Poland triumph over NI despite thumping good support

Northern Ireland fans look dejected whilst watching the UEFA Euro 2016 Group C match between Northern Ireland and Poland at the Titanic Quarter, Belfast
Northern Ireland fans look dejected whilst watching the UEFA Euro 2016 Group C match between Northern Ireland and Poland at the Titanic Quarter, Belfast

Months of anticipation culminated in disappointment for Northern Ireland’s fans after defeat in their opening Euro 2016 fixture.

Supporters had little to cheer on the pitch as Poland dominated possession with their own brand of tiki-taka.

And even the thumps of a Lambeg drum could not lift the side in green and white.

But the masses who descended on the south coast city of Nice remained upbeat despite the 1-0 loss.

Philip Mitchell from North Belfast was taken aback by the numbers in the opposing stands.

He said: “It is like an away game.”

Fans tried valiantly to live up to their mantra of the “Ulster Boys making all the noise”.

The First Finaghy Northern Ireland Supporters’ Club racked up the volume with a bass drum.

Because of the heat it took one bearer to hold it and another to wallop it. After 10 seconds, he put it down again.

The drum later echoed around the stadium to “Ulster” in an attempt to rally a trailing Northern Ireland.

The chants involved “standing up for the Ulster men” and they were certainly put to the test.

It had been a long walk to the stadium, with the shuttle buses stopping a half hour’s walk away. It appeared some supporters had taken a few shandies.

Northern Ireland’s supporters faced worthy opponents in the pageantry stakes as well.

Andres, who introduced himself as the “King of Poland” and had a decorative crown to match, walked along the seafront promenade in the Mediterranean city, in close proximity to David Clint from Comber in Co Down, who was dressed as a green and white chicken.

Inflatable crocodiles, bright green wigs and the odd bottle or can of beer were the props of the day.

The fans came from Londonderry and Belfast, Coleraine and Ballymena, and even “yuppie” Helen’s Bay, on the affluent North Down coast.

The constant refrain was the unprecedented nature of this gathering of brethren, from Sydney and New York, Cork and Blackpool, after a 30-year hiatus from top tournament action.

James Barr from Belfast tore a calf muscle last Wednesday playing football and was on crutches.

He said: “You have got to come, it is a once-in-a-generation thing, Northern Ireland qualifying for the Euros, so I had to be here.”

Another man with one arm wandered lost outside the stadium and complained of poor organisation.

But the general mood was cheery and optimistic, with a ready mixing of Poles and Northern Irish.

Some Northern Ireland fans explained to their counterparts the difference between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

“Northern Ireland is part of the UK - it is British.”

Citizens from the nations posed together for photos with the sun-soaked Allianz Riviera stadium as a backdrop.

Many had the name “George Best” emblazoned on the back of their shirts, and many sang songs about Northern Ireland’s greatest player - who was never able to play on this stage.

A modern day hero, striker Kyle Lafferty from Fermanagh, was the focus of much of the attention within the ground.

But with Northern Ireland on the back foot, cries of “Polski” rang out at every Poland corner - and the final cheer came from Warsaw, not Belfast.