“Robert Burns, burns, burns, that ring of fire, GAWA desire” – Jonny Blair (ONLY NI fan in Gliwice).
As I wrote that morning on social media it was “Dzień dobry szalony! Good morning crazy!” Having lived in Poland for 16 months and been the most settled I have ever been in my adult life (believe it Bournemouth and Parramatta), it was time to watch MY COUNTRY of birth (Northern Ireland) play a live football match in my country of residence (Poland)!! But it wasn’t any old normal adventure. It was another from the crazy textbook. As it usually is. #tourist #whackpacker You know the drill, but it still came as a Saturday morning surprise.
“Ain’t love, ain’t love, ain’t love a surprise” – M. People.
Thanks to my August reader vote it meant that in September 2017 I had to leave Poland and visit a new country. I ended up touring two United Nations recognised entities – the Republic of Malta and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. I was away for 6 days at the end of September to the start of October. I was in Malta when a Facebook message from my Northern Irish friend Jim Spratt alerted me that Northern Ireland will be playing three matches in a week in Poland – seriously??? I couldn’t believe it!! Malta was pre-booked though so this meant I’d miss at least the first match. Which was Poland away in Poland!! I was at Poland away in Poland in 2005. Spot the Northern Irishman in Poland!!!!
I was gutted to miss the 2017 replay in Gliwice of course. Aside from my love of football, tourism, and Northern Ireland, came with it a love for Poland. Imagine banging all four in one day?! It wasn’t to be, and I have so far only managed the quartet twice (yes 2005 in Warszawa and 2016 in Nice) but one day, I’ll bang bang baby your hat-trick.
It was March 2005 that I first backpacked to Poland to watch Northern Ireland play football against Poland in Warszawa on my 25th birthday. It was my first Northern Ireland away match. By coincidence back in February 1991 was my first ever Northern Ireland home win. We beat Poland 3-1.
The Under 19 Tournament in 2017
All these matches in Poland in October 2017 were under 19 level European Championship qualifiers. The group we were in included Poland (host), Germany and Belarus. It’s a 4 team thing with 6 matches all in the space of a week. Swap Belarus for Ukraine and it was a carbon dioxide copycat of the 2016 European Championships groups!
The matches were taking place in Sląsk province in Poland. Often written in English as Silesia. It was only my second trip to this province with the games being played in Chorzow and Gliwice. I hadn’t yet been to either city so this would also be more than a football trip. I could also backpack the city and tour the bars!
In the Sląsk region I have also backpacked in holy Częstochowa and Katowice. I haven’t written much about Sląsk but I hope I will again soon.
Getting to Gliwice
I took advantage of the famous “Bilet weekendowy” (weekend ticket) for Polish trains. I have used this option a few times, initially helped by my friend Rafał. Basically you pay just 81złotych for an anytime return on any weekend trains in Poland. You just pick the route and the tickets but you are not guaranteed a seat. Sometimes I had to stand, sit in the aisle or stay in the bar for the whole trip. But the Warszawa to Gliwice route at 5.40 am wasn’t busy. I had a seat. I would change in Katowice at 8.20 am and get a second train to Gliwice at 8.32 am.
Arrival in Gliwice
The travel lusting kid in me loves it. I was already buoyant and inspired when my train rockadayed into glamourous Gliwice.
“Smile like you mean it” – my ex-girlfriend Lauren to me in 2005 (she was damn right!)
Having had a quick breakfast and even a beer on my train, it was coffee time and I chose Momo Cafe in the heart of Gliwice’s main square. A few photos from the journey as well as the arrival in Gliwice.
