“He’s the centre-back for Bohemians, actually.”Posted: July 20, 2011
Euro Diary – from when Bohemians visited Ljubljana, Slovenia in the 2011 Europa League.
I had never been to one of my team’s away games in European competition before. Wales twice, Austria and Latvia are where Bohemians have traveled in most recent seasons but I stayed at home for every trip, due to a lack of money and being quite young that I am. But this year I began working in my first job, and the prospect of going continental with the Bohs was too great to say no to.
On Monday, June 20th, I was sitting at my desk in work, heart frantically beating all morning and very, very excited. The draw was to be made for the first and second qualifying rounds of the Europa League at 1 p.m. – and The Gypsies were in the draw. Bohs were drawn away in the first leg against the winners of the tie between NK Siroki Brijeg and Olimpija Ljubljana (Lub-Lee-Anna). And the first thing I thought was – “Er… shit.”
This reaction of trepidation with a pinch of confusion stemmed from A) we’d only have 7 days before we knew who (thus, where) we were playing, B) the fact that they were in Eastern Europe meant that they’d be quite expensive to get to, C) not knowing exactly who either of these teams were or what they were about and D) Siroki Brijeg are from Bosnia, still quite a country in grave unrest in many parts and could have been a bit unsafe.
I immediately began my research on both teams and places. I already knew that Ljubljana was the capital of Slovenia and knew it was a lovely place that was, incidentally, on my list of places to travel to already. On the other hand, I discovered that Siroki Brijeg was in fact a small town in rural Bosnia, not exactly very near the closest airport, and the team were affectionately nicknamed “fascist pigs” by the rest of the league. Lovely. I certainly knew who I was hoping for to win that round. In the end, Olimpija Ljubljana comfortably eased past Siroki 3-0 on aggregate, and looked quite a decent side in doing so.
On the Sunday before the Thursday of the game I booked and paid for everything necessary to visit Slovenia. I was accompanied by my cousin, Andrew, who was in a similar situation as myself with regards the European trip – never been on one, got a job/money, and said ‘LET’S DO THIS, COME ON BOHS.’ We woke up at a ridiculous hour on Wednesday morning before flying to Gatwick and then on to Ljubljana, and neither of us could really believe that it was finally happening.
We arrived in the capital of Slovenia in the early afternoon and the town of Ljubljana itself is a lovely place. The river has many great bars and restaurants adjacent to it, making it a really vibrant, lively and majestic place.
As we walked down one street in the city of Ljubljana, wearing our red and black jerseys with pride on our way to find a shop to buy a public telephone card, a local drove up to us on the opposite side of the road, stopped to our side and called something out to us. “Hey! You guys bring casuals?” he asked, but not in a threatening way though. Dumbfounded; “Sorry, what…?” I replied. The man was looking to see if Bohs casuals had come to Slovenia, and he was looking to organise something. We knew nothing about it, and told him we were sorry but hadn’t a clue, hoping he didn’t turn sour on us. But he didn’t, at all. Very strangely, once we told him that that wasn’t what we personally were there for he was a lovely, friendly man. He proceeded to advise us on how to avoid trouble after the game the next day too. It was odd. Really odd. And we didn’t know what to make of it at all.
We spent the full day of Wednesday walking through the town acquainting ourselves with Slovenia, got some food and had a, ahem, respectable amount of drinks before meeting up with a good few other Bohs fans at an outdoor bar in one of the main squares in the town. We sat and drank together and as time passed, our group got larger and larger as more and more Bohemians found and joined us.
There wasn’t a hope of me writing this article without mentioning one of the widest known Bohs fans around that Andrew and I got the chance to meet in Slovenia – Loco. Loco is a monkey hand puppet that has traveled on every Bohs Euro away trip in the past few years, causing mayhem everywhere he goes. Loco’s name is known all across the continent of Europe, and some lucky Belfast girls got to meet their hero later on in the trip. The bar we were in didn’t have its own facilities so I had to go to a bar down the street to go to the toilet. Even when I was there, and around a corner too, I could hear chants of “Loco’s gonna get you, Loco’s gonna get you.”
The next morning, however, I was in a worse than horrible state. A combination of the humidity and mixing my drinks resulted in one behemoth of a hangover. I tried to get up out of bed and went to a restaurant to cure myself, but alas, to no avail. On the advice of the waitress who served us our lunch (which was actually our breakfast too) we went to the pharmacy to get ourselves sorted out, and that we did.
