to a striker who didn’t get one minute on the pitch - ‘Will Grigg’s on Fire.’
In the hours following the 1-0 defeat, many of the players used Twitter to thank the legions of fans who sang themselves hoarse in France.
Captain Steven Davis said: “It’s been an honour to lead this team! Gutted but made memories for life! Thank you to the fans 4 being the best.”
Goalkeeping sensation Michael McGovern said: “This experience has been amazing. Thanks to everyone for the brilliant support. It’s been an honour to represent our wee country.”
Many of the team’s celebrity fans, including Rory McIlroy and Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody, expressed their pride in the team’s achievements.
McIlroy said: “You did us all proud @NorthernIreland. It’s only the beginning, let’s get to the World Cup in 2018,” while Lightbody added: “Very proud to be Northern Irish. The team played liked heroes and the #gawa sang so loud you could hear it in Belfast.”
Boxer Carl Frampton tweeted: “Always proud of our boys. #GAWA till I die.”
First minister Arlene Foster joined the team on the pitch in Paris as they saluted the fans after the game.
Mrs Foster later tweeted: “Well done Michael & the boys. You united the country. Done us proud. Thank u. Unforgettable journey”.