And now to Gliwice…
Gliwice Stary Rynek
Gliwice’s Stary Rynek (Old Town Square) reminded me of both Starogard Gdański and Tczew. It was quiet. Untouristic. Glorious. But even one thing was better – it was green and white. Two colours associated with the Northern Ireland international football team. We are the GAWA #GAWA The Green and White army. Gliwice’s town square was green and white…
I posted that morning “Follow my adventures today in gorgeous Gliwice!! I am here as a tourist, backpacker and football fan. So far I’ve had a train delay, backpacked the square in Gliwice, drank the oldest beer in Polish literature and the town even painted their town hall green and white for me!!! #tourist #honesty #reallife #poland #gliwice #northernireland #gawa #greenandwhitearmy #ulsterman”
Prelude – Poland 2-1 Northern Ireland (Wednesday 4th October 2017)
Just a few days before my trip for the Northern Ireland v. Germany match, we played Poland in the same stadium! Despite going 1-0 up with a superb goal from Danny Amos, we lost 2-1. We also hit the post at 1-1 and played well. So proud.
And it put me in a good frame of mind too. We can bate anyone on our day. Have you seen this one?
Pre match Pintage in Gliwice
While enjoying my coffee in Gliwice’s old town square I also drew my eyes to the adjacent bar called Club Hemingway. I’m an Ernest Hemingway fan. I realised I was going to eventually write a “best bars in Gliwice” style post.
In 2014 I slept in the Hemingway Inn in San Jose in Costa Rica. Later in the same year I drank in the Hemingway Pub in Ohrid in FYR Macedonia and in January 2015 I also had my first beer in Finland in the Hemingway Pub in Helsinki. As I checked my watch I had still over an hour to spare so I had time for a quick pint in the Hemingway Pub here in glistening Gliwice. What’s more is that the beer here I had was the oldest mentioned beer in Polish literature. Mastne Cieszynskie, allegedly.
“All of your dreams are washed away in the sand” – Noel Gallagher.
My Journey to the Football Stadium in Gliwice
To get to the stadium I had four main options.
1.Dander it. (* walk it).
Walking would take me 45 minutes so that option was out today – it was a 12 noon kick off and I had been awake since 4.30 a.m.! The irregular trams and buses were on Saturday service and so would just about get me there on time for a few złotych. But today I wanted to sample the pre match atmopshere, and have a relaxed and easy route and to be into the stadium early. Taxi it was and that would cost me 12złotych (£2.50). Normally I avoid taxis but this one was worth it. The thing about Polish train and bus stations is they are somehow always halfway been the main football stadium and the Stary Rynek, well except for Starogard Gdanski’s.
My taxi driver knew the stadium, she didn’t like football and spoke no English so we had an excellent conversation in Polish – it was great to be using my Polish learnt in Gdańsk and Warszawa to talk to her. She dropped me off at the stadium and I was 25 minutes early for kick off which today was 12 noon. After a few photos, I headed to the ticket section.
I went to buy a match ticket for the main stand. As today’s match was quite low key there was only one stand open. The main stand. So I was sorted. The ticket had my name on it and the Northern Ireland flag (as well as the Germany one). It was also free entry, the same as two of my previous 4 away matches (Azerbaijan away in 2013 was free, so was Turkey in Adana in the same year). Excellent. I was all ready to go!!
I got inside and watched the Northern Ireland players train. I pick up a team sheet and some of the most Northern Irish names on the list catch my eye. Robert Burns at number 7 sticks in the mind, I had no idea he’d be the biggest worker on the pitch. Your modern day grafting Northern Irishman. Your under 19 Gerry Armstrong. Number 7 – Robert Burns. Remember the name.
I shouted some chants at them and put my two flags up. I am still proud that there were no German flags up. None. Zero. Zilch. Big country my ass. We won 2-0 on supporters flegs!! My bake opened with – “My eyes have seen the glory of Espana 82” but it was lost on most inside the stadium! I banged out a “He’s tall he is thin he resembles Jimmy Quinn. The guy is Jimmy Quinn. He is Jimmy Quinn” and a brief “We all dream of a team of Ivan Sproules”… “Oh Gareth McAuley” went down a treat in my mind.