On to the match, I was in tip-top shape and raring to go. I had no expectations or predictions of the game beforehand. It wasn’t hard to imagine us losing, but at the same time we could well have gotten a result.
The Stozice Stadium, where the match was played, was ridiculously under-policed. All of the Bohs fans went to one ticket booth, that seemed to be the only one around. We waited there for a good fifteen minutes before being told that we were at the totally wrong end of the stadium. We were in fact queuing up at the end of the stadium where the Olimpija ultras, Green Dragons, stand. One particular Olimpija fan began to inquire about a Bohs flag someone had bundled in his hands. We had previously learned that Bohs flags, colours and jerseys were unwelcome in Ljubljana by the Green Dragons.
Earlier on in the day, I wasn’t there to witness it, but I was told that Bohs flags that were standing up draped across chairs or tables at a bar were taken by Olimpija ultras stating it was “their city – their rules.” Another incident saw one Bohs fan walking down a street with two friends, neither of whom Bohs fans but were traveling through Europe and decided to meet up together for the craic and the match, all wearing jerseys, and a group of thugs approach them and order them to take the colours off, before the locals stole the shirts for whatever purposes they wanted. These incidents gave an edgy feel to the game and a tense atmosphere outside it, and it wasn’t very comforting seeing a distinct lack of police at the game, while skin-heads wearing “White Power” t-shirts walked freely around the place. The ‘Green Dragons’ are plain and simply scumbags.
Nevertheless, the Bohs fans still had Total Craic Inside Stadion. I estimate that a group of roughly 60 or so fans made the journey from Dublin, and all of us belted out our Bohemians chants and classics. Right before half time, Heary made his valiant goal-line clearance, and it looked as though we’d get to half time level, despite a couple of scares. But then a minute later, for a reason that nobody could fully understand, Olimpija were awarded the penalty for Barry Murphy seemingly winning the ball. It was harsh to say the least, and coupled with the non-decision that the free-kick was given for for the home side’s second, it was only those two sucker punches from the referee that we conceded from.
It was the general consensus from most fans in Slovenia that because we only conceded from two dodgy refereeing decisions, there was nothing to say that we couldn’t take them back to Dalymount and win the tie. Admittedly, 2-0 is a difficult margin to overcome, and it will no doubt be an extremely tough game for the players. But we did it against BATE Borisov, a similar result to that night will see us through, and we did it earlier this season away to Sligo and against Shams in the Leinster Senior Cup, when it seemed like Bohs hadn’t a chance, we’ve managed to dig deep and come out victorious. And there’s nothing to say that we couldn’t do it again.
After the match, everybody walked back into the city centre together. A few quiet drinks in the main square bar again (which I never knew the actual name of) before hitting up to Top Nightclub – named so because of its location on a roof in a high rise building in the centre of Ljubljana. It was there in Top that my own career with Bohs started. Fictional career that is, as believed by a couple of girls from Belfast that we got talking to in the place. Coincidentally, these girls had already heard of Loco before we even met them. Like I said – he’s getting more and more famous all the time. Our story developed completely on the spot – I myself played at centre back earlier on in the night, while Andrew was our left back. Funnily enough, it was his fault for Olimpija’s second goal, yet he’s the one signing for Arsenal after the return leg.
The other Bohs fans in the place contributing more to our story made things even more hilarious, as we were asked to get in pictures with some of the lads getting to meet their, eh, ‘heros’. The whole story was capped off with the bouncers in the nightclub complementing us on our behavior as professional footballers mixing in with fans at the club, and signing autographs for people at the venue too.
We had great craic at the place but unfortunately had to leave Ljubljana at 5am Friday morning (essentially Thursday night) to catch our flights home. We decided not to bother sleeping or going to bed that night, so we went straight from the match, to the pub and nightclub, to the airport, to London to Dublin.
Somebody said to me, at some point along the trip, that once you go on your first European trip you won’t be able to miss the rest. And that really is true. If (and when) we hammer Olimpija in Dublin, I’ll be checking out different flights and routes to Vienna, where our potential next round opposition lies, and Part 2 of the European trip of 2011 as well. I’ll only be spending money that I don’t really have, but I don’t mind. I’ll just owe people the money and pay them back when I get it.
We follow Bohs all over.