Northern Ireland

Euro 2016 finals: Northern Ireland Fans' Embassy aims to ensure smooth passage in France

Gary McAllister from the Amalgamation of Official NI Supporters' Clubs with a copy of the fans' guide for the Euro 2016 finals Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Gary McAllister from the Amalgamation of Official NI Supporters' Clubs with a copy of the fans' guide for the Euro 2016 finals

With thousands of Northern Ireland supporters travelling to France for the Euro 2016 finals, it helps to have your own diplomatic service on hand to deal with any issues that might arise.

Fifty volunteers have signed up to be roving ambassadors for the Northern Ireland Fans' Embassy which will provide assistance at the tournament.

They will help supporters deal with problems ranging from lost passports to stadium directions.

Gary McAllister from the Amalgamation of Official NI Supporters' Clubs explained the background to the initiative.

"The Football Fans' Embassy is something that has been organised by the bigger nations for 26 years, previously the amalgamation has provided an ad hoc service where we work with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Irish Football Association (IFA) and the authorities in the country we are in," he said.

"For the Euro 2016 finals, a more formal structure has been put in place delivered in partnership with Football Supporters Europe and we have the support of the IFA, PSNI, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, it is recognised by UEFA.

"We have recruited 50 supporters from the amalgamation clubs, acting as ambassadors helping us to deliver the embassy at all three group games.

"Information will be shared in terms of how you get to the stadium, what you do if you have lost your passport etc, they will also help people with lost property."

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Northern Ireland players have been interacting with supporters at training sessions in France

Mr McAllister described the help that had been provided in the past to supporters on away trips for Northern Ireland games.

"In Budapest in Hungary there was an issue with public transport and we negotiated with Hungarian police to ensure there was a free shuttle bus to and from the stadium for the match, we did the same in Romania," he said.

"At a game in Luxembourg, a fan fell and he was concussed, we helped to identify him and track down his friends that were at the match who were able to be with him.

"One time we had a woman from Newbuildings who lost her make-up bag when Northern Ireland played Serbia in Belgrade. Someone handed the bag into us and I left it in with her the next time I was travelling to Londonderry from Belfast."

'Living the dream'

A Northern Ireland fans' guide for the Euro 2016 finals has already been distributed to 6,000 supporters ahead of the tournament.

"The guides are also available on the Irish Football Association (IFA) website," Mr McAllister said. "They have been produced in partnership with the Football Supporters' Federation and the Foreign Office.

"They have information on all ten host cities, driving in France and lots of other useful information."

Plans are also in place to create a special atmosphere at the team's group games against Poland, Ukraine and Germany.

"We work with the IFA and there will be several thousand green and white flags distributed through the fans' embassy at the Poland game," he said.

Image copyright Kevin Scott / Presseye
Image caption Plans are in place to create a special atmosphere for Northern Ireland's group games at the tournament

"We also will be involved in face painting for the three group games through the fans' embassy, supporting the IFA's Sea Of Green initiative.

"Northern Ireland fans are living the dream, we are part of something we wondered whether we would ever get the opportunity to experience, people are counting the days down."

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