I’m scribing this whilst travelling from Berlin Schonfeld Airport to London, having just spend the past few days travelling for the 2010 World Cup Qualifier between Poland & Northern Ireland. It’s been a peaceful, if somewhat tense trip, as previously, there had been lots of rumour of likely attacks on NI support in Poland due to, a combination of Polish Hooligans enjoying a ruck anyways, and due to tensions in NI between locals & POlish Immigrants.
Fortunately, despite attempts by media in both countries trying to stoke tensions, the IFA, the Amalgamation of NI supporters clubs, and the Polish authorities all co-ordinated a security operation to keep us safe, the like of which I’ve never seen before. At rough estimates, anywhere between 2,000 to 3,000 police officers cordoned off a passage for the NI supporters from our designated ‘fanzone’ to the stadium, and then cordoned off our area of the ground from the locals!! There were mounted police, riot police, dog handling police and the shooters, walking around, not with rifles, but pump action shot-guns!!
However, never underestimate an Eastern European looking for a scrap. Despite the protection, the local hoods (truth be told, they weren’t much more than spides) decided to charge the stewards to get at us anyways. Now, in NI, stewarding is a volunteer job mostly, and frankly not done very well. In Poland, they’re armed. The stewards drew their battons and started beating back the hooligans. The cops then took over the fight and at that point it went from a fight to a hammering. So much so that one over eager copper ended up in the stand whaling at a hood on the stairwell!! Tear gas was also used, which drifted over onto our section of the ground, causing much coughing & soreness of eyes, but not a major issue if truth be told. Others said a water cannon was brought in too!! All in all, great half time entertainment!!
As for the game, Norn Iron were superb for 60 minutes, and probably lacking a bit of direction for 30 minutes. We completely bossed the opening exchanges and to be honest, deservedly took the lead through an excellent Kyle Lafferty goal. In the second half, we started well too, and took the game to the Poles. Unfortunately Lafferty went off injured, and the tide turned… but not before we had one glorious chance to seal it… but Paterson’s effort went wide. For the last half an hour of the game, we hardly saw the ball… and sooner or later, our luck ran out as a dodgy, bouncey own goal brought the Polish level.
Now, whilst being disappointed to have not won the game, in the cold light of day, I’d have taken a point like a shot before the game. We played fantastically, and if we play like that for the last two games, we’ll be there or there about.
The atmosphere in the stadium wasn’t what I was expecting… we were 800 in a stadium full of 44,000 Polish, but apart from a few whistles & that, they hardly made any noise & when they did, it wasn’t the volume I was expecting. Perhaps the ‘bowl’ design meant the noise was lost to the sky, but it wasn’t as hostile as I thought it might be.
All, in all, it was a good trip, the banter was great, the game was great, the weather was… alright, I guess, and the locals seemed pleasant enough (apart from the hoods of course). I think I’d go back to Poland based on the organisation of this game being repeated. I probably won’t go to the Euro’s which are planned for Poland & the Ukraine in