Singing ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life,’ the 10,000 members of the so-called Green and White Army had revelled in seeing their team play in their first major tournament for 30 years. For much of the match, grey clouds loomed ominously overhead, but the mood of the men and women and children with painted faces and green wigs remained jubilant.
They chanted: “We’re not Brazil, we’re Northern Ireland; We’re the Ulster boys making all the noise; and Stand Up for the Ulster-men” with gusto and an obvious sense of pride.
And as the sun tried to pierce its way through, there were some glimpses of what they had been dreaming of. Alas however, it was not Northern Ireland’s day, as Poland won 1-0 in Nice.
Grace McNeill, 56, from Co Antrim summed up the mood.
She said: “We didn’t get the result we wanted but we had a great day. We’ll be back again next week.”
The pre-game atmosphere could have rivalled any of the pop concerts which have been held in the fan zone at Belfast’s Titanic Quarter over the past week.
Renditions of Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ filled the air in the docklands where the Titanic was built.
And as Gala’s ‘Freed From Desire’, which has been parodied into the anthem ‘Will Grigg’s On Fire’ rang out, the rapturous crowd went completely wild.
Earlier, even the police got in on the action, playing a rendition of the 90s dance hit through a loud speaker to the thousands of fans waiting to gain entry.
Despite predicting a 2-1 win for Northern Ireland, Stewart Garrett, 19, from the Shankill area of Belfast, had a great time. He said: “This is the first time I have seen my country in a famous tournament. It is just brilliant.”
Lyndsay Moore, 24, from Belfast, who had her face painted green and white, said the atmosphere was electric.
“It’s just like being there in France,” she said.
Meanwhile Derek Ferson, aged 39, from Moneymore, brought his whole family to watch the historic game. “It is brilliant. I am so glad I brought the kids to enjoy it. It’s the next best thing to being in Nice.”
Many had the name “George Best” emblazoned on the back of their shirts, and many sang songs about Northern Ireland’s greatest player — who was never able to play on this stage.