At around 3 o’clock I heard loud group chanting pouring in from the streets. I went over to my window and saw the Northern Ireland fans parading through old town. It was quite bizarre seeing something like that from an elevated perspective. I took videos of them. They were all drinking beer and lively. The day was a write off, as far as exercise was concerned, and I still fantasized about going, despite not having a ticket. I threw on a t shirt, and my shorts, commando and went out there hoping through some glorious ricochet of the universe, I might be able to get a ticket. As I walked up, I spoke to a man and his wife, I told him I didn’t have a ticket, and I was jealous.
“Does yas want a ticket?”
I paid him fifteen Euros and joined in the march.
The march was long. The sun was hot and bright, and in the distance you could hear the seismic cracking of thunder. Having acquired a perfect excuse, I immediately got beers, losing the married couple in the process.
The long train of fans were in chorus, singing
“Going on up to the spirit in the sky, It’s where I’m gonna go when I die, When I die and they lay me to rest I’m gonna go on the piss with Georgie Best!”
I spoke to a few people, some foul mouthed squaddy from England, a very excited elderly man. In the middle of the road was a police car, I watched as two blonde women bundled a Northern Irish fan into the back of the van. That lad’s taken a kicking. He’s came all this way to fall at the last hurdle; getting into the match. I presume they would give him nothing but a slap on the wrist if he pissed in public, or threw a bottle on the floor, not worth the trouble of nicking him. Maybe he was taking drugs or he lamped some Estonian fan for some reason.
Getting closer to the ground an NI fan went to high five me and asked me if I was Estonian. I got chatting to him and his mate, a ginger lad in shades. They gave me beer. We went over to a Northern Irish man who was wearing his police outfit (I don’t know why, it wasn’t brought up in conversation). He was a pleasure to chat to, and told me about how terrorism still goes on in Belfast, and how tribal the voting is.
“These people don’t have the least idea about what the parties are, they just turn up and vote every year of their lives like it’s their duty, and vote for DUP if they’re protestant, Sinn Fein if they’re Catholic,” it’s quite unbelievable that this kind of stuff still goes on in the UK but it does. Tribalism of the dark ages.
While I’m here, a few notes on tribalism. I love it. We all have it in us. Sport presents us with the opportunity to indulge that ancient trait, in a playful context. Unless you’re a proper Russian hooligan, your tribalism doesn’t propel you to do anything extreme. You merely discover yourself as part of a mob in which everyone you are with, every one you have had the pleasure of discovering is your friend, the other team, and their cohort on the other side of the stadium are the enemy, an object of ridicule and scorn..
I know the Northern Irish boys are not my tribe. I am England to the core. But I really like them. I feel like we are much closer to them than we are to Scotland or Wales. Scottish and Welsh are a lot less unionist, or it seems that way to me. Also, the kits are beautiful, and they’re a perfect example of a minnow, full of character, punching way above their weight category. If England had a sister club it would surely be them, and I’d get behind them any time, no problems.
I got on exceptionally well with the lads, and they said ‘yas are with us now.’. We went in a got some more of the golden blood. I asked them when they started drinking, they said Thursday (the day was Saturday). It was around fifteen minutes to kick off, many pre match photos were taken. The clouds smiled upon us all. I was almost up there with them.
When we got in I heard God Save the Queen as I ascended the stairs. The stands were slightly less crowded than I had hoped, attendances patchy from both sides of the support. We sat at the top, in open space. A very dull first half ensued. I noticed a stocky looking fleet-footed Estonian playing gliding down the flank. He stepped up to take a free kick in prime position, he powered it round the wall and shut us all up.
His name is Konstantin Vassiljev, a 34 year old midfielder who seems to have peaked at Ankar Perm.
The thought of turning it round was too good to be true an idea to entertain. Then in the 77th minute Connor Washington the sub, bundled it in. Three minutes later another substitute, Josh Magennis headed home. Nothing need be said about what followed. But we were shirtless and jumping around for what seemed like hours.
I spent the rest of the evening with the same guys and pandemonium ensued in the Northern Irish bar. Apparently a lot were there until seven in the morning, Lord knows how they made it.