In October 2008, I was in Slovenia for the first time. I have already posted a few times on here about Ljubljana, Bled and also my journey from Italy’s Trieste over the border to Slovenija. This time details the football match Slovenia v. Severna Irska (Northern Ireland), which was held in Maribor. When we had booked the flights we didn’t know where the match would be played, and had based ourselves in Ljubljana, knowing that Slovenia itself wasn’t actually that big a country. There were rumours the match would be in Celje or Maribor, north east from Ljubljana and nothing a train or bus couldn’t solve. It was confirmed to be in the city of Maribor, and luckily a few guys from the North Coast of Ulster (NC NISC) had organised a bus from our hostel direct to the city centre, even better the football stadium in Maribor. I booked a few of us on till that there bus, organised by Ian from Portstewart and the plan had been hatched. An early match day morning mist had caught a damp Graham and I dandering round Ljubljana on our own, where we stopped off in Bar Sokol for a Sokol beer, bought some souvenirs, enjoyed the river and city buildings before we headed back to the hostel (Hostel Celica) to wait for the bus. The bus was a wee bit late which gave a few of us time to grab a quick carry out. I chose some Union beer to drink on the bus. Soon the bus had arrived, been fitted by Toddy’s Ulster flags, was loud with music from Kibby of the Hillsborough NISC and we were headed north east through pleasing countryside in the ex-Yugoslavia.
Some day when I reminisce properly on these away day football trips, I’ll realise just how fucking good it was, eh? Dressed in green, Graham and I were seated together on the bus near all the usual suspects and some new faces as the green and white army headed for Maribor in hope of an away win. A competitive away win for Northern Ireland is a rarity in itself though, so the large support beggared belief. The party bus was pumping, “Around The World” by Daft Punk was one of the tunes I remember, quite a good song to beat us through hilly countryside, yella houses and a clam, mundane-ness of Slovenia. It was my 12th or 13th NI away match and it certainly felt like I was travelling around the world watching my country. The one trip I missed which I was sad about was the USA tour in 2006, where we played Romania and Uruguay. I just couldn’t afford it at the time. These Eastern European trips were fast becoming regular though and this trip was already one of my favourites due to the random carryouts in Trieste, seeing a canal similar to those in Venice, escalating through Italian and Slovenian mountains and white water rafting near Bled. In time I’ve also been on NI away trips incorporating Austria, Poland, Germany, Belarus, Slovakia and Latvia, plus on other occassions I’ve been to Hungary, Russia, Czech Republic and Greece. I really want to see the rest of Eastern Europe while I can – I’m putting these countries on my list. Here’s the hit list : Bulgaria, Romania (I was 20 miles from the border before), Serbia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Turkey, Georgia, Ukraine, Kosovo, Croatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Cyprus. I’ve a lot to conquer…
So the bus took little over 2 hours, with one wee-wee stop and suddenly we were in Maribor. At first a very small, low level city. Once we walked to the square we could see the obvious beauty and the architecture, even if it was drowned out by Northern Irish football flegs, singing, beers and even locals partying in their own square. I believe it was Slomsek square where we attempted to put our SOE NISC fleg up. This is where I had some banter with John, Rob and Herbie – the Leeds United fans. They knew me from the banter on popular football forum “our wee country” and asked “where’s Jonny?” when we were putting the fleg up. Soon they came over and the beers and banter began. They had a laugh at how Bournemouth had gone down and Leeds almost up in their season of both being deducted points, it was nice to put some names to my internet friends, and even better to realise they were nice guys! In that square I met loads of Norn Iron fans I had known through the years as well, banged into Marty Lowry, Richard Henry, also met KCNI for the first time. From our own club, wee Jono and Aaron Crute joined up with us and they had attracted some random people from their very own “party train”, they’d come even further than us, having arrived in Italy and Venice. It was me and Graham plus the Drumquin brigade and the north of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club drinking together. I still had some carry out left and didn’t actually spend much on alcohol at the time. Some of my other mates such as Gavin McClelland and Colin Bowles were on a later bus, and we didn’t see them until just outside the stadium later on. In the meantime I was told by Drumquin Andy that they “met a boy who knows you” and that he was Gary Rainey from Bangor. I went to school, BB and played football with Gary Rainey back in the 1990s and hadn’t seen him for almost 10 years. And then in Maribor square, there he was unchanged and ready for the big game! I also met a few guys with a China fleg from the Far East NISC which was great. They had travelled a long way!
