Northern Ireland

Euro 2016: Northern Ireland football fans' guide to UEFA finals in France

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Media captionBBC News NI's Mark Simpson looks at what Northern Ireland fans can expect in France

With 90 days to go until Northern Ireland's first match in the Euros this summer, BBC News NI's Mark Simpson went on a French road trip to see what fans following the team in the group stages can expect.

The good news

There are only 600 miles between the first and last venue. Believe me, that is a good result, compared to some other teams. Russian fans have to criss-cross the country, clocking up around 1,200 miles. Northern Ireland fans are simply going in reasonably straight line, heading north from Nice to Paris, with a stop in the middle.

The bad news

Fans are going to need patience and plenty of euros.

The schedule

12 June - Nice: Northern Ireland v Poland

16 June - Lyon: Northern Ireland v Ukraine

21 June - Paris: Northern Ireland v Germany

Image caption The Northern Ireland football team will play the first of its three group stage matches in Nice

Best piece of advice

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. There is a huge amount of information already available for travelling fans on the UEFA website.

So fill your boots. Or as they say in France, remplissez vos bottes.

The lingo

Anyone who has been to France knows most people you encounter in the big cities can speak English, but it would do no harm to brush up on your French if you can. After all, if Northern Ireland get to the final, you will be there most of the summer.

First stop

The tournament kicks off for Northern Ireland in sunny Nice on Sunday 12 June, and if you are not going, or could not get a ticket, please stop reading now. The city ticks every box - the sun, sea, sand and the stadium. All you could ask for and more.

Image caption Nice stadium is relatively close to the city centre, and only four miles from the airport

Nice stadium

Very nice indeed. Ok, it is a pity it does not have more seats - only 35,000. In fact, it is the smallest ground at which Northern Ireland will play, but the fans are very close to the pitch and the atmosphere promises to be spine-tingling.

Fanzone in Nice

Bring your trunks, or your bikini. The fanzone is right beside the Mediterranean, at the seafront in the centre of Nice. It holds about 10,000 fans and buses will go from here to the stadium on match day. The stadium is relatively close to the city centre, and only four miles from the airport. It is perfect for a day-trip and that is what many fans are planning to do. One bit of advice - watch your wallets and purses. Pickpockets love crowds and they also tend to love Nice.

Image caption Pack your sun cream as the fanzone in Nice is right beside the Mediterranean

Next Stop

It is time to fold away your towel, rub in some after-sun cream and head to Lyon for the second game on Thursday 16 June. By train, it is reasonably straight forward, by road it is quite a trek. About five hours in a car, approximately 300 miles and more than 30 euros (£23) in tolls. However, at least that is the travel hassle all over for a while? Oh wait ...

Lyon stadium

Maybe we just caught it on a bad day, but the traffic in Lyon was horrendous. It took more than an hour to crawl from Lyon city centre to the stadium. In fairness, it is an out-of-town stadium. So as the Traffic and Travel folk like to say, 'please leave extra time for your journey'. On the plus side, it is a big, brand new stadium - 58,000 seats - the biggest at which Northern Ireland will play in the group stages.

Image caption Lyon, where Northern Ireland will face Ukraine, is France's third largest city

Lyon fanzone

No need for your swimming gear, unless you want to swim in the River Rhône. Actually, forget that, you are not allowed. The fanzone is at the Place Bellecour, right in the heart of the city and has room for 32,000 fans. Lyon is France's third largest city. What is the second largest? Keep reading...

Next stop

All roads lead to Paris. Tuesday 21 June is the final group game. The good news for car drivers is that although it is another 34 euros (£26) in tolls and a four-hour journey, it is a straight road to the capital. Indeed, at one point the Sat Nav (if you're driving, don't forget to pack it) displayed the memorable instruction 'next turn in 188 miles'.

Paris stadium

If the grass looks particularly green at the Parc des Princes stadium, it is all down to the Ballymena-born groundsman Jonathan Calderwood. For those fortunate to obtain one of the 48,000 seats, the advice is to arrive early. There will be a security cordon around the stadium which will be time-consuming. It will be the same at the other grounds, but Paris being Paris, it is likely to be particularly rigorous.

Image caption Northern Ireland fans are advised to leave extra time to get through security checks in Paris

Paris fanzone

As you can imagine, it is the mother of all fanzones with room for 120,000 people. No prizes for guessing the location - beside the Eiffel Tower. If you cannot find it, your old geography teacher will be ashamed.

Image caption The Paris fanzone is beside a very famous landmark

Where is next?

This is where it gets complicated. Even if Northern Ireland come third in their group, there is a good chance they will qualify for the knockout stages. There is also a reasonable possibility that they could end up back in Lyon. Please do not ask me to explain. Even Carol Vorderman would struggle to work out the Euro knockout venue permutations.

Survival kit

Money, phone, sun cream. Oh, and bring along your 'EHIC' card which entitles access to EU health care.

And finally

France's second largest city is Marseille, and it is hosting one of the semi-finals. It is just along the French coast from Nice. So if Northern Ireland fans are feeling excessively confident, they could leave their suitcases in Nice after the first game, travel light around the rest of France and then pick them up again before the semi-final in Marseille. Bon voyage.

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