Northern Ireland-born former All White John Hill unsure who he'll be cheering for in June

John Hill playing for New Zealand against Kuwait during a World Cup Qualifier in 1981.
FAIRFAX NZ

John Hill playing for New Zealand against Kuwait during a World Cup Qualifier in 1981.

Belfast's Windsor Park has hosted some incredible football moments in its 112-year history.

There was the day in 1971 when Northern Ireland's greatest ever footballer, George Best, embarrassed England goalkeeper Gordon Banks by nipping the ball from between his hand and right foot as he attempted to punt the ball clear. He tapped the ball home for what he though was a goal, only for the referee to spare Banks' blushes by calling a foul.

Then you've got the 2005 epic when a David Healy goal sent David Beckham's England team packing with a 1-0 loss.

The All Whites can expect a rousing reception when they play Northern Ireland at Windsor Park in Belfast in June.
REUTERS

The All Whites can expect a rousing reception when they play Northern Ireland at Windsor Park in Belfast in June.

"The noise they created during and after the match was amazing. It was a tremendous show of support for the team," Beckham said of the Windsor Park crowd after that match.

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There was also the night in October 2015 when Northern Ireland beat Greece 3-1 to qualify for Euro 2016 - their first major tournament since 1986.

It is fitting then that the All Whites will take on Northern Ireland for the first time in their history at the ground when the nations meet on June 2.

It might be a friendly match, but Northern Ireland-born former All White John Hill said Winston Reid and company should expect an intense atmosphere to match the occasion, even with capacity now capped at 18,167.

"I think the All Whites will enjoy the atmosphere because Windsor Park is a special ground and the Irish supporters are always very, very supportive and vocal as soon as the team comes out."

The 67-year-old knows all about the Windsor Park atmosphere. He grew up supporting Northern Ireland's best club Linfield from its version of the Spion Kop before signing for bitter cross-town rivals Glentoran.

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He packed in with up to 55,000 frenzied fans to marvel at Best's skill and enjoyed one of his most memorable on-field moments in the 1973 Irish Cup final when helping Glentoran beat Linfield 3-2.

"The thing was, because I'd supported Linfield all my life as a kid, all my family was on one side of the ground supporting Linfield, whereas my wife and her friend were supporting Glentoran. My family wanted me to win, but they also wanted Linfield to win as well."

Hill expects to go through similar emotions when he watches the match from New Zealand in June. Had the game been a month later, when he and his wife, Jennifer, will be back in Ireland for a holiday, he would have been there in person.

"I've often thought about what would happen if Northern Ireland play New Zealand...I've got probably a bit of a different attitude. I've lived in this country longer, and I feel this country has given my wife and kids so much and been very good to us, so I am very loyal to New Zealand.

"I went back [to Ireland] in about 1997 when my son was over there and he got us tickets to watch the All Blacks play Ireland in Dublin and I had no problem going to the game totally supporting the All Blacks. Because I'm from Northern Ireland I'd probably be a bit more inclined to support them this time."

Hill moved to New Zealand in 1975 after 347 appearances for Glentoran to escape the Troubles in his homeland. He would go on to play 21 times for the All Whites, including at the 1982 World Cup.

He said he expected Northern Ireland, with a world ranking of 35 to New Zealand's 111 and coming off the back of a round of 16 appearance at the 2016 European Championships, to be too strong for the All Whites.

"Northern Ireland should win, I know the All Whites are a good team, but Northern Ireland are having a great season and had the Euros where they played particularly well."

The All Whites will also play a yet to be named Irish club team in Dublin and Belarus in Minsk as they prepare for the Confederations Cup in Russia.

All Whites fixtures pre-FIFA Confederations Cup

June 2: v Northern Ireland in Belfast, Northern Ireland 
June 7: v Club side (closed game) in Dublin, Republic of Ireland 
June 12: v Belarus, Minsk, Belarus

2017 FIFA Confederations Cup – All Whites draw (NZ times)

June 18: v Russia, Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg, 3am
June 22: v Mexico Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, 6am
June 25: v Portugal, Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg, 3am

 - Stuff

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