Lee flying the flag for Sydney friends

Portadown's Lee Leckey (left) and Jonny Wylie showing off the Sydney NISC flag in Belfast. Pic by PressEye Ltd.INPT42-104
Portadown's Lee Leckey (left) and Jonny Wylie showing off the Sydney NISC flag in Belfast. Pic by PressEye Ltd.INPT42-104

Lee Leckey has spent the past few years cheering on Northern Ireland from the other side of the world - but got his hands on a golden ticket for last week’s historic game with Greece.

Lee celebrated inside and outside the ground with thousands of his fellow fans as the Green And White Army enjoyed an end to the three-decade wait for Northern Ireland to reach a major football tournament.

As the focus for the majority of fans turned to France at the final whistle against Greece, Lee’s mind instead took a different direction and to how qualification for next summer’s European Championships would be enjoyed in Australia.

“I came home to Portadown in April after almost three years based around Sydney,” said the 32-year-old. “I am going back out to Australia in a few weeks but will be home for the European Championships.

“I have heard, of course, all about the World Cup campaigns in 1958, 1982 and 1986 but never imagined I would be watching my country in a major finals.

“I was in a supporters’ club in Sydney, Australia’s only official Northern Ireland fans’ group, so know how much they would have enjoyed the Greece game.

“The talk is for the fans in the Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane clubs to group together and travel on the same flight from Australia to France next year.

“It is quite a test watching Northern Ireland games from as far away as Australia due to the time difference.

“At times in the past when the team struggled to even score a goal it was a case of fighting the urge to turn off the alarm clock at 3 or 4 in the morning and go back to sleep.

“It was amazing to be inside Windsor Park last week and the celebrations were unforgettable.

“I can only imagine the atmosphere in France and I have flights booked from Belfast to Holland then into Lyon.

“They were £132 per person when booked and jumped on Sunday to £460.

“To go over to France as group winners is amazing and it was brilliant for everyone from Portadown to see Luke McCullough involved in the squad.

“No matter what happens in France, we have so many wonderful memories from this campaign and the atmosphere at EURO 2016 is going to be so special.”

Lee managed to secure a coveted ticket for the Greece match thanks to the Irish Football Association’s online release. The extra allocation of 1,500 was sold out within three minutes but Lee had a helping hand from the other side of the globe.

“I had a block booking for years before heading off to Australia,” he said. “I tried online from here at home and couldn’t get anything sorted but Glenn Fryers used my card details back in Sydney and ended up securing my ticket,” said Lee. “It is crazy to think it worked out that way but I was just happy to get one.

“Glenn is also from Portadown and we did not know each other back home but ended up living together in Sydney.

“He actually came home specifically for the Hungary game last month and I know the Sydney guys are already working on travel arrangements.

“We are both committee members of the Sydney club and it is such a brilliant group, with everyone looking out for each other.

“I came home with a Sydney flag and it attracted plenty of attention in Belfast before the Greece match.

“Thanks to the Sydney group I was able to get help with a job and accommodation, not to mention settling in to life so far away from home.

“Most of the supporters would be ex-pats, with some born in Australia but with family connections to Northern Ireland.

“It was great getting together to watch games with someone from Belfast or whatever so many thousands of miles away.”