Friendly fans face off before World Cup Qualifier

Some of the 50 German football fans in Bushmills ahead of their team's World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park
Some of the 50 German football fans in Bushmills ahead of their team's World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park

German football followers stepped up preparations for the World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park with a drop of Northern Irish hard stuff.

About 50 supporters of Die Mannschaft took a bus trip to the North Coast alongside their hosts from the Northern Ireland fans football team before a game at a Belfast sports ground on Thursday.

Any hangovers from a tour of the Bushmills whiskey distillery were quickly sweated out during the fund-raising match for children with cancer.

And the liquid fraternity was set to continue with a visit to Belfast's version of German beer festival Oktoberfest - arriving in style in an open-topped bus.

Jim Rainey, a founding Northern Ireland team member, said: "It is friendly banter between the football teams, getting them together.

"The beer is the centre of it.

"The football isn't really that serious, some players are aged in their 50s."

The group's ethos is football for all and it has been at the forefront of tackling sectarianism and other forms of division.

While building ties across Europe, the multi-age and multi-ability squad has raised around £100,000 for charity.

Normally the focus is on disadvantaged children; they have helped orphans in Azerbaijan and supported people struggling with the aftermath of an earthquake in Italy.

This time they are fund-raising for the Children's Hospice.

Mr Rainey said it was about showing the friendly face of fans.

He added: "People would have probably seen fans rioting with England, throwing chairs in bars.

"Our attitude is that we will go out and meet people from all around Europe and make friends."

Days before last year's centenary of the Battle of the Somme they travelled to a valley synonymous with First World War carnage to play a local French team.

This is the third time local supporters have taken on their German counterparts in just over a year.

Last summer, before their national teams clashed in Paris, the two sets of fans faced off under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. It finished 3-3.

Manager Alan Ferris said: "It means an awful lot to the players, we have built up a good rapport with the German fans."He added: "Our ethos is football for all."