“We’re in the army now” – Status Quo.
I had watched the Northern Ireland ladies team in May 2007 in Gillingham, Kent. We 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 got my Belarus visa sorted, at the time in London (more recent visits, I used Warszawa) and off I went…
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 travelling fan at the match! (Okay so the team and staff are also Northern Ireland fans, but I was the only guy who paid my way on flights, visas etc. to be there). It was also the first time (I think) that I met David Currie (who helped a lot with my trip), overall good guy and in my opinion, one of the best people to work at the IFA ever. 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 occasion 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. Spat the tourist.
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 solitudinal 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, or for supporting Northern Ireland, 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, when a chance dander saw me encounter the term on a High School wall as graffiti.
As well as meeting the entire Northern Ireland squad and IFA representatives, I also got to meet the Belarus ladies team, they signed the programme for me. I then met all three referees too.
I met the whole Belarusian ladies team, they actually enjoyed meeting me. I think they thought I was crazy. As the sun bate down, I posed for photos and sang David Healy songs till them.
“We are never gonna survive unless, we are a little crazy” – Seal.
I was the only Northern Ireland paying fan there for the match of course and the only one who had travelled all this way, but the night before I had met Owen (an Irish-Australian) and Albert (an Australian) in the Hotel. I invited them to the match with me to support Northern Ireland as we wouldn’t have any fans except for me. 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.
The truth is, I outsang almost 1,000 Belarussian fans for the whole match (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!! It was outrageous.
During the match I was singing songs such as:
“Sweet Norn Iron”
“Away in a Manger”
“We’re Nat Brazil, We’re Northern Ireland”
“He’s tall he’s thin, he looks like Jimmy Quinn!”
and my self-penned songs for the ladies:
“We’ve got that Una Harkin”
“After all….we’ve got Stacey Hall”
“Oh my God I can’t believe it, I’ve never been this far away from home”
“All we need is Aine McGovern, Aine McGovern…” (sister of 2016 hero Michael McGovern no, less!!)
“Alfie give us a wave”
The banter was epic and it was a crazy crazy day.
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, it was all I had to give. These kids were obviously still very poor and drenched in the aftermath of the Soviet regime, living in communism in an odd world in my Bangor eyes. So I felt sorry for them, but could not give them anything more. There was no time to dwell. Life moved on…
We had a night out in Minsk, David Currie put a Northern Ireland kit behind the bar and we headed to the unreal Irish Pub (which doesn’t exist anymore).
After the match, I 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…(I edit this post some years on, where I now live in Poland)
“Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road” – Green Day.
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 Bar, Minsk Railway Station Bar, Hotel Tourist Bar, Drozhzhy United Irish Pub.
Nationalities Met – Belarussian, Ukranian, Russian, Polish, Northern Irish, Australian-Irish.
Strange Currencies – Belarussian Roubles.
Cheapest Beer – 18 pence (by the train station).
Average Price of a Pint of Beer – 30 pence (less than 2,000 Roubles).
Transport Used – Coach, Taxi, Metro, Bus, Aeroplane.
Where I Stayed – Hotel Minsk and Hotel Tourist.
Favourite Food – Random Pork Rolls (train stations).
Favourite Drink – Coffee.
Favourite Thing About Minsk – 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 – Status Quo – We’re in the army now (played EVERYWHERE on the entire trip!!)
FACT – Jonny Blair was the only fan who attended EVERY Northern Ireland ladies away match in the year 2007.