Ukraine: Ticket Touts and Technological Breakdowns, Part TwoPosted: August 8, 2011
Sligo Rovers’ adventure to Ukraine concludes with David Goulden’s Part Two Euro Diary piece. Part one available here.
So on to game day and our 5 hour journey west to the city of Poltava. Spirits were high, as we looked forward to what this mysterious city had in store for us. And with some in higher spirits than others from the night before/that morning it wasn’t long before the bus settled down for some much needed rest.
Along the way we made several toilet stops, although I’m not sure you can call a ten foot maggot-ridden hole in the ground covered by a few steel bars, a toilet. Ukrainians seem to have a severe fascination with carbonated/sparkling water and it was almost impossible to find a bottle of still water in the country. Even when we asked for still water, the shop staff in almost every shop we visited gave us sparkling, laughing at us as we paid what was probably twice the price a local would pay. To be honest, the last laugh was probably with the bus driver as we sent him home with about 1,000 litres of sparkling water in his luggage compartments.
We eventually arrived at The Pollazza Hotel in Poltava at about 3pm that day. After an hour and a half of the staff mixing up passports and keys, we eventually made it to our rooms. Although in fairness to the staff, some Sligomen didn’t help the situation by shouting at them and calling them “stupid birds”. So after this polava, we made to the restaurant for food and down to the local bar for a few pre-match pints.
When we arrived down to the local bar, only yards from our hotel, we discovered that two pubs had already been drank dry by the Sligo Rovers Dublin Supporters Club. As a former member of the group myself, I was not one bit surprised. So off to the local shop to raid the spot for whatever alcohol we could get our hands on. (It turned out there were complaints on a Ukraine website about us “drinking over 100 litres” of beer). The bottles were warm but for 30c a pop we really could not complain. Again, they were laughing at us for charging well over the nose, but we laughed back. I wonder if they know it costs €5+ for a bottle of beer in Ireland?
We took a walk through Poltava on our way to the game. It was a strange feeling everyone staring at us, even the incredibly beautiful women in the city had a good stare. Something that does not happen in Ireland, that’s for sure. One of the lads reckoned it was our pasty white skin they were staring at, although it wouldn’t take long in that heat to turn a shade of brown. It could have been our farmers tans either, as of course as it always goes in Tallaght and Dalymount “we’re only sheep-shagging b******s”.
One advantage of the language barrier is the fact that Ukrainians do not understand the Sligo Town accent. So when a famous Sligo bus driver pointed to the menu and told a rather attractive barmaid “I’m looking for sex”, nothing was said, apart from a few titters of laughter from the individuals in red. As we walked through the city towards the Butovsky Vorskla Stadium, we encountered a few Vorskla Ultras. Some of them were friendly enough, waving and trying to pronounce “hello”, which turned out more of a “Khhalo”. But at least they made an effort, unlike us lazy Irish c***s. We were settling in nicely to the city until a group of strapping young men walked by with black t-shirts and cut off blue jeans, giving us the Nazi salute as they passed. Time to get to the ground.
The local police thought it safer that we take a special bus from our hotel to the ground, but some of us took the risk and walked through the streets to the game. To be honest, walking to St. Coleman’s Park was more intimidating than the walk to the Butovskey, as were stopped for photos on the way while at the same time watching our back pockets, but mostly we were smiled at by young ladies. A decent evening’s walk if you ask me. We arrived at the ground to the sound of the Drunken Supporters Club’s slurred version of “na na na, hey hey hey Sligo Rovers”, the lads still with beer bottles in hand.
We were also told before the game that no bottles, or lighters were allowed inside the ground pre kick-off. Not good news for lads who were used to watching games in 10 degree heat, never mind 30 plus and being rather dehydrated through the intake of beer. So after passing around my bottle of water I had brought (and getting it back empty), we made our way to the 9/11 style security at the steps of the stadium. Here, we searched by one of the 250 cops in attendance, five steps further on, the same was done again and similarly just seven steps further. Not even the most seasoned nagin-sneaker could have got past those lads.
So into the stand and yes, of course the brightest sun to ever exist was there, shining in our eyes. A tactical ploy from the home side, surely? Two years previous on our trip to Shkoder, Albania, the Vllaznia stadium organisers decided to place a massive speaker beside the Rovers fans, drowning out any pre-match chanting from our side of the ground. Surely there was some sort of liaison between the Ukrainians and the Albanians!?
On to the game and for the first 20 minutes Vorskla tore into Rovers, and if it wasn’t for two wonderful saves from Brendan Clarke (renamed Brandon Clerk by the stadium announcer), and a brave double block from Jason McGuinness, we may have found ourselves out of Europe before half time. After a half-hour of getting to grips with our opponents, we had our first chance through Raf Cretaro. His run past the Vorskla full back brought him past his opponent but his decision to try and take on another opponent instead of shooting first time came back to haunt him. Especially given the fact that the Vorskla ‘keeper Dolhanskiy had the vampires about him and over both legs every cross or shot we hit at him, he dropped. In truth, Rovers did not take advantage of his shortcomings over both legs of the tie.
