Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Belarus 5-0 Northern Ireland Ladies

By Jonny Blair

The Northern Ireland ladies team played England in May 2007 in Gillingham, Kent. They lost 4-0 and played with passion and pride against full-time professionals. The fans sang loudly in defeat. So when Shaun Schofield (Author and full-time genius) mentioned going to another away game, it all fell into place. 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, 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.

The team trained at the stadium of Belshina Bobruisk in this obscure Belarussian city. Manager of Northern Ireland ladies is Alfie Wylie and he gave a speech to inspire the girls before the match. Team captain presented me with a signed shirt from the entire Northern Ireland ladies team - a prized possession and a memory to linger forever. I sat down in the stadium as the only travelling football fan at the match. It was inspiring.

I wasn't the only Irishman in attendance however as I had met Owen the night before in a hotel - he is an Irish Australian who happened to be in Belarus at the time and staying in the same hotel - with him was Albert from Australia - also a random traveller. They came and sat with me and supported Northern Ireland for the day! The match itself was very one sided with Belarus 1-0 up at half time and coasting to a 5-0 win at full time. I sang for 90 minutes endlessly as the only away fan and needed a bit of local police protection from the locals. Must be the first time that has happened at a ladies match!

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...

Match statistics:

Belarus 5 - 0 Northern Ireland

(5 different goalscorers)

Beers Tried - Grinitska, Dnyaprouskaye.

Bars Visited - Minsk Airport Bar, Hotel Minsk, Drozhzhy United Irish Pub.

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