“Holding back the years” – Simply Red.
I rolled the back the years recently in the wake of deep depression. Down in the doldrums, going nowhere in Warszawa, I took a 4 hour train to Swarzędz, about 30 minutes by train from Poland’s perky Pozzie, Poznań. Northern Ireland women’s football team would be playing three matches here in the space of 9 days. Schedules allowed me to only make one of those matches – the middle one, which also happened to be the Ireland derby. Northern Ireland’s Green and White Army would be playing the Republic of Ireland. I’ve been to Poznań more than ten times of course, nothing new, but Swarzędz was the oddball my travels had always craved.
“I find it hard to belong to something new” – Ben Paulley.
Poznań, in its splendour, was the scene of many of my glory days – my recording for International Radio Poznan, an English speaking project with my mate Mateusz, a night on the Hot Beer (Grzaniec) with the infamous Karolina Kokosz, plus manys a night on the rip in days gone by. This time, I’d sidestep Poznań itself. News filtered in via Facebook that Northern Ireland were playing in a four country tournament in the venues of Swarzędz and Plewiska. This of course, was right up my Linenhall Street. I had to be there. Like my wacaday trip to Gliwice in 2017 where I was the ONLY Northern Ireland fan, I got my Northern Ireland flags and shirts and off I went. Next stop was Swarzędz. However, the trip itself exceeded all expectations and at times, reduced me to tears supporting my wee country.
“They’ll pass you by, glory days” – Bruce Springsteen.
Getting to Swarzędz
Being based in Poland since 2016, yet I didn’t know where the duck Swarzędz actually was!! Challenge accepted!! I had heard of their football club, Unia Swarzędz as they had played KP Starogard a few times. I went to Warszawa Centralna and found out there’s a direct train from Warszawa so this was easy! I got a seat and the 4 hour trip to Swarzędz could begin, the night before the match.
Sleeping in Swarzędz
Again there are a few options here – mostly bed and breakfasts but avoid the dreadful Hotel Europa, not just over-rated and over-priced but the bar and cafe only opens from 12.00 – 18.00 daily. When I popped in there for help (and a coffee or even a beer), the staff were unhelpful and unwelcoming. No map, no advice and they didn’t want me there. I spoke in Polish the whole time and still they didn’t care. So you should stay at Pokoje pod Swierkiem. It was about £40 a night.
I was in Room 7, upstairs. It was very cosy and private. Ideal, I’d say. It was located on a street called Cieszkowskiego 100/102c, on the edge of the city. By complete coincidence I got a lift here from the train station from a Polish lady Wiktoria, as she knows me from online teaching in Poland. Her family gave me a lift as they lived nearby. My room was cosy, yet lonely. That wasn’t to matter as a GAWA encounter was just around the chimney corner.
Drinking and Backpacking in Swarzędz
In the main old town market square (“The Rynek”), I went backpacking through the sights of Swarzędz . The main church, an odd large wooden chair, a perky old town square, “Big Ben” (the local carryout joint) and some war statues. An old brewery graced a street nearby, but in general I realised this was more about the football. I wasn’t falling in love with Swarzędz in the way I had done in Starogard Gdanski and Tczew.
In terms of being on the rip, there is a brewery bar and the hotel bar on the edge of town plus manys a kebab joint. In the main square, the perky Rynek, there is really only the famous “Syty Pan” (my “local” two nights in a row). I chose Cherry Ale when drinking here, a good choice given that on the Saturday, AFC Bournemouth (The Cherries) would beat Leicester City 2-1!
Arrival at the football stadium in Swarzędz
On the matchday morning, after munching a hot dog and a cappuccino I arrived alone at the football stadium in Swarzędz.
I was here 1.5 hours before kick-off, at half nine because the flier said 10 a.m. kick-off but that was actually UK time, here it was 11.00 a.m. kick-off, which Chris Penney had alerted me of on Facebook. The match was an odd 11.00 a.m. kick-off. There was a steward on the gate and I spoke to him saying I was a supporter of Northern Ireland. He welcomed me and in I walked. I thought nobody else was in the main stand, then I spied a gentleman watching the team come out to train. It was Kenny Shiels!! Yes it was Kenny Shiels!! Kenny Shiels is the Northern Ireland international women’s manager who led us to our legendary first ever major tournament in 2022 – the Women’s Euros in England. On route to that tournament, we had beaten Ukraine, Belarus and Faroe Islands all home and away!! We had also ousted Wales on away goals thanks to Ashley Hutton’s legendary 93rd minute header on her 100th cap. We’ve written better scripts than Hitchcock, us Northern Irish. Also, I had previously met Kenny at Coleraine Showgrounds years ago with my Dad. Here, he talked away to me! A gentleman! I was surprised to see him here!
Then it was time to have a nosey around the stadium – this was a class wee ground. Stadion Miejski w Swarzędzu (Stadion Unii Swarzędz). It is a tidy ground, and probably about my 60th to visit in Poland and 500th stadium globally. This tidy stadium can hold 1,500 supporters. The local club here is Unia Swarzędz, who at times have played against KP Starogard, my club of choice in Poland.
