Northern Ireland v Poland
The eagerly awaited feast and celebration of football that is the European Championships finals only come around once every four years, but considering that Northern Ireland had never before qualified for the finals, nor a major tournament in 30 years, it was no surprise that everyone was keen to make up for lost time.
An early start in Belfast International airport did nothing to dampen the mood of the 300+ travelling guests. The Green and White army was in full voice and colour as we boarded our planes for the short trip to Nice.
The streets were full of singing and dancing fans as we made our way to the wonderful Aston La Scala Hotel to have our big bar experience. The venue was simply outstanding and really added a special moment to the day, being on the 7th floor with views on the balcony overlooking the Rivera and fan park made for some outstanding pictures.
Guest speaker Ivan Sproule gave great insight into the mindset of the team camp and his experiences playing for Northern Ireland, while star attraction Carl Frampton had some motivating words for the fans and the world champion "Jackal" was roundly applauded throughout.
An easy transfer to the stadium provided great entertainment, as our guests warmed up the vocal chords for the big match with a full array of chants. Like everywhere in France, the security presence was large, which made for a safe atmosphere but some longer than desired walks to the stadium. However, the sea of colours as Polish and Northern Irish fans mixed - along with lucky locals - symbolised the spirit of the tournament and of our guests, who would go on to obtain high praise from the French Prime Minister for their sportsmanship.
While the match was lacking in excitement and the Northern Ireland team admitting they had underperformed and let the occasion get to them, the same cannot be said for the Green and White Army! The pre-match atmosphere was electric and all of our guests lucky enough to have tickets for the match, will have enjoyed the moment that Steven Davis lead the team on to the pitch like no other.
Naturally, the return journey to Belfast was a little more subdued, with many guests choosing to rest their eyes on the simple transfer from the stadium and on the flight home. But from the smiles on the faces as we said our goodbyes in the early hours of Monday morning, it was easy to see that there were stories and memories created in the minds of our guests that will be worth recalling again and again.