“It’s always exciting following Northern Ireland. Win, lose or draw. We talk and we drink and we sing and we laugh.”
I don’t write about football as much as I used to. Travel got in the way. But long before I backpacked the world and started online businesses, I edited and produced a fanzine about the Northern Ireland international football team. It was called “Here We Go…Again”. Myself and my friends Michael and Gavin were teenagers at the time, I was 16 when the first fanzine came out for the Portugal home match in 1997. Those were the glory days of fanzines before the internet took over. At the time we made the fanzine, we knew we weren’t world beaters, we didn’t expect to qualify for a major tournament for a long time after that.
By 2004 though, our lives got busy and we knocked the fanzine on the head after the Poland and Wales double header. I started the South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club while based in the seaside town of Bournemouth and I still met up for home and away matches with the old crew. The dizzy heights of 2005 – 2007 had us dreaming of qualifying, as Healy scored 13 goals in one group. We gunned down Sweden, Denmark, Spain and England at Windsor Park in the space of 2 years. Amazing.
In 2009, if we had won our last two matches (v. Slovakia and v. Czech Republic) we would have at least a play off to qualify for the South Africa World Cup. But it wasn’t to be. Our wee country were the nearly men once again. After a long time travelling and living abroad, I headed to Azerbaijan and Turkey in 2013 for a couple of away matches and made it back to Belfast in time for our first Euro 2016 qualifier – a 2-0 win over the Faroe Islands. We were in dreamland when we beat the Faroes 3-1 away a year later, meaning we could beat Hungary and qualify outright! The moment was finally realised with Josh Magennis’s header against Greece. That was it. Davis added a third and we had done it. It had been an incredible journey for myself, for all the Northern Ireland fans that I know and have known down the years. We had travelled all those miles, paid for all those tickets, beers, buses and burgers and now we had qualified! We were euphoric!
Then after the euphoria and excitement of bating them there Greeks and qualifying for the European Championships for the first time in our history, we organised a friendly with Latvia. On the Monday before the match, the IFA and Adidas embarrassed themselves by what can only be described as a huge kit f**k up. The Irish FA and Adidas have released what has to be one of the worst ever Northern Ireland shirts of all time, with an overwhelming majority of 95% of Northern Ireland fans hating the kit. Over 6,000 signed an online poll and the kit received widespread condemnation from the majority of Northern Ireland diehards. I hate it myself, it’s horrendous, it’s brutal and yes while I appreciate that a small percentage 5% of fans actually like it, most of us don’t want it, we’re appalled by it and we won’t buy it or wear it.
“Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” – Anon
Why are we making such a big deal over a football shirt?
Because it’s important to us. It’s a part of our journey and our life. It’s important. It’s very important. Northern Ireland fans are emotional, patriotic, passionate, optimistic, pessimistic people. We hate being un-noticed. We hate being treated like second best. We have a unique bond in this country which cannot be experienced anywhere else in the world. We are unpredictable. We shock ourselves. We rip the piss out of each other. We sometimes act the lig. We have debates about flegs/flags, city names, anthems, poppies. We love debates. We are opinionated and we’ll make it known. We even have debates about colours.
On the football pitch, we’re a mental bunch and we love it. In 1982, we drew 1-1 with Honduras, then beat Spain 1-0 in Spain. In 1996, we drew 1-1 with Armenia at home, then drew 1-1 in Germany. In 2006, we lost 3-0 at home to Iceland and 5 days later we beat Spain 3-2. We are a special group of people, the Green and White Army. The GAWA. We’ve seen it all on and off the pitch. The Neil Lennon saga, the McMenemy years, the Healy debut double, the 1,200+ minutes without scoring a single goal, the night we beat the England, the bombs at Windsor Park, the player poaching by the other country on the island of Ireland, the anthem debates, the Arconada…Armstrong! It’s always exciting following Northern Ireland. Win, lose or draw. We talk and we drink and we sing and we laugh. It’s quare craic let me tell you. My English and US mates that have joined in Northern Ireland away days and supporters club meetings often site them as the best times of their lives (I kid you not).
We also understand each other. Mostly. I was in Copenhagen Airport on my own in September on route to Vagar in the Faroe Islands and rather than have me drink on my own, two NI lads, Justin and John called me over to drink with them. It happens a lot. We look out for each other. We are brothers and sisters that may never have met. But we understand the culture of following Northern Ireland. I love it. You love it. Keith Gillespie loves it.