Meeting The Ladies
It was time to get emotional and for my heart to melt, and be proud. As I start to chant Green and White Army, some of the Northern Ireland team have seen my flag and heard me, and four of them come bouncing over!
“Never forget where you’re coming from” – Take That.
Unlike at the Women’s Euros in 2022 and Belarus away in 2007, on this occasion I didn’t know the ladies names, YET. Neither the ladies nor I got embarrassed by that as they came over and introduced themselves. Vibrant and confident, I first met the smiling duo of Sarah Tweedie and Keri Halliday. Both players had scored away goals before – Sarah got a header at Israel away and Keri scored a 20 yard screamager just a few days earlier, here in the match against France to put us 1-0 up! We posed for a photo and I wished them good luck. These moments have forever melted my heart. To be miles from my home city and meet people from back home is always emotional.
“We’ve got that Sarah Tweedie, woah that Sarah Tweedie” – GAWA (me) – to the tune of “You’ve lost that Loving Feeling”.
The Match Itself – the Ireland derby!
This is one of the oddest places I have watched an Ireland derby. I reflected on my travels down the years and other times I’d experienced Northern Ireland v. Republic of Ireland. My first memory was in November 1993 in Belfast when I was in the stadium at Windsor Park for a 1-1. Jimmy Quinn bulleted Packie Bonner to the ground before Englishman Alan McLoughlin somehow squeezed a jammy equaliser past the collosus of Tommy Wright. Later in life, in 2010 I was in Sydney when Northern Ireland lost 1-0 to the Republic of Ireland in a fans tournement. Here I was in little Swarzędz. It was a far cry from Belfast’s Windsor Park, scene of manys a glory day gone speedingly by.
“Living in a land down under, when women glow and men plunder” – Men At Work.
What’s more is that the EXACT same two flags from the above photo would be here again today. One of those is the Travelling Northern Ireland flag of 205 country fame and still not torn or shred. I start to meet some of today’s GAWA – the Green and White Army! I talk to Paddy, Ali, John, Graeme and Louisa, Louise and Peter, and Michael. These are parents of some of the players – I believe – Naomi McLaughlin, Ellie-Mae Dickson, Ella Haughey, Helen Parker, Rhyleigh Marks and Sarah Tweedie. I counted our GAWA end at one point and we had 22 fans. I think this included a few Polish that had drifted over. This was the Northern Ireland end. The other side of the stand had the Republic of Ireland end. The teams came out and lined up! Northern Ireland would play in white today.The match started and we had the first chance but soon the Republic took control. A dodgy goal which was debated was eventually given and they went 1-0 up. It came from a corner and was a bit sloppy. For some reason, the half-time whistle was blown on 43 minutes much to the disgruntlement of our GAWA. We outsang them, outnumbered them and outflagged them!
In the second half, I thought we were the better team and deserved a point. We motored away but couldn’t get the goal. A near post flick that involved the two players I first met was the closest we came – Sarah Tweedie swivelled on Keri Halliday’s ball and it went wide. Manager Aaron Hughes pushed us forward until the end, but alas it ended 1-0 to the Republic. I was still loud and proud, given that their goal was debatable and we had two players injured. The GAWA was loud and proud.
After the match, I spoke to Chris Penney and asked if Aaron would come over for a photo and a chat, which he did!! This is Aaron Hughes who won over 100 Northern Ireland caps, scored for Northern Ireland, played in the Europa League (UEFA Cup) Final for Fulham and played at Euro 2016 for Northern Ireland, marking Robson Kanu, Lewandowski and Tommy Mueller!
Northern Ireland: Erin McAllister, Sarah Jane McMaster, Aimee Neal (Sarah Tweedie), Helen Parker, Rebecca Magee, Ella Haughey, Aoibhe O’Neill (captain), Naomi McLaughlin, Maeve McConaghy (Emily Reid), Erin Montgomery (Keri Halliday), Ellie-Mae Dickson.
Subs not used: Rachel Norney, Eve Reilly, Grace McKimm, Rhyleigh Marks, Molly Loughran, Mikayla Wildgoose.
Rep. of Ireland: Summer Lawless, Melissa O’Kane, Kate Thompson, Tara O’Hanlon, Lia O’Leary (Kerri O’Hara), Eva Mangan (Rolake Ayoola Olusola), Jessie Stapleton (captain), Jamie Thompson (Michaela Lawrence), Scarlett Herron, Sophie Morrin, Emma Doherty.
Referee: Jelena Pejković CRO
Assistant referees: Gordana Katušić CRO, Julia Bukarowicz POL
Fourth official: Anna Adamska POL
Attendance of GAWA: 22
Attendance of Other fans: Around 50
Post Match Pints in Swarzędz – Syty Pan
After the match I had a (Shawn Jensen / Książęce) Cherry Beer in Syty Pan, pierogi in Poznan and another few drinks where by chance I met up with Peter and Louise in Stacja Cafe Bar in Poznan. It had been a tremendous day!!
Other links –
Green and White Army!
As you might know, down the years I have prolifically made a lot of videos and taken a lot of photos. After having my phone, backpack and laptop all stolen, I haven’t been up to making as many videos as I used to. I still got plenty of photos and made a few short videos. Here are some videos of my trip to Swarzędz: