Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland fans cross the world to get to France

Image caption Travel blogger Johnny Ward speaks to BBC Radio Ulster's Helen Jones about his journey to France to support Northern Ireland

France is just a short-haul flight for most travellers from Northern Ireland nowadays but some football fans have travelled much further to support their team.

Johnny Ward is from Kilkeel, County Down, but he has spent the last 10 years travelling, and blogging, his way around the world in his quest to visit every country possible.

Currently based in Thailand, he travelled to France from Mogadishu in Somalia to support Northern Ireland in Euro 2016.

He told BBC Radio Ulster's Helen Jones: "Growing up in Kilkeel we would always go up to Belfast to watch the home games.

Image copyright Johnny Ward
Image caption Kilkeel native Johnny Ward is on a mission to visit very country in the world, but he has made sure he made it to Euro 2016

"We tried to get to the away games but it was more difficult, then obviously with me doing this madness around the world I don't get to see any of the games any more.

"I'm always on some dodgy internet stream in the back of Kazakhstan or whatever trying to watch a stream.

"This is the first tournament as an adult that I could attend. There was never a question that we weren't going to come.

"Northern Ireland, it seems like we are here in more numbers than anyone, I guess we are so happy that it is our first tournament.

"We might as well have won the tournament, just being here, so the atmosphere is really brilliant."

Image copyright Nigel Grime
Image caption Nigel Grime preparing to depart for Sydney for his first trip to the northern hemisphere in 33 years

Nigel Grime is originally from Lisburn, County Antrim. He moved to Australia with his family in 1971 when his father got a job in the Australian Civil Service.

"I was following the qualification games and was getting more excited the further it went - my wife, who was born in Australia, did not quite understand my excitement," he said.

"I had not been back to the northern hemisphere for 33 years. We had been raising children and grandchildren. But now was our time.

"I set my wife the job of managing the budget and the itinerary - I had important work to do following the form of the team!

"We are only going to Northern Ireland's first three matches at this stage.

"But we are hoping that Northern Ireland will progress to the next stage and then we'll see from there."

Image caption Elaine and Owen Millar with their son Cian chatting to BBC Radio Ulster

Owen and Elaine Millar also travelled from Australia where they live in Brisbane.

Owen is from Northern Ireland and Elaine is from Tipperary in the Republic of Ireland.

Owen told BBC Radio Ulster that there were about 10 Northern Ireland fans travelling from the city: "The journey is fine, it's a moving cinema and bar basically for 24 hours."

Elaine is a cousin of the Republic's striker, Shane Long, but has been attending Northern Ireland games since she met Owen, supporting them "wholeheartedly".

Image copyright ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Image caption Shane Long's cousin Elaine Millar is in France supporting Northern Ireland with her husband Owen and son Cian

But Elaine says it has taken Owen at little longer to warm to the Republic's side, and that is where things get complicated:

"Now that we have a son there is going to be a big debate over which team he actually follows."

But with their son, seven-month-old Cian, decked out in Northern Ireland colours Owen left little room for negations:

"That's the debate over, sorted."

However, Owen says he does not rule Cian out of contention for the Republic squad completely, as long as he plays his club football for Manchester United.

No pressure Cian.

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