I had watched the Northern Ireland ladies team in May 2007 in Gillingham, Kent. They lost 4-0 to England and played with passion and pride against full-time professionals. Me and a few of the lads sang our hearts out, completely making fools of the silent England fans in the stadium. So when Shaun Schofield (Author and full-time genius) mentioned going to another away game, it all fell into place for me. I was going to Belarus! I had exchanged emails with a few of the team and staff before arriving, and when I arrived at the Tourist Hotel in Bobruisk (see trip on previous post), the team welcomed me as the only Northern Ireland fan at the match! I got to hang out and dine with the squad and staff, and was also given free transport to the stadium, hotel and airport. “You get out of life what you put in”, according to my ex-manager Katy Cook. This wisdom-drenched lady was right. On this ocassion I had put in a lot and was rewarded.
I watched the team train and enjoyed the team talk by manager Alfie Wylie. I was also presented with a signed shirt by team captain Stacey Hall. A valued possession. I then soaked in the pre-match atmosphere in the tiny, but clean Sparta Stadium (home of Belshina Belarus) and sat myself down as the only Northern Ireland fan at the match. If any moment in my life convinced me of my desire, passion and love of being on this planet, then that all hit me forever in urban Bobruisk. Don’t Stop Living would from then on be my phrase. A phrase which I coined in August 2001 while in Toronto, Canada.
The night before I had met Owen (an Irish-Australian) and Albert (an Australian) and they kindly joined me in the stand with their new recruit, a local lady (a blonde Belarussian with large breasts). Owen wore my Northern Ireland scarf for the day, but none of them could have predicted my loudness or enthusiasm for the team. I outsang almost 1000 Belarussian fans (who only started singing because I was so loud and they felt they needed to prove they could as well). I sang for almost 90 minutes non-stop and yet our team still lost 5-0 against a highly ranked Belarus side. After the match I was made to have a police escort as a few local hooligans were not taking too kindly to my passion for my country!!
I had to wait outside the stadium after the game and was mobbed by about 30 kids from Belarus who had warmed to my madness and crowded round me looking for presents. In the end all I gave was a Northern Ireland bottle opener to a kid who was happy to receive it. These kids were obviously still very poor and drenched in the aftermath of the soviet regime, still not commercialised like Western Europe. So I felt sorry for them, but could not give them anything more. I then caught the bus with the team back to Minsk, where I enjoyed the sights of Victory Square, the Parliament Building and the token Irish pub (random going all this way and then trying the Irish pub – the first pub I saw opposite the government building and called Drozhzhy United!!), which I popped in for a pint.
My journey to Belarus was interesting and moving. It was now over and I would head to Warsaw next in lovely Poland…
Belarus 5 – 0 Northern Ireland
(Kazeeva 26, Tatarynova 49, 90, Davydovich 57, Kuzniatsova 80)
1 Svitlana Novikava
13 Volha Aniskoutsava
15 Irina Chukisova
6 Iryna Kazeeva
2 Victoria Krylowa
18 Natallia Lastachkina
8 Volha Vovikava
10 Natallia Ryzhevich
4 Elena Shevtsova
5 Aksana Shpak
7 Hanna Tatarynova
12 Ina Batsianouskaya
11 Alesia Davydovich
17 Volha Manzhuk
14 Tatsiana Kiose
3 Liudmila Kuzniatsova
9 Maryna Luchonak
16 Volha Nahornaya
1 Emma Higgins
3 Kelly Bailie
11 Rebecca Corish
10 Stacey Hall
5 Una Harkin
6 Ashley Hutton
4 Danielle Mcdowell
2 Aine Mcgovern
7 Helen Mckenna
8 Kimberley Turner
9 Sarah McFadden
12 Kirsty Eddis
14 Sara Booth
16 Clare Carson
15 Laura Giltesple
13 Martine Power
17 Alison McCloskey
Referee – Iwona Malek-wybraniec (POL)
Assistant referee – Katarzyna Nadolska (POL) Olga Pietrzykowska (POL)
Fourth official – Mariya Potapova (BLR)
Beers Tried – Днепровкое, Dnyaprouskaye.
Bars Visited – Minsk Airport Bar, Hotel Minsk, Drozhzhy United Irish Pub.
Nationalities Met – Belarussian, Ukranian, Russian, Polish, Northern Irish.
Strange Currencies – Belarussian Roubles.
Average Price of a Pint of Beer – 40 pence (less than 2,000 Roubles)
Transport Used – Coach, Taxi, Aeroplane.
Where I Stayed – Hotel Minsk.
Favourite Food – Random Pork Rolls.
Favourite Drink – Coffee for once.
Favourite Thing About Minsk – I must say the Victory Square made a nice pleasant walk.
Moving Moment – Getting through customs and passport control easily by saying “I love Belarus, you have such beautiful people.”
KEY SONG – Whoever sings it – We’re in the army now.
FACT – Jonny Blair was the only fan who attended every Northern Ireland ladies away match in the year 2007.