I admire the Queen (Elizabeth II) but I am not keen on the Northern Ireland national anthem anymore. I used to be when I was like 13 and immature. But it’s just not Northern Irish. If the Queen was from Carrowdore I’d keep it. But she is not. She doesn’t even care if we win or lose. She doesn’t even have David Healy as a Facebook friend, has never retweeted Niall McGinn and here – if you don’t follow Josh Magennis on Instagram – you’re fucked love! Can we not just have D:Ream – Things Can Only Get Better, or my personal favourite Ash: Goldfinger. I sing it anyway though – louder than any Germanic buck eejit – they’re still ashamed of their German Death Camps and how they killed the innocent Jewish and Poles here. I cry a touch – we’re not too far from a German Death Camp in fact. Shame on them.
“Long to reign over us, God save our Queen” (oh she’s from Bangor then?) #newanthemplease
“There were 11 German sausages on the pitch, and the Cookstown from Ulster fried em dry” – (OK so we used Dromona Butter…)
I was to be the only Northern Ireland supporter in the stadium. I don’t even think anyone else wore green. However I met two English guys from Milton Keynes. One a scout. The other his grandson is Tyrone who came on as a second half substitute. The match begins. After zero minutes it is 0-0. I’ll take it (now).
First half we were superb. After 2 minutes we had a chance to go 1-0 up and missed. Ouch. Then Germany took advantage of our complacency at a short corner and smashed a corker in for 1-0. Alastair, the IFA rep came over to me and says something like “crying out loud yer man’s on the books at Bayern Munich”. I said “we’ll have them”. 2 minutes later we did. 1-1. 22 minutes gone 1-1.
I erupt!! I go nuts!!! Northern Ireland have scored and we are on top. We cream the Germans and at half time it’s 1-1 and I was thinking 2-1 Norn Iron win. Quick breather and the second half starts again. We are still pressing. Robert Burns is the best player on the park. Number 7. Norn Iron. Midfield battler. Robert Burns, Burns, Burns….
With 29 minutes left it is still 1-1 and one of the subs talks to me and says “we can still do this!” Almost immediately the flukey Germans go 2-1 up. On 61 minutes. The third follows before 70 minutes though and suddenly 3-1 doesn’t seem so rosy. I sing alone: “Sweet NORTHERN IRON woah oh oh, good times never seemed so good”.
But the dream soon dies. We have two attacks, they break down. Germany score. 4-1 flatters them. I sing alone. “We’ll support you evermore, Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland…”
I get a few copies of the team sheet from Alistair and applaud the lads.
As the fourth German goal hits the net, I start praying for the final whistle. Really, they were clinical yet conniving. We worked so hard. 3 goals in the last 4 minutes make it a “Brazil 2014” style 7-1 but we don’t deserve that – we were in the game until the 60th minute at 1-1!!! I photographed the 90th as 6-1 as I was convinced that was it…
Michael Hughes added another…
I sang “One Gerry Taggart”, accepted defeat and dandered all alone to the nearest town centre bar (it took me 27 minutes).
For sure!! I applauded my beautiful Northern Irish football team off the pitch and headed for one of the best PRL bars in Poland – Pewex in Gliwice. I felt like I was whackpacking back in Starogard Gdanski again – I had my lunch (it was still 2.30 pm) in Pewex in downtown Gliwice and later toured the sights and church before meeting some fantastic local people. Poland warmed my heart again. For now, Pewex:
I had a night out in Gliwice too and will cover it separately when time permits. In the meantime you can vote for where I go in November and I am also still buoyant that Northern Ireland are in the Russia 2018 play offs. We will qualify.
Northern Ireland finished third in the group in the end, though we drew on points with Belarus and really should have beaten them, if you check the stats!
My player of the match and of the tournament ? – EASY – Robert Burns!!!
“And it burns burns burns, Robert Burns, Robert Burns. Du du du de de de du de. That Robert Burns, that ring of fire” – Jonny Blair (GAWA).
Go on Robert Burns – keep it going – you’re Premier League!! And a future Northern Ireland international!!
Here are some videos of this truly remarkable day out: