There have been moments, I will admit, when as a Northern Ireland fan I have felt shame at the conduct of some people who would also describe themselves as supporters of the team. These moments have generally been endlessly analysed and recycled by those for whom the very fact that there is a Northern Ireland football team causes grave offence. There is certainly no need to revisit them here.
On more occasions I have felt a great deal of pride to number myself amongst a fanbase which is simultaneously passionate about their team and good natured toward opposing supporters. All those glorious nights at Windsor, for example, when a wall of noise has made Northern Ireland seem indefatigable and England, Spain, Sweden or Denmark has succumbed to the combined efforts of team and crowd.
At away games in Czech Republic, Spain and Poland the home crowds have applauded the vocal support offered by the Green and White Army after matches have ended. The applause is always reciprocal and often there is an attempt to replicate one of the opposition’s chants. In Teplice we chanted ‘Czechi’ (albeit with the addendum ‘Fullerton’, in Albacete ‘oles’ were exchanged with the Spanish crowd and in Warsaw ‘Polska’ rang out from the away supporters before the Polish supporters responded with a rousing chorus of ‘Northern Ireland’.
Wednesday night saw one of the moments when I have been proudest to be a member of the GAWA. After Northern Ireland’s anthem was accompanied by a chorus of ill-mannered boos and jeers, rather than responding in kind, 7,000 Ulstermen accompanied their Scottish counterparts in a rendition of Flower of Scotland, rather dubiously led by a Kenny Rogers lookalike. This piece of cheek turning, coming after the rather disrespectful response accorded to God Save the Queen, was of course marvellously appropriate.
The supporters continued to provide vocal backing to their team despite a poor spectacle on the pitch. David Healy might have provided Northern Ireland with a win, drawing a fine spot kick save from McGregor, after Feeney had been felled in the box. Still, 0-0 was creditable, given that Worthington’s team played most of the 2nd half with ten men, following debutant McGivern’s harsh dismissal for an innocuous second yellow card.