Coleraine Times Article
Published Date: 24 September 2008
The 51st State
NORTHERN Ireland fans are well known for their dedication, travelling far and wide to support the 'Green and White Army'.
But for one local man, even a home game represents something of a challenge.
Seven years ago Portstewart man Jim Spiers left these shores to set up home in America.
The football fanatic though couldn't do without his football dose and as he revealed to Times Sport a chance meeting with another ex-pat led to the formation of the United States Northern Ireland Supporters Club.
"I got involved through a chance meeting on the 'Our Wee Country' website with another ex-pat Alan Megahey who now lives in Charlotte NC (formerly from East Belfast)," explained Jim, who now works as a graphic designer in Pittsburgh.
"We discussed starting a club for fans here in the states and it just went from there really he and I moved forward and started with a website for people to go to.
"I am a club committee member and I also designed and maintain our site usnisc.com.
"We have close to 40 members from all over the United States and hold monthly meetings in our online chat room and communicate daily threw our forum and on email."
Even their annual get-togethers on American soil can prove hazardous, as the exiled fans had to battle against Hurricane Gustav to make it to the AGM in New Orleans recently.
"Each year we pick a city for everyone to get together in and watch a game on the telly and support the team," explained Jim.
"This year our meeting just happened to be in New Orleans three days after hurricane Gustav.
"Many warned it might not be the best time to go down but we all decided to move forward with the trip and we had a great time. "It was surreal. There were houses with roofs blown off, power workers everywhere and boarded-up homes and businesses all over the city. "The military closed down the bars at night, and even the world-famous Bourbon Street was swept clear of tourists at curfew. "But it takes more than a monster storm hitting the Gulf Coast to stop us cheering on the boys in green!
"There are a few smaller get togethers for matches and other events. "Our Atlanta members recently met up for a Puerto Rico Islanders game as the coach of this team is non other than our own Colin Clarke, who is an honorary member of the club. "He was very friendly to our members and a few of the young kids were actually mascots for the game.
"Our next meeting is probably going to be in Las Vegas, as we have not had a meeting in the west yet." Jim and some of the other US-based fans made the long trip to Gran Canaria in November last year to watch the lads take on Spain in their final Euro 2008 qualifier, where he met up with a few familiar faces. "We made it over to the game in Gran Canaria, but not in great numbers as it is a long way for our fans to go," he said.
"When I got there I found out that the North Coast club, run by Ian Church who is a friend, was staying in the same hotel as us, so I got to have a drink with a lot of local lads. "Also got to meet a few lads I know from Coleraine area. "We are planning more away trips in the future, funnily enough even a trip to Windsor is an away trip for us."
Jim is also a ardent Coleraine fan and is delighted to see the Bannsiders doing so well. He is already making plans for a visit home at Christmas for his first Boxing Day 'Derby' game in seven years. "I never missed a game when I was at home and still love the team," said Jim.
"I know we are doing well at the moment and I hope they are still there or there abouts at Christmas as I am coming home for and will be attending the Boxing Day derby for the first time in seven years."
Healing Power of Football (From Stevo In New Orleans)
I was in Valencia when we beat
Spain. I was at Windsor to see us defeat Israel to qualify for the World
Cup. I saw Ian Stewart's winner against Germany in 1982, I was in Bucharest
for the victory over Romania in 1985, and I was at Wembley when we qualified
for the Mexico World Cup.
And I was in Las Vegas for last week's victory over England.
It followed the worst seven days of our lives. As Katrina took aim, we
fled New Orleans at the last minute with little more than the clothes
on our backs, battling to stay ahead of the storm on a frightening rollercoaster
of a journey. Our adopted city was battered by the winds, drowned by the
flood waters, burned by the fires. The remnants then self-destructed in
an orgy of looting and lawlessness. A week after evacuating to California,
we still didn't know what we had left to return to, or — more importantly
— what had happened to friends who chose to stay behind.
After becoming increasingly depressed by the non-stop TV news coverage,
we took a road trip to the near-deserted desert states of Utah and Arizona.
But after a 1,400-mile loop, we were within an hour of Las Vegas and thoughts
turned to the game. It was on in an English bar miles from the glitzy
strip and I followed a fleet of taxis crammed with tourists to the remote
British outpost near the airport. Despite arriving at 11 a.m. - almost
an hour before kick-off - it was so busy staff were outside directing
traffic away from the congestion.
The cover charge was $20 cash. I had $21 left after our journey.
In America, pubs order a season-long package of live games and you can
either pay an entrance fee for individual matches or buy a season ticket
for unlimited access. This is what I had done in New Orleans for Finn
McCool's, our friendly football venue run by Lurgan couple Stephen and
Pauline Patterson. The night before, American bar staff had insisted on
giving us free drinks and tee-shirts when they heard we were evacuees,
but when I approached the English girl on the door and showed her my New
Orleans driving license and asked could she waive the charge as I had
already bought a season pass, she dismissed the request with a shake of
At Finn McCool’s in New Orleans, we had been talking about this
game for months. I had flown back for the Old Trafford match and had taken
a load of stick from some of the English patrons.