The buzz got greater and greater and more and more Norn Iron fans came and mingled. I could have stopped right there and then and considered how good life was really. I cannot remember many more moments of happiness. It was funny seeing Michael Lewis/Bangor Boy again. The guy is a total nut, and its hard to act sensible around him, if I’m being honest. He is usuallu accompanied by a carry out. If not, take a photo of it, cos its a rare occurance. I also met a few others who were with him, Paxter a fellow Glenman and Michael McSparron. I’d seen all 3 of them in Slovakia the previous month as well. They had a funny story about an Australian traveller, Aroha or Jo, who had stayed with them in a hostel and helped drive them all the way there. She was a decent looking wee lass and had been dragged to the Northern Ireland match. She wasn’t to be the only Aussie, as we also met a random beardy Aussie traveller called “Fat Tony”, and he too, for the day had donned an NI tap and was a fan for one night, having had some problem with his mate who fell off a cliff in Montenegro and he had time to kill, so popped along to Maribor and met our carnival of lunacy in the square. Later we learned of another Australian guy who supported NI at the match. We certainly attract a mix of fans that seem to enjoy our lunacy, culture and wisdom, or perhaps just that useless drunken charm. Either way the lights were fading as me and wee Jono made our way over to the edge of the NI fans were Drumquin Andy and a few of the London NISC were. Straight away I noticed a microphone and a TV camera and raced over asking to be interviewed, as an ex- PR man this was the sort of opportunity I seized and enjoyed. The Slovenian reporter spoke good English and was really nice, I grabbed Jono into the equation and soon both of us were being interviewed. At the time we were both a wee bit drunk, but didn’t slur our words and talked sensibly. I loved Slovenia and talked about how the people were beautiful. The reporter then asked us for score predictions, and knowing our dismal away record, we talked negative and Jono said sharply “2-0 to Slovenia…” Well, we weren’t ever very good away from home so it was a good guess. That was that and we thought nothing more of the interview, assuming it would never be used and we would never see it. By now the drinking and singing continued and we met a lovely Polish lady in a green top called Marta. We got her in a few photos before Graham met a Slovenian guy who wanted to join our party. He had his son with him and Graham is always a generous guy, so he donated his NI scarf to the guys son. The Slovenian guy was called Danilo and wouldn’t accept the scarf without Graham getting one back, so Graham now had a green and white Slovenian scarf. Slovenia also play in green and white (though in reverse to Northern Ireland). The Slovenians said their goodbyes as they went to their part of the stadium, and we headed to ours. Before this I met all the Bangor lads, Gavin and Colin etc. plus Drumquin Andy lent me 40 Euros (which I still owe him) as I had stupidly left my wallet in Birmingham. This paid for a final round just outside the stadium gates, where me and Drumquin Andy were interviewed again, this time by the BBC and we mingled there with Scooby Doo lookalikes as we sang our very own version of Oasis “Champagne Supernova.” Soon we had gone through the turnstiles and got “seats” near the back. The pre match banter and singing was immense, so much green and white around, a real party atmosphere and lots of singing. I especially remember a pre match sing son of Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” which has definitely grown on me.
Then we had a surprise visitor, Danillo had climbed through the fencing from the Slovenian end and had joined us for the match! He saw our section doing the bouncy and heard the loud singing, and knowing our friendliness and passion decided to join us as a one off! The stadium is an excellent shape, curving down at each corner and symmettrical. The sort of stadium that we (Northern Ireland) could do with. It got full fairly quickly. As the atmosphere calmed down, the match started and we got on top, David Healy going close to scoring twice, but being very off form. We came to half time at 0-0 and looking seriously good. I do remember thinking we could nick a 1-0. Second half began and nothing much changed, Kyle Lafferty found a way through the entire Slovenian defence, found himself one on one with the goalkeeper and sadly couldn’t finish it off. It was still 0-0 with 10 minutes left…
And then disaster struck, they scored…Danilo went nuts beside us as we lay dejected. And then disaster struck again, they scored another goal and soon it was all over.
A forgettable end to the match which involved a sad slow bus journey home, made exciting only because of Kibby. Kibby livened the spirits that night by telephoning the following people on his mobile and playing them loudspeaker on the bus:
– Jackie Fullerton
– Iain Dowie
It gave us comedy in tragedy. We were down and out, and Bradford Upon Avon prophet, Jono Crute had got it right.
“TWO NIL TO SLOVENIA…”
THAT FAMOUS “2-0 TILL SLOVENIA” INTERVIEW with Jono Crute (second clip in)
Jonny Blair – I love the country, the people are beautiful,the the atmosphere around is very good, the only thing that we care about now is winning the football match thats what we’re here for, but its brilliant, we’re having a great time haven’t we? so far so
Slovenian TV – What do you think the score will be?
Jonny Blair – its hard to predict but we’re not very good away from home and slovenia are quite good at home these days so its gonna be a tough game
Jono Crute – 2-0 to Slovenia
Jonny Blair – we’re going negative but we hope that we’ll pull it off cos we’ve got the enthusiasm to do it, but its gonna be a tough game
Location – Maribor, Slovenia
Time – Saturday 11th October 2008
People I met or was with – Jono Crute, aaron Crute, Nial “Nolers” Coulter, Sinti, Toddy, Graham Anderson, Andy “Moby” Milliken, KCNI, so good (Robert), John Leeds Fan, Herbie, John Hart, Kibby, Andrew Gilmore, Trudy Gilmore, Lee, Gary Rainey, Neil Hong Kong NISC, Owen Sheppard, Bangor Boy, Paxter, Michael McSparron, some Austrians, Danilo and son, Marty, Richard, Stephen Rowley, Slovenian TV reporter, 2 Australians, Gavin McClelland, Colin Bowles, countless others…
Nationalities Met – Australian, English, Northern Irish, Slovenian, Austrian, Polish
Strange currencies – Euros
Football match – Slovenia 2-0 Northern Ireland (both goals in last 10 minutes)
A song to forever remind me of it – Oasis: Shock Of The Lightning