At this stage we had noticed that three locals who had sneaked in with red and white scarves on them had been ejected by the stadium police. It transpired that these three characters had planned to rob a flag or two from the railings in front of us, a trend that seems to be popular with ‘ultras’ across Europe. The wife of one of the Rovers fans who was in attendance was fluent in Russian and alerted the authorities within the ground of these chaps. So after this drama, half-time came and with it the clammer for the bar which was located a few yards from the steps were were searched at earlier. For some reason we were not allowed bring beer into the game pre-kick off, but the authorities had no problem with us doing likewise for the second half.
The second half was largely about Rovers giving the locals (and the not so local of us) a few nervous moments. Alan Kirby and Raf Cretaro missed two wonderful chances to send us back West with a precious away goal. Cretaro’s cross soon after the break was palmed away by Dolhanskiy, only for the ball to fall at the feet of Kirby who attempted to elevate the ball over the incoming defender’s leg but Kirby got too much foot under the ball and it crashed off the crossbar. Those few seconds between Raf crossing the ball and Kirby’s miss were agonising. It seemed as if God was playing a cruel trick on us as it seemed to take forever for Kirby to hit the ball and when he did, we were all 100% sure we had our away goal. The noise of the ball striking the crossbar just made it worse. But we had rocked Vorskla, and now we knew we were more than capable of getting this away goal. And again it almost came shortly after as Cretaro broke free of the last Poltava defender and with him only needing to guide the ball past the keeper, Raf skied the ball into our stand behind the goal.
The second half flew by, and before we knew it we were celebrating a vital scoreless draw against a team whose budget surpasses ours tenfold. A club who boasted several senior and underage internationals and played in a stadium capable of holding 25,000. Little Sligo Rovers from a league ranked 33rd in Europe had taken on and at times, frightened a team whose league is ranked 8th in Europe. You could both see and feel the pride and satisfaction of a wonderful result for OUR club burst out of each and every one of our supporters who had made the 5,000 kilometer journey.
We took our ‘bendy-bus’ back to our hotel as per instruction of the local police. Along the way we were given ample applause and thumbs up by the locals who looked on in some puzzlement at a bright yellow bus full of red shirts jumping about and singing “Bognor Regis”. Check out for a short video on that trip. Notice our own version of a Shamrock Rovers terrace favourite at the very end. There were one or two of the Nazi saluters who looked to spoil the occasion for the tourists of course, with a handful of our fans threatened and in one case even attacked as they made their way back to The Pollaza. Apparently Vorskla have two groups of ultra’s, one nice and one not so nice with the earlier group doing their best to mingle with us and the later looking for other ways to interact with us.
A local TV station had followed the DSC lads the day before and came into the hotel after the game. The results of that video can be seen here: (How’s your Russian?) These guys also returned to The Showgrounds for the home leg, but no results of those videos have surfaced yet. The Ukrainians seemed to be fascinated by our fondness of alcohol, and seemed to zone in on it with any questions they had for us.
So the post-match party was in full swing as management and fans partook in a few songs. One result of this can be seen here: . Later that night, we all made our way down to the local nightclub for a few €2 vodka and cokes – something a few of us regretted the next morning! Our departure time of 8am turned out to be closer to 9am as a select few slept in and we even managed to leave one man behind which only came to light half way between Poltava and Kiev, although I can confirm this man did return home to these shores safe and well. After a torturous 5 hour drive back to Kiev Airport without air con, we arrived to discover that only half of us would actually see Ireland that evening.
Because of a labour strike in France, those of us who were due to fly through Paris had to wait an extra night in Kiev and another in Paris as the strike was resolved. Air France put the lads up in hotels in both cities and some of them even got to see Disneyland so it wasn’t all bad. For us travelling through Amsterdam, only a short two hour delay stood in our way and home soils. The delay in the Paris lads’ flight also meant we had to find alternative routes home as our bus driver was part of the group now known as ‘The Paris Nine’. Myself and another got a bus to the City to stay with relatives while the others waited about for the 2.30am bus to Ballyshannon and lifts from there to Sligo. Not ideal when you’re still hungover and haven’t slept in days.
So that’s the end of our trip and what transpired to be our European adventure as the b*****d’s came to Sligo and outplayed us for 90 minutes the following Thursday. Another fantastic European adventure with OUR club had come to an end. Hopefully we’ll have another one next year and hopefully it’ll be another s**thole in Eastern Europe as a pairing with Stoke City or Hearts just wouldn’t have the same appeal. Back to the domestic issues and to Oriel Park, Tallaght and Terryland Park.
Again, a huge thanks to David Goulden for this work. You can read Part One here.
Follow David on twitter @DavidGSligo