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Belfast residents organise giant World Cup sweepstake

Houses in three streets in the west of the city are each flying the flag of a Russia 2018 finalist.

Russia World Cup 2018
Russia World Cup 2018 Gerry Sloan

Football fans in Belfast have turned their streets into giant World Cup sweepstakes, with each house flying the flag of a competing nation.

With the first match set to kick off in Russia on Thursday, three streets in the west of the city are running their own events, to culminate with a large street party for the final on July 15.

Residents on Iris Drive, Gortfin Street and Whiterock Gardens are taking part.

The fact that neither Northern Ireland nor the Republic of Ireland have made it to the tournament in Russia has not dampened the enthusiasm of these fans more than 2,000 miles away.

The sweepstake was so popular in Whiterock Gardens that organiser Lindsay McCausland had to have two draws.

"What we did was we got all the flags in black bags and went around the doors so everyone pulled out a flag, and what they got was what they got," she said.

In what is a predominantly Irish nationalist neighbourhood, even the England flag was flying on the street alongside all the other nations.

Ms McCausland said some joked that if they drew the England flag, they would refuse and fly an Irish flag instead, but insisted it was only in jest.

In the end, her neighbour John O'Neill drew England, as well as Belgium, and said he was not worried about flying it.

"It's just a bit of crack, gets everyone together," he said.

"If I get a bit of abuse, I'm well able for it. Although I have to say, it was in the back of my head, 'what if some lunatic goes by and does something?'

Russia World Cup 2018
Russia World Cup 2018 Lindsay McCausland

"But at the end of the day, it's only football."

Over at Iris Drive, off the Falls Road, residents agreed not to fly the England flag for safety reasons, after stones were thrown at a house that flew it for a previous tournament.

Resident Jackie Turley said: "This is the third time we have done it, and it's so popular that we actually had to do two sweepstake draws because we have 64 teams (houses) taking part.

"The winning team will get £80, but there are also prizes for second, third and fourth too."

Mrs Turley drew Mexico this year, which she admitted was a relief after she and her husband Sandy, who organises the event, had drawn favourites on the last two sweepstakes.

Russia World Cup 2018
Russia World Cup 2018 Sandy Turley and son Aaron

"We all love football, this is a big Liverpool house, the kids are so excited for the World Cup.

"It's also a great way to bring everyone together. We have a new family in the street from Syria and they are taking part too."

The residents inspired neighbouring Gortfin Street to set up its own sweepstake for the first time.

Sonya McCann said: "Iris Drive have done it a few times, so we just decided this year we would do it too, to bring the whole street together.

"I drew Spain and was really pleased because it is Spain that I wanted.

"We are not having any cash prizes. Instead all the money for taking part will go into a big street party for the day of the final."

The World Cup opening ceremony is on Thursday, with TV coverage on ITV from 2.30pm.

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