Glory Glory Northern Ireland!

Dear Old ‘Norn Iron’ football team have just secured an epic victory to seal their successful and historic qualification for next year’s European Championships. I thought it fitting to end my ‘Emerald Scribe’ two year blogging experiment with a tribute and final entry article inspired by their success tonight at Windsor Park.

As an astute three-and-a-half-year old I remember well, believe it or not, images and excitement surrounding Billy Bingham’s World Cup qualification team for Mexico ’86. In fact, we still have a commemorative scarf somewhere at home at my parent’s, worthy of a Musuem piece these days.

No one gave Michael O’Neill’s men tonight a ‘hope in hell’, as the lads in the street would say, before this footballing campaign began in 2014. Now, though, the man is a hero. No one can take this historic achievement away from him: for the first time EVER Northern Ireland football team will be travelling to participate in the European Championships. Never before has this occurred. Perhaps never again may it happen, but for now, the Province so known for bitterness, division and fighting, can unite, perhaps, around the sporting success of our underdog team. Once again sport triumphs over sectarianism. Once again sport unites and brings celebratory relief from the other stresses and strains of real life, which is very much the reality in current Northern Ireland.

One cannot help but think of the story of David and Goliath, always, when Northern Ireland football team achieve things, and in recent years, they have quite regularly punched above their weight, but never before in my lifetime on such a scale. I was not even born when Northern Ireland qualified for the World Cup in Spain in 1982, but I remember well the question asked to me on a BBC television schools’ quiz in 1999 which gave me prestige and glory as a 16-year-old on BBC1 when I answered “Gerry Armstrong” as the correct answer to, ‘Who scored Northern Ireland’s historic winning goal over Spain in that World cup year?’ the year prior to my birth. The man is a legend, because that team had achieved so much, with so, little.

Who would have thought it could be done again? Qualifying for the European Championships this time, not the World Cup, but still every bit as huge.

Tonight, again, the biblical story of David and Goliath springs to mind. Once again, Northern Ireland has firmly achieved way beyond what anyone could truely have expected of them before these qualification matches began.

One wonders what prayers went up before tonight’s game, and if any of the players had praying grannies, for example?!

The minnows are likely to even top the group and against all odds, tonight qualified in superb style to compete in their own right at next year’s big summer sports extravaganza.

There are no real stars in the group, but the team spirit carried them through to this famous victory tonight and overall group qualification success. Another advert for team glory over individual glory. Most of the players are only Championship players, not Premiership. None have ever played in such a tournament before, but now the weight of a rather stressed, fragile and weary Province lie upon their shoulders. The unity of the team, in my opinion, together with the manager’s skill and man management caused this huge upset and historic qualification.

Let’s believe for better things for Northern Ireland and let’s come together, not apart, whether you like football or not.

Let’s enjoy the fact that for once in a long time, Northern Ireland has something positive on a national level to look forward to, not hark back upon.

Let’s enjoy the rarity of a press and media filled with something beyond the usual depressing, dreary negativity.

Congratulations Northern Ireland football team and thank you Michael O’Neill and co for bringing something POSITIVE (at last) to unite Northern Ireland people together, (hopefully), in this historic night of sporting success.

“Speaking tonight, O’Neill spoke proudly, yet still humbly, on Sky TV with his famous thick County Antrim accent, “I’ve had good staff. The backroom staff here are tremendous, so there was a lot of support there when the team weren’t doing well, but the main thing is the players.

“We are group winners, which is a beautiful position to be in. Everyone has something to look forward to. The celebrations and preparations for France can start now.”

“Our objective was to qualify and we’ve done that. Lovely to have done that. It was important to qualify here. We see the response the team has had, and it’s lovely to send the people home happy.

“I look forward to going to France.”

He’s no doubt not the only one.

Now the lid has firmly come off the celebrations,as Belfast is set to party into the ‘wee small hours’, despite Sunday’s game against Finland yet to come.

The firmer conclusion I continue to hold, is that against all odd, Miracles DO happen.

Well done Northern Ireland!

France might just be calling a few of us next summer.

(Due to other work, this will be my last Emeraldscribe article for at least sometime…watch out for the new year and beyond).

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