I had been eagerly anticipating
some good-natured banter with the close-knit group of ex-pats. Many had
booked the day off work so we could watch it live on a sultry Louisiana
Wednesday afternoon. My father had even sent me a brand new Northern Ireland
top to wear. But instead my small frame was engulfed by an XXL tee-shirt
donated by my 6-foot, 6-inch friend Gordon Sheals. I was marooned 1,800
miles away in an ocean of English strangers with my friends scattered
to the four corners of the United States.
Inside was a heaving mass of red and white. Conference attendees from
Liverpool, gamblers from Bristol and families from Sunderland mobbed the
bar and shouted orders at the swamped barmaid. I corkscrewed my way though
a 300-strong crowd to a spot in front of the big screen — with just
a single dollar in my wallet. I didn't need to fight my way back to the
bar. The Londoner on my right asked me to watch his Prada carrier bag
while he went to the bathroom. The Brummie on my left told his mate,:
"I don't know any of their team. We'll murder this lot. Easy.
The first chant of "Inger-lund" started up.
My phone rang and it was Dave Ashton from Manchester, a physiotherapist
who had stayed in New Orleans treating patients right up until the hurricane
hit. His pregnant girlfriend's mother died in the evacuation and they
had escaped on a camping trip to New Mexico. He told me to call him with
Forty-five minutes flew by and at half-time I spotted a sliver of green
elbow his way to the bar. Samuel Gunnion, 22, is a forklift driver from
Newtownards who moved to Vegas four years ago.
I waved him over and he
said, "We're doing great, mate, we could nick this you know."
I gave him the patronizing smile his youthful confidence deserved and
told him that we'd tire and then the English quality would show.
But as the game wore on, I started to believe, as well. Then King David
struck that shot just as sweetly as Gerry had done 23 years before.
For a heartbeat, the bar fell silent. You would have heard David Beckham's
diamond earring drop.
Then Sam and I went nuts.
Real, honest-to-goodness, jumping-up-and-punching-the-air, stepping-on-people's-toes, careening-into-everyone-while-yelling-at-the-top-of-our-voices and hugging-each-other-as-we-screamed
hysterically nuts. I have watched football matches for nearly 30 years
on all six inhabited continents. Never have I had such an outpouring of
emotion after a goal.
My head spun like a roulette wheel as the mood around us darkened from
mild anxiety to deep frustration. English fans kicked the ground and slammed
down pints as the mood turned menacing. "Do you want a drink, mucker?"
"There's five minutes left - don't risk going to the bar," I
replied, not wanting him to miss anything but also keen not to be left
"I can't take the tension — I need a drink," he said and
disappeared, thankfully returning swiftly as space opened up around us.
Three Lions supporters melted away. Whether it was because they thought
there would be glasses flying through the air in our direction, or whether
they just didn't want to stand beside the only two people in the packed
pub cheering on the boys in green, we'll never know.
When the sign went up for four minutes of injury time, we roared insults
at the screen but they were lost in the increasingly-desperate howling
from the English. But finally, beautifully, it was all over. Northern
Ireland supporters know some of our results in the last few years have
been enough to bring tears to your eyes. But 1982 was the last time I
was so proud of a performance it made me cry.
My first thought was for my old school friend Gordon, a fanatical Northern
Ireland fan, who had come to our rescue the week before. He had arranged
our flight from Texas, lent us clothes and a car and opened his home to
us. He and his wife, Dawn, had made a last minute 12,000-mile dash from
California just for the match, and I imagined him smiling now in the North
Stand. Sometimes good things do happen to good people.
The Englishmen around us grabbed our shoulders, but they only wanted to
shake our hands and offer congratulations. One looked me dead in the eye
and said: "Well done. Northern Ireland deserved it." And we
did. Sam and I hugged and I told him to come and visit when New Orleans
is rebuilt. Two exiled, out-numbered Ulstermen who came together on the
edge of the Nevada desert and will forever share the memory of the day
we defeated England.
We blinked our way into the blazing sun and 110-degree heat. After four
days in the hot arid climate after living in humid Louisiana my lips were
cracked and bleeding, my head was throbbing from the excitement and my
throat was hoarse from a mixture of the desert wind and shouting during
the match. But I looked at the sullen faces of the pasty-skinned English
fans in the taxi queue snaking its red-and-white way around the bar, and
for the first time since Katrina hit, I felt great.
Until my dying day I'll remember being in Valencia the night we beat Spain
in 1982. And I'll always remember being in Las Vegas the morning we beat
England in 2005.
to our newest members! (make my shirt a weee wan)
Pepper Anne Warwick (daughter of Ricky Warwick)
We would like to introduce 6 month old
Pepper Anne Warwick as the
newest member of the USNISC family
Lauren Rea (daughter of Stevo)
Born - New Orleans, Louisiana, July 31
Dad from North Down, mum from North Carolina
Luke Noble (son of Davy)
Born on the 18th April 07
Dad from Castlederg, Mum from Larne
KEEP THE FLEG FLYING HIGH!
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