Kate Middleton and Prince William have landed in Northern Ireland for a surprise two-day trip.
William and Kate will carry out a series of varied public engagements at a range of locations on Wednesday and Thursday. On arrival at the National Stadium at Windsor Park in Belfast, the couple were greeted by scores of cheering schoolchildren. They stopped to chat with the crowds, with the Duchess being presented with a number of bunches of flowers.
International boss Michael O’Neill was among senior Irish Football Association staff who welcomed them at the entrance to the recently redeveloped venue. O’Neill, who himself won 31 caps playing for Northern Ireland, has been credited with bringing the glory days back to the team during his tenure as manager.
He led the side to its first major tournament in 30 years at the 2016 European Championships in France.
The Duchess of Cambridge was wearing a red Carolina Herrera coat on the football-themed visit. During their tour of the venue, the couple also met Northern Ireland footballing legend Pat Jennings.
Former Spurs and Arsenal goalkeeper Jennings is Northern Ireland’s record caps holder, with 119 appearances during a career that took in the 1982 and 1986 World Cup Finals.
William and Kate were shown a bronze cast print of the stopper’s celebrated “safe hands” as they walked through the stadium’s heritage centre.
Out on the Windsor Park turf, where Northern Ireland famously beat England in 2005, the royals joined in some training exercises with local schoolchildren. They both had a go at dribbling drills, to the delight of the young footballers.
Kate ran around a marked-out square keeping the ball under control and also jogged up and down on the spot. She then joined William in a small-sided game, each playing on different sides.
Both participated with gusto, running about with their young teammates, passing and tackling during the well-spirited encounter.
During the visit, the couple learned more about the Irish Football Association’s community football projects and its work breaking down some of Northern Ireland’s traditional divides through sport.
They met people involved in an initiative aimed at encouraging more women into key decision making roles within the game and also met young people involved in the Goal programme – a project designed for those not in employment, education or training.
William and Kate also heard about IFA workshops and education courses that help students develop life skills. They learned about the Stay Onside initiative, which works with criminal justice agencies in a bid to reduce offending rates.
The Cambridges also heard more about the game of Powerchair, an adapted version of football for wheelchair users.
As they left the stadium at the end of the visit, three schoolchildren presented the couple with three green Northern Ireland home shirts, with the names George, Charlotte and Louis on the backs.
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