So following Northern Ireland’s game against Serbia in Belfast, it was time to head off to the Baltics for the next game of our Euro 2012 qualifying campaign with an away game against Estonia in Tallinn. With me booking this relatively, with limited direct options at a reasonable price from Dublin, Belfast or London, myself and a few friends decided upon a different approach. We’d fly direct to Helsinki from London and spend a few days there, before taking the ferry over the Baltic Sea to Tallinn.
If we’ve spoken about my trips abroad watching football, you’d know that I believe Helsinki was the best place I’ve ever been… and frankly, I saw nothing there this time to make me disagree. It’s still a crisp, clean capital city of wonderful people. I arrived in on the Saturday night, so having found my digs and had a good nights sleep I met up with some lads & we headed for the Suomenlinna Maritime Military fortress, a short 15 minute ferry journey from Helsinki.
The fortress consists of a number of islands joined together & fortified – originally by the Swedes, but subsequently by the Russians and the Finns themselves. We spent most of the early afternoon wandering around the islands, looking around the fortifications, a disused Submarine and museums before heading back to the city, where we spent our time wandering around from place to place looking around – whether it was Cathedral, Museum or whatever.
The following day we headed for the Port and caught the ferry to Tallinn. The journey was superb, although spoiled a little bit by the fact that despite the cabaret style arena at the fore of the boat, there was no entertainment offered… there was also free wi-fi on board!!
Arriving in Tallinn, I was able to walk from the Port to my hostel in the Old Town. The hostel was recently refurbed and reasonably nice. The Old Town of Tallinn was beautiful. In a way, it’s quite like the Old Towns in Warsaw, Dubrovnik & Prague (though all are different in their own ways) with it’s central square, old style buildings and roofs. The locals were friendly enough – certainly in comparison to their neighbours in Latvia – though they kept themselves to themselves mostly (probably as a consequence of their city being bit of a Stag destination for a number of years now).
Having spent the Monday evening catching up with friends & getting my bearings, the Tuesday (match day) was spent mostly wandering around properly looking around the historic Old Town – around the city calls and Parliament areas, before heading out for dinner & going to watch the game with the lads. The walk out to the A. Le Coq stadium in Tallinn was quite the jaunt actually and all capped with a tunnel underneath the railway line which was about five and a half feet high and two feet wide!! Death trap central!!
In the ground (a tight 10,000 capacity stadium) we were on the top deck, behind one of the goals and exposed… if it had rained, we were going to be a wet bunch of supporters. As things warmed up, the national anthems came along… As usual, ours was played over the PA system, but the home anthem was a thing of beauty!! Out was wheeled a dozen school kids who were given a microphone each… and without any music, they led the entire stadium through the national anthem of Estonia. I texted my brother saying something along the lines of “that was beautiful, I nearly cried. We’re going to lose.”
And lose we did… All I’ll say was that the highlight of the game was the moment when someone from the NI support got up and brought the NI flag down to half mast on the stadiums official flag poles.