“It’s a passion. You can feel it in the air” – Snap (Rhythm is a Dancer)
When we beat Greece and qualified it was a huge moment for us all. It was our first ever qualification for the Euros. We went on to win the group! For those under the age of 30 (including my youngest brother Danny), this is the first time they have even seen Northern Ireland at a major championships.
I remember Mexico 86 watching on TV with my Dad and collecting the sticker album and getting a scarf. But this time, I’m old enough to understand the true meaning of it. Many of my friends have been on this journey with me since 1986. It’s big time. It’s major.
And now that we have qualified the excitement mounts even more! The fixtures coming out, booking flights, boats, trains, hostels, hotels, campsites. Which bar are we meeting in? What song can we sing about Stuarty Dallas or Paddy McNair? The kits coming out. Yes, we all love our 1982 Whiteside or the 1986 Colin Clarke retro jerseys but we are looking forward to a fabulous Euro 2016 kit! Part of the excitement was about a new kit for the Euros. Myself and thousands of fellow Norn Iron fans are hotly anticipating the new kit, but we thought we might not see it until the new year, 2016. Especially given that the latest kit was only worn in late 2014 for the first time, and the latest away was first worn in February 2015. We are with Adidas at the moment for our kit manufacturer, as we were in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, so we should trust that they will deliver the goods. I can’t wait to see the kit. Can’t wait to buy it. Can’t wait to wear it. Can’t wait to get my first beer stain on it. What will it look like?
Maybe a classic pin striped away kit like this from Coatsey on Our Wee Country?:
Perhaps a really snazzy modern green and white top like Dan from Dan B designs?
Perhaps even similar to this shirt, a recent Germany away kit?
And then. Oh no. Oh dear. This must be a joke. It’s a wee wind up from one of your mates on Bakebook isn’t it?
As the shirt was revealed on a Monday in November, suddenly, the IFA were having to pull posts and tweets from their social media feed. Instantly the GAWA hated it. That horrendous blue stripe. Horrendous. It looks like a training shirt. And while I don’t speak for the GAWA, I’m one of the GAWA and I hate it. It’s my opinion. It’s horrendous. We need a proper classic Northern Ireland tournament shirt we can all be proud of. We are the fans, we spend our time, effort and money over the years watching when Andy Smith and Lee McEvilly couldn’t hit a barn door. We travelled to far off places to watch Norn Iron get duffed. All we wanted was a kit that the fans instantly love and we would all rush out and buy it. For £55 I would gladly pay for a decent memorable Northern Ireland Euro 2016 shirt.
But I won’t be buying this, neither will a hell of a lot more of this family, the GAWA. We’re not impressed, that’s the overall opinion.
I expect Adidas and the Irish Football Association to lose up to £2 million pounds on this mistake, and I reckon they will most likely lose the contract for Adidas to manufacture any future Northern Ireland shirts. Adidas, a multi million pound company, have failed in their research into the Northern Irish market. We’re a nice bunch of people here in this country, but treat us with respect and give us what we want. I see Germany and Belgium love their kits. We don’t. Sort it out please. I bet Kyle Lafferty is in stitches with this one. He’s a boy with a sense of humour. He thinks we might play Argentina in the Euros! Brilliant Kyle, brilliant! If a country has a sense of humour, it’s Northern Ireland. Check this out:
It would be nice if we could have this home shirt shifted to a training shirt after the Latvia match and a new shirt launched for Euro 2016 that we all love. If not, I’ll be wearing a retro 1980s or 1990s shirt to the Euros in France.
We are real fans of Northern Ireland. We care. We have emotion. We want a nice shirt to wear. It was too easy for Adidas and the IFA, but somewhere along the line there has been a major mistake. I’m just having my opinion on it, that’s all. You can have yours but I don’t like it. See you all in France!
#kitgate #adidasruinedthedream #gawa
“We’ll support you evermore” – Northern Ireland fans
The story has attracted media attention and has appeared on a few different media outlets including:
Please sign this petition set up by my friend Ian McKinney and let’s get a proper shirt out for the Euros. Northern Ireland kit Scandal and please like and share the Facebook Page about boycotting this shirt.#kitgate
“Let’s get ourselves the kit we deserve, not this awful mess!” – Ian McKinney, 2015
Green and White Army!
Lifelong Northern Ireland Supporter, Travel Writer, Blogger, Ulsterman.