A year later than expected — and minus the colour and fun of the Green and White Army — Euro 2020 kicked off last night.
nd the absence of Northern Ireland means local fans will have to adopt a new team for the next few weeks.
Turkey and Italy got the tournament under way in Rome last night, with Wales, then England and finally Scotland joining the party over the next few days.
But for football fans here, it will be a case of following the action on TV — and wondering what might have been.
Defeat in last November’s play-off against Slovakia denied Northern Ireland a place at the finals. The Republic also failed to qualify too.
But that did not seem to affect local fans’ enthusiasm ahead of the first game yesterday.
In Coleraine, fans were getting excited ahead of the competition’s curtain-raiser.
Football tops were the order of the day around the north coast town they prepared for the opening game last night.
Among them was Gareth Mullen (34), a Coleraine resident who was sporting an Arsenal top and said their French connection meant he would be supporting France this summer. He said: “I’m supporting France because they’re the best team.
“If Northern Ireland were playing, I’d support them.”
Logan Johnson (18) from Castlerock has similar preferences for his team of choice this year. But he said he was “heartbroken” that Northern Ireland wasn’t there this year.
“It’s France for me, mainly because my whole family are Arsenal fans, and they have a love affair with the French. So, I have to support France because I love them.
“I am heartbroken Northern Ireland aren’t there.
“I think if they were playing, you’d have to support them. They’ve got great players like Stuart Dallas and Paddy McNair so it’s a good time to support Northern Ireland.
“I’m confident they’ll be in the World Cup,” Logan added.
Another football fan from Coleraine, Debbie Kane (46), chose a different team to support.
“I’d support Germany, I always have since I was a wee girl. I’d definitely support Northern Ireland too if they were playing.”
Germany thrashed Northern Ireland 6-1 last year in the Euro 2020 qualifying matches.
Joey Campbell (66) was suited and booted in Coleraine FC kit showing support for his local team. For the Euros, however, he is giving his backing to England.
“I’m supporting England.
“They’re the most local team and I support local football.”
Thomas Walker (22) from Ballymoney is taking the same route as Joey. “I’ll probably support England because it’s the closest thing to Northern Ireland that’s in the Euros.
“I’m from Northern Ireland so I want to support them.”
Liverpool supporter Amy Merron (24) from Portstewart is less thrilled about the Euros and is opting not to watch.
“I’m not actually going to watch the Euros this year.
“As a Liverpool supporter I would watch all my team play in their different national teams.
“So, I might watch Jordan Henderson who’s playing for England and Andy Robertson who’s playing for Scotland. But, after the year Liverpool have had, I think we need a break for the summer. I just want to ignore football until next year.”
Amy’s daughter, Lucia-Jane (3) however was a lot more enthusiastic about the Euros. She said: “I want Spain to win because they are the fastest.”
She will be tuning in on Monday, when Spain play Sweden.
The tournament kicked off last night with a spectacular opening ceremony inside the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, comprising a massive marching band, huge coloured footballs and drummers hanging down from around the roof.
As it reached its climax, Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli took to the pitch to sing ‘Nessun Dorma’.
Behind him were the flags of every nation at the tournament, a dancer being suspended in the air by balloons and fireworks blasting into the sky.
A performance of the official Uefa song by Martin Garrix, Bono and The Edge rounded off a superb opening ceremony.
The match ball was brought onto the pitch by a miniature car before the game kicked off.
Today’s action sees Wales begin their quest against Switzerland in Baku, Azerbaijan.
England open their campaign against Croatia at Wembley tomorrow, then it is the turn of the Scots, who make their first tournament appearance in 23 years against the Czech Republic in Glasgow on Monday afternoon.