“You ain’t exactly sure if you’ve been away a while” – Noel Gallagher.
On my return to Northern Ireland recently, I organised a “Northern Ireland v. Poland” 5 a side football match in Belfast City, which in time turned into a 4 a side match. At the time, I was showing a couple of my Polish friends the sights of Northern Ireland. As part of this tour, my wingman and best Polish friend, the famous Legia Warszawa stalwart (and expert hotdog salesman) Rafał Kowalczyk was to captain a POLAND select team, against a Northern Ireland select team, of which I was to be captain. It was an emotional kind of trip, realising the friends we made in life were worth more than their weight in gold. Kowalczyk came to watch the Cherries with me in 2005, inspiring a….1-0 DEFEAT to Swansea City at Dean Court. My English team – AFC Bournemouth.
I repaid the favour in 2017, losing my first ever Legia Warszawa match by a 3-1 scoreline to relegation candidates Ruch Chorzow…
Unfortunately, for the big match in Belfast and with a few pull-outs, none of us could find enough Belfast-based Polish football fans or players, so I ended up playing in the Polish team! It was certainly unusual to be playing against Northern Ireland! My cousin, Matty Blair booked us a great venue next to Northern Ireland’s parliament – the Civil Service pitches at Stormont. It was all set – late November 2017 with a changing kick off time. First it was 4 pm (too early), then we changed it to 9pm (so my brother could make it), then back to 8pm to suit all, then finally 9pm it was! Before all that, we had TWO intense days of Northern Irish sightseeing, I played driver for my Polish friends as we ticked off some of my favourite parts of my homeland, and some lesser ventured places. Fire your honesty into my cannon, I want no bull$h*t or M*el+&r lies anymore.
“Is this the real life, or is this fantasy?” – Freddie Mercury.
“Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right” – Randolph Churchill.
“Tiocfaidh ár lá (our day will come)” – Sinn Fein.
“Teenage dreams so hard till bate” – The Undertones.
“You’re only king for a day” – Ivan Morrison.
“In my homeland, forlorn, the sun shines down upon a tattooed youth.
His mind a microwave of loss and feeling brave, in disrepute.”
“Masked gunmen shouted ‘trick or treat’, then opened fire” – 🙁
“We’re one; but we’re not the same” – Bono/ Paul Hewson (nail on the head).
All that was out of the way and I met my cousins again in Dundonald, East Belfast (where I once lived, a century ago…) and we watched the Arsenal match down the Elk.
On a ball freezing night in late November, the two teams lined up, with a hat-trick of my cousins (Matty, Connor and Gary) representing Northern Ireland. My Dad, Joe Blair played alongside Rafał, Parker and I in the Polish Select. Northern Ireland (OWC, the GAWA, My Wee Country) wore green and white. I wore red, white, black and green which served my selfish mix of Poland, AFC Bournemouth, Legia Warszawa and Glentoran and we got down to business. The Poland team for the night was the away one. The four Ulstermen all live in Belfast City.
The match was a fast 45 minute game. Originally we thought to make it 10 the winner, but goals came thick and fast and both teams ended up fairly equal in the end!! My Dad Joe Blair turned on the style for the Polish select, while Kowalczyk proved a thorn in Northern Ireland’s side in defence. Utility man Parker weighed in with a few goals and liveaway Ulsterman Jonny Blair scored the comeback goal at 2-0 down to fire the Polish side back into life, who led at 11 – 7 at one point when Blair completed the hat-trick past his cousin Connor with a “bottom corner no chance” pelanty.
With some rules added for offside, head height, in the box, not in the box, the scores and even final score is still disputed. Kowalczyk claims a 19-17 Polish victory. Conservative Northern Irish right wing nationalist claims a 17-17 draw while the Northern Ireland team claim a 19-17 defeat of the Polish team. There were no pelanties. My Dad, Joe said “call it a draw, let’s mix the teams up” and that was that. Anyone with a full coverage of the 45 will know for sure…
We changed teams for the last 15 minutes and played for fun.
“I play for fun now” – George Best (AFC Bournemouth 1983).
“When did you ever play for anything else?” – Jackie Fullerton (in an era where Bestie never played to earn money).
There was no time for pre-match pints, I was driving us back to North Down and had a relaxed beer with my Dad and Rafal on my return, but next time.
Thanks to all who attended and helped organise, this weekend in Kościan I play a match in Poland to complete part two. Any Polish people living in Northern Ireland, if you want to play in the next one, please get in touch, we would love to do this once every two years!!
Here are some videos of the action with thanks to my friend Julia who kindly made